**UPDATE 11/24** Via email, the city still maintains that the redaction “facially” applied to its FOIA response. However:

[A]fter further discussion with the Police Department, we believe that the Resident Officer Program’s mission is furthered by engaging with the public wherever possible, and where doing so does not endanger public or officer safety. Accordingly, the City is providing an un-redacted copy of the record at issue as per your request.

Whether or not I would have prevailed in the state’s review of the redaction, the reversal is a good reminder that most exceptions to FOIA — assuming they’re properly applied — are allowed but not commanded.

The City of Elgin has a nationally recognized community policing endeavor called the Resident Officer Program of Elgin (ROPE). Here’s the webpage. Links from that webpage take you to a map of ROPE coverage, as well as to pages devoted to each of five ROPE officer locations that include the resident officers’ photos, contact information and introductory greetings.

Oak Park has a Resident Beat Officer Program (RBO). Here’s the webpage. There are eight patrol zones; click on zone headings for the beat officers’ names, photos and contact information.

City of DeKalb has a Resident Officer Program (ROP). Here’s the webpage. The description identifies an Officer Burke who lives on the 600 block of North Eleventh Street, and there is a written description of the ROP territory. There is no map, no address, no photo or contact information for this or any other officer.

Part of this is about how much DeKalb’s $50,000+ website sucks, but there’s more to it. On Friday, I received an email from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) officer that read, “As you may know, the City utilizes multiple police officers in its Resident Officer Program (ROP).”

No, I did not know that. How could I? The city’s website mentions exactly one resident officer, and there’s nothing in the Chronicle archives, either. Unlike those of other communities I looked up, there is virtually no current public information about this supposedly extensive public program.

Indeed, what I found were a couple articles published three years ago, when Officer Burke moved into a home that City of DeKalb purchased and renovated with Tax Increment Financing (TIF) funds (an arrangement the city refers to as “enhanced” ROP). Read the rest of this entry

In a recent post, CityEthics’ Robert Wechsler tackles the issue of public officials’ attacking citizens who question their ethics (my emphasis).

…[W]hen they engage in ethical misconduct, when they misuse their office or deal irresponsibly with their conflicts of interest, then they are acting not in their own right, but as government officials. And as government officials, they have an obligation not to attack those who make accusations against them. This is a misuse of office for one’s own benefit that, in most cases, is worse than the ethical misconduct they have been accused of. Government officials can deny that they engaged in this misconduct (if indeed they didn’t) and they have a right to defend themselves in an ethics proceeding, but that is all.

And, ahem, about the hired attack dogs:

And their agents have no more right than this. Officials should make this clear to their attorney (government attorneys should already understand their own fiduciary obligations) and publicly counter any inappropriate statement, as well as apologizing to anyone an attorney has attacked on their behalf.

DeKalb citizens who speak up are no strangers to bad treatment from this city regime as well as the one it replaced. Indeed, during the last council meeting, Alderman Noreiko used the time usually devoted to ward reports to attack citizens who had spoken during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Wechsler says that ethics commissions should intervene when public officials or their attorneys go on the attack. DeKalb, of course, doesn’t have one yet but this is another good reason why we should.


Illinois’ Model Ethics Ordinance & City of DeKalb

Public Participation Project: Your State’s Free Speech Protection

As the city ponders a property tax hike of 37% as well as water rate and fee “adjustments,” you may wonder how DeKalb has got itself mired in financial straits.

It’s actually nothing new. DeKalb’s budget issues are — and have been since at least 2005 — the result of snatching nearly every penny of revenue growth and putting them into more staff and higher salaries, to the detriment of other areas such as street maintenance.

Worse yet, DeKalb has to come up with, at minimum, a half-million new dollars in revenue each budget cycle just to stay abreast of annual personnel cost increases. It’s rendered the financial gurus unable to look ahead more than 12 months at a time because they continually need to chase the next rabbit for the proverbial hat.

Want proof? The stated Number One strategic priority of the City of DeKalb is “Infrastructure,” yet capital improvements are precisely the area that’s been starved in the current budget. That’s pretty messed up.

And a proposed 37% hike in property taxes bespeaks the latest shortage of bunnies for the hat trick. Read the rest of this entry

I want to thank the DeKalb County Citizens for Better Mental Health Care (CBMH) for keeping abreast of these developments and getting the word out.

