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Issues 'should be left in past'

Agency chief praised for turning things around

DIXON – A Dixon-based transit agency made mistakes in how it handled grant money years ago, but no one could prove criminal intent, officials said Tuesday.

In interviews, Lee County Board members praised the work of Jaime Blatti, executive director of the Lee-Ogle Transportation System, or LOTS.

Three years ago, the county took direct control of the agency, rather than continue letting a separate nonprofit group, Lee County Council on Aging, manage it.

According to minutes from last month's LOTS board meeting, officials said Rock River Center, which serves seniors in Ogle County, owes more to the agency than invoices indicate.

Asked Monday about the issue, Blatti said that LOTS had "no idea" how much Rock River Center owed and that it would take a team of auditors to figure it out. She said an invoice had been sent out, but not by her. She wouldn't say who sent it.

In any case, she said, LOTS wasn't taking action to get the money.

County Board Chairman Rick Ketchum, D-Amboy, said the old issues should not have been brought up again.

"We don't know what the problem was. It should be left in the past," he said. "Nothing was proven."

Blatti, who took the helm last year, is "doing things right," Ketchum said.

The problems involved the agency's compliance with grants that it had received during the time the council on aging ran LOTS, he said. At that time, the council was headed by Roxanne Bauer, who hasn't returned messages for comment.

No independent investigation was done to look into the issues, said Ketchum, who took over as board chairman in December.

"There wasn't enough oversight by the grant people," he said.

In the meeting minutes, officials refer to "illegal issues" in relation to the grants, but Ketchum disagreed with the wording, saying that implied bad intent.

County Board member Steve Kitzman, R-Dixon, the board's representative for LOTS, said all problems stem from the past.

"[Blatti] has done a wonderful job in turning a bad situation into a good one," he said. "We have righted the ship."

Until recent times, he said, the county asserted no control over LOTS.

"The county is trying to get a handle on it," he said. 

But he said it would be nearly impossible to track how the grant money was handled years ago.

"Maybe you could,” he said, “but would it be worth it?"

In an interview last year, Gary DeLeo, a state Department of Transportation official who watches over transit agencies, said Bauer did a "nice job."

"She just kept the county out of the loop," DeLeo said. "A lot of our counties just pass through the grant to the provider. That's what Lee County did."

DeLeo said he was advising counties to take direct control over their transit agencies.

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