Champaign Co. (ECWd)
Yes, you read the title correctly. The Champaign Mental Health Department, while under the direction of former Director and current Champaign County Board Candidate, Peter Tracy, has spent $100,000.00 on movies, or more specifically, EbertFest at the University of Illinois.
The Champaign County Mental Health Department Mission statement is “the promotion of a local system of services for the prevention and treatment of mental or emotional, developmental and substance abuse disorders in accordance with the assessed priorities of the citizens of Champaign County.”
If the mission is to provide services for the prevention and treatment of mental or emotional, developmental and substance abuse disorders, we must ask, what “service” is the Eberfest providing?
What is Eberfest?
“Founded in 1999 by the late Roger Ebert, University of Illinois Journalism graduate and Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic, Roger Ebert’s Film Festival (Ebertfest) celebrates films that haven’t received the recognition they deserved during their original runs. The festival gives these films and their filmmakers a well-deserved second look.”
“Ebertfest takes place in Urbana-Champaign each April. Chaz Ebert, Roger’s beloved wife, business partner and fellow film-lover, is the festival host.”
It’s clear, the purpose of Eberfest is to celebrate films that haven’t received the recognition they deserved during their original runs. That being the case, how on earth can Peter Tracy justify spending $100,000.00 on movies with taxpayer money specifically allocated to provide services for the prevention and treatment of mental or emotional, developmental and substance abuse disorders?
According to the check register, these payments were NOT for services, the mission of the agency, but instead for “public relations”. Interestingly we could not find anything in the annual report found here, that even mentioned “public relations”.
With the lack of a state budget for the last couple years, which has imperiled support to the Developmentally Disabled and Mental Health programs, one must wonder how $100,000.00 on public relations, aka movies, falls into the parameters of services of the Champaign County Mental Health Department. Couple that with the former Director’s quote in the News-Gazette, “When organizations are in survival mode it is difficult to think about the greater good.”, it’s clear he knew times were tough but that did not stop the spending on movies.
According to the annual report (page 27), this expenditure is not about services. It came under the heading of Community Engagement & Advocacy and was listed as their number 1 objective.
Objective #1 : Continue support for and involvement in the Champaign County Alliance for the Promotion of Acceptance, Inclusion and Respect signature event at Roger Ebert’s Film Festival and other community education events including disability Resource Expo: Reaching Out for Answers and the National Children’ s Mental Health Awareness Week.
Now don’t get me wrong, I fully support community engagement & advocacy for these types of programs, however, I find it ver difficult to understand how spending $100,000.00 on movies shown during Eberfest is actually providing those services to those in need.
This same former Director is now running for Champaign County Board. We can only wonder what his spending plans will be for the county.