In fact, if it weren’t for the ad hoc CBMH, there wouldn’t even have been a public hearing on the matter; hearings are not automatic and must be requested of the supervising state board.

This post combines facts from the application itself (the proposal requires approval of the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board), my observations of the September 24 public hearing, and reports from CBMH co-chairs Barry Schrader and Eileen Dubin obtained at a press conference earlier this week.

Mergers vs. Acquisitions

Many people use the words interchangeably, but there’s a distinction between mergers and acquisitions and Northwestern definitely wants to acquire KishHealth. From the application:

In the proposed transaction, Northwestern Memorial HealthCare (NMHC) will become the sole corporate member of KishHealth System (KishHealth). As such, NMHC will have the power and authority to govern, direct and oversee the property, funds, business and affairs of KishHealth.

It’s a change of ownership that, regardless of the appointment of a few local people to serve on the new board, would effectively end local control over the second-largest employer in the county.

CBMH points out that when Kish acquired the DeKalb Clinic, the Clinic employees lost all seniority. In the case of staff cutbacks, they’ll be the first to go. What is there stopping the same thing from happening to Kish staff?

For that matter, what would stop Northwestern from closing some departments or facilities? Answer: apparently, not much. This, from the “affirmations” attached as appendices to the application (my emphasis):

[Northwestern] and KishHealth do not anticipate any reductions to the scope of services or levels of care currently provided at Kishwaukee Community Hospital within 24 months after the affiliation.

Same goes for Valley West Community Hospital in Sandwich.

Read the rest of this entry

If you haven’t heard, banker Tim Struthers has been appointed by Governor Rauner to the NIU Board of Trustees, pending approval by the Illinois Senate. Trouble is, there’s compelling evidence of major conflicts of interest in his appointment, which the Edgar County Watchdogs have outlined admirably.

Struthers presently serves on the DeKalb County Sanitary District, The NIU Foundation Board, and holds over five million dollars of NIU money on a daily basis in his bank. If the past informs the future, we should look closely at an incident in recent history where Mr. Struthers leveraged his banks [sic] relationship with NIU, the City of DeKalb, and the NIU Foundation.

The Watchdogs are speaking, of course, of the College Town Partners public-private partnership deal for redevelopment involving NIU, City of DeKalb, two banks and a developer.

Representatives of Struthers’ bank drafted the partnership documents, which included a memorandum of understanding and a 50-page operating agreement that were secret until leaked to members of a neighborhood group following a May 2014 meeting of the parties.

To look at the agreements it’s obvious they were unworkable. For example, there is no way DeKalb’s city manager could legally have managed a private partnership operating in the same city and using DeKalb taxpayers’ money; a confidentiality clause was also problematic. As I wrote at the time, “Whoever developed [these agreements]…possesses no grasp of the ‘public’ part of public projects.”

Emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act indicate that a press release distributed by Preserve Our Neighborhoods on May 27, 2014, resulted in a local radio station contacting Mayor John Rey about the partnership. Rey in turn contacted Struthers and NIU officials to discuss the matter. Struthers responded in detail.

By the way, Michael and Misty Haji-Sheikh of Preserve Our Neighborhoods have spent the past year and a half requesting, fighting for, and sifting through emails, calendars and other records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, and whether or not the College Town Partners signed something is still anything but clear.

…the Illinois model ordinance [for adoption by local units of government] is not even minimal. It only deals with political activities and gifts. There is nothing about conflicts; the word doesn’t even appear. To call it an ethics ordinance is like calling a burglary law a criminal code.
~ Robert Wechsler, CityEthics.org

Minimal as it is, City of DeKalb still can’t get it right. Remember when DeKalb Mayor Rey was called out for using his city email account for political activities? He was “admonished” by the city manager, who is the designated ethics advisor for the city. Even beyond the fact that city council members are the collective boss of city staff and shouldn’t be “admonished” by any city employee, that’s not how a complaint is supposed to be handled. Here’s what the Office of the Attorney General has to say:

Because it is vital that officers and employees understand the ethics laws, Article 15 of the Model Ordinance provides for the designation of an Ethics Advisor to whom officers and employees can address questions or concerns regarding compliance with its provisions, as well as other ethics matters, such as filing Statements of Economic Interest, where required.

Get it? Advisor. Handles questions and concerns, not complaints. Complaints are supposed to go to an ethics commission if the local unit has adopted this part of the model ordinance, and if the local government has not adopted a commission (as DeKalb has not), complaints are supposed to go “to an attorney representing the entity for review and prosecution.”

