The DeKalb County Health Department is trying to persuade our county board to place a referendum on the November election ballot to begin levying a property tax specifically for health services.

If this referendum does appear on the ballot, the most pressing questions for voters must include evaluation of needs, and of DeKalb County’s stewardship of our money.

Turns out, I have an example related to the latter for you to consider. Let me introduce you to Cindy and Ed. Read the rest of this entry

You’ll recall that Ron Walters was a consultant hired by NIU President Doug Baker to help plan and launch his Bold Futures initiative. Walters acted like an independent contractor and got paid like one (e.g., getting reimbursed for his commute to/from work) but Baker had actually hired him as an NIU “affiliate” employee. This is one reason why the Illinois Auditor General is investigating NIU.

The latest that citizen watchdogs can bring to light is an email from Walters to a friend in July 2013. The weird punctuation and misspelling are his.

I was well received, although Doug has already gotten some flack for hiring his buddy right off the bat to come in under some lucrative consulting contract that wasn’t put out for bid. Has been warned that -this is Illinois politics – and it will come out under someone’s freedom of information act request within a few weeks. That hasn’t stopped him from bringing me in and cutting me lose, but he does have to be a bit cautious. So I’ve brought your name up and think it could happen a little further down the road, but he doesn’t have an appetite for bringing on another at this early point.

Walters also commented that the whole of NIU’s operations had to be “turned upside down and rebuilt.”

While you absorb this, I’ll head to the City Barbs Facebook Group to post the full email.

***Update***: Here’s a shortcut to the email, and one to the group posting.

DeKalb used to have in-house legal counsel, but now has contracts with individuals and firms to supply legal services.

One of the legal service providers is Dean Frieders of Frieders Law, LLC, who supposedly works for DeKalb three days per week.* Frieders is required by his contract with the city to supply all of his own staff for the $208,000 per year that we pay him. If any employee of City of DeKalb were to work for Frieders in any capacity, it would constitute a violation of that city contract.

Trouble is, DeKalb still employs a full-time legal assistant, and it looks like she works for Frieders. I say this because her actual job description requires her to assist legal counsel as well as the city manager. Read the rest of this entry

More Gift Card Info

A couple of weeks ago, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request regarding DeKalb’s practice of buying gift cards for employees, the latest round of which occurred in December 2015 when City of DeKalb spent $5,400 on “employee holiday gift cards” for some 230 city employees.

Among other things, the FOIA request asked for the following: “Records that indicate the cards were properly counted as compensation and that federal and state withholding occurred.” The response was as follows:

No responsive records have been identified. The City determined that in previous years, the cards were not included within taxable amounts. The City has worked to ensure strict compliance in prospective years by eliminating these gift cards from proposed budgets; there is no proposed expenditure in the draft FY16.5 budget that would include gift cards of this
nature. That change in practice was made after an internal review of this matter by the City earlier this year.

Read here for the IRS rules specific to de minimus fringe benefits when the employer is a government. Cash and cash equivalents — yeah, this means gift cards, too — cannot be excluded from income and are always taxable, regardless of amount.

Oops. That’s almost $16,000 in untaxed compensation since 2013, guys.

Also, since the city included in its response no memos or other records of the elimination of gift cards for employees, we are free to assume that the “internal review” and decision to terminate the practice of giving gift cards occurred when administrators received my FOIA request dated April 21.

See the original FOIA request and response here.

FACT: Sometime last month, DeKalb Mayor John Rey approached Phil Young, who is the president of the DeKalb Park District, about the possibility of consolidating the two units of government. As you may already know, local government consolidation is a hot topic at the state level and a project of our lieutenant governor, Evelyn Sanguinetti, which evidently has inspired His Honor.

FACT: DeKalb Park District would rather not be absorbed by City of DeKalb. Read the rest of this entry

***Update 5:45 p.m.*** The Facebook discussion on this post is here.

I’m going to ask you to set aside for a few moments everything you’ve heard about why Steve Kapitan resigned as DeKalb city clerk in 2012. Instead, I’d like for you to entertain the possibility that he was a casualty of a DeKalb city government intent on exchanging its elected city clerk for an appointed clerk for quite some time. Read the rest of this entry

It has come to my attention that clarification is needed on the post about the General Fund “special events” account named 8306.