Did the city attorney not know this, or was he counting on no one’s looking it up?

Obviously, the city has not yet adopted enough of the state’s model ordinance language to address its responsibility to penalize ethics scofflaws like Mayor Rey. Considering that local units of government, home rule or not, are required to adopt regulations that are “no less restrictive” than those contained in the Ethics Act, and “admonishment” is lesser than prosecution, DeKalb should correct its ethics ordinance right away.

The AG’s model ordinance is here. It is 11 pages long.

DeKalb’s ethics ordinance is here. It is two pages long.

Mayor Rey accepted the gift of a trip worth more than $1,000 in September 2013, according to Northern Illinois University records recently obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

Rey and NIU President Doug Baker traveled to Moscow, Idaho, to foster better “town-gown” relations and to take in a football game between NIU and the University of Idaho.

NIU paid for the mayor’s plane tickets and reimbursed him for his hotel stay. See the documentation here.

State of Illinois rules allow for some exceptions to its gift ban, such as travel expenses incurred “to discuss State business” and for “intergovernmental gifts” and these exceptions have no specified monetary limits. DeKalb has adopted state rules in their entirety into its Municipal Code, so it doesn’t appear any were broken.

However, that should not preclude the public from making judgments about Rey’s judgment, the size of the gift (which, after all, involves public funds) and its implications for town and gown.

And Illinois law does allow local governments to pass ethics ordinances that are more restrictive than what’s on the state books.

We’ve occasionally pointed out how DeKalb’s ordinances don’t always match up to Illinois statutes. The most recent example is contained within the lawsuit filed last week against the city, which details how the language of the DeKalb Municipal Code differs from state law in the matter of mayoral voting.

So, too, does the language differ in the matter of the consent agenda. Here’s what the statute says (my emphases):

[65 ILCS 5/3.1-40-40] The yeas and nays shall be taken upon the question of the passage of the designated ordinances, resolutions, or motions and recorded in the journal of the city council. In addition, the corporate authorities at any meeting may by unanimous consent take a single vote by yeas and nays on the several questions of the passage of any 2 or more of the designated ordinances, orders, resolutions, or motions placed together for voting purposes in a single group.

And here are DeKalb’s rules:

c) The Consent Agenda may, in the initial discretion of the City Manager, include any of the items listed on the Regular Meeting agenda. Each and every matter contained on the Consent Agenda may be passed in an omnibus fashion and shall require the concurrence of a majority vote of the Aldermen holding office, with the right of the Mayor to vote as otherwise provided by law. At any Council meeting, any member of the City Council shall have the right to have any matter on the Consent Agenda removed therefrom and placed as a separate item on the agenda, within the appropriate category. At any time prior to a vote on the passage of the Consent Agenda, a member of the public may request of an Alderman that a matter be removed from the Consent Agenda and be placed as a separate item on the agenda. It is within the discretion of the Alderman to do so. (06-32)

DeKalb has once again created exceptions for itself. Instead of abiding by the rule that the consent agenda be approved by unanimous vote, it has lowered the bar to require a simple majority; and, in replacing the vote of the corporate authorities with aldermen only, is a rule that might exclude the mayor. Read the rest of this entry

Mayor Rey opened the city’s strategic planning meeting last evening just after 5pm, only to be challenged from the audience by county board member and Preserve Our Neighborhoods founder Misty Haji-Sheikh. Haji-Sheikh raised a point of order about the legality of the meeting. The “retreat” meeting was billed as Committee of the Whole, which the online version of the Municipal Code says takes place on the second and fourth Mondays each month, and in council chambers. Coming on a Thursday and being held at NIU, last night’s meeting met neither requirement.

Or maybe it did. City attorney Dean Frieders — who by the way got to take off his lawyer hat last night and help develop public policy, while citizens in the audience had to wait four hours to speak — said the applicable ordinance has been changed and the city is complying with the new rule, but that it just hasn’t been posted to the city’s website yet.

Here’s what the Open Meetings Act says:

(5 ILCS 120/2.02) (from Ch. 102, par. 42.02)
Sec. 2.02. Public notice of all meetings, whether open or closed to the public, shall be given as follows:
(a) Every public body shall give public notice of the schedule of regular meetings at the beginning