If you contact City of DeKalb and they tell you that 8306 is for events such as helping with the expenses of July 4th festivities at Hopkins Park, that is 100% correct.

However, it is also correct to say that funds coded to expense account 8306 pay for employee events (parties and picnics) and special compensation (gift cards). The February 2016 expenditures report(p. 9), for example, included payouts for an employee potluck and a spree on gift cards for employees that’s becoming infamous. Read the rest of this entry

We know from our recent examination of the doctrine of incompatible offices that compromising the loyalty of an elected officer is prohibited. A person holding elected office cannot hold any other role — as employee, appointee, or a second elected office — that could reasonably be expected to conflict, or even appear to conflict, with the first elected office. A person occupying elected office has one loyalty, and that’s to the electorate. Nobody else is the elected person’s boss.

In DeKalb government, this is true of city council members and the city clerk. Both are elected positions and nobody should buy the story that any of these elected officers are also employees of the municipality, for to do so invites perversion of the original intent of an elected office.

As we saw in the post about incompatible offices, however, DeKalb holds itself to no such standard, but instead chooses to create confusion by pretending that the city clerk’s position comprises a dual role, that of officer and employee at the same time.

Moreover, some of the offenses committed against the doctrine of incompatible offices are way worse than the confusion sown verbally by city staff. For reasons we will examine at a later date, the corporate authority (city council) of DeKalb has in recent years approved ordinances in line with an appointed clerk instead of an elected one. In a very real way, the corporate authority has usurped the statutory powers placed with the elected city clerk and vested them in the city manager. Read the rest of this entry

Account 8306, Special Events

City of DeKalb has an account in its General Fund called “Special Events,” 8306 in the budget. I always thought special events were public events, such as the open house that was held for visitors to tour the new police station. Then I came across an expenditure of $5,400 for Target gift cards for employees that was coded to this expense account, which prompted me to look more closely. It appears to be an account that pays for employee parties and gifts.

Here are the amounts budgeted over the past few years from this account:

2012: $ 7,000
2013: $12,000
2014: $15,000
2015: $19,750
2016: $22,850

Even if all of the expenses are legit — and I’m not sure they are — the more-than-tripling of what’s budgeted into this account needs to be explained. I also note that the extravagance in this area comes on top of similarly large increases we’ve observed for membership dues/subscriptions and professional development expenses over the past 2-3 years.

But back to the question of legitimacy. Let’s consult the Illinois Constitution.

ARTICLE VIII

FINANCE

SECTION 1. GENERAL PROVISIONS
(a) Public funds, property or credit shall be used only for public purposes.

Are private parties and gifts for city employees a public purpose? I think not.

DeKalb isn’t particularly good at observing boundaries. One example is that DeKalb’s contracted attorney is allowed to sit with the city council during planning sessions as an assistant in setting strategic priorities. In other words, a contractor gets to step out of his assigned role to provide unfettered input into public policy that the public itself never gets to enjoy.

But while the attorney’s extra privileges are plenty objectionable from an ethics standpoint, the most egregious errors in failing to maintain separation of roles have arguably come about in DeKalb’s dealings with the city clerk’s office beginning in 2012, when clerk Steve Kapitan was forced to resign. Here’s what city staff said about it at the time (my emphases):

[City manager Mark] Biernacki explained that because of Kapitan’s unique situation as both an elected official and city employee, certain confidentiality rights are in place.

The city, as the former employer of Mr. Kapitan, has certain obligations to keep his personal records confidential,” said city attorney Dean Frieders…

City of DeKalb again combined the roles of city employee and city clerk when Diane Wright was appointed in Kapitan’s place later that year, yet also kept her administrative job with the city (again, my emphasis):

With recent changes in City Hall staffing, a proposal has been developed to provide more efficient use of City personnel to perform administrative functions for the City, by utilizing the currently serving Acting City Clerk in a dual role as City Clerk and Executive Secretary.

These moves are problematic specifically because citizens of DeKalb have voted twice in the past 10 years to retain their municipal clerk as an elected position. While certainly “unique” and possibly even “efficient,” these elected official-city employee hybrids are not allowed under Illinois law. Elected officers are intended to serve only one master, and that’s the electorate. Read the rest of this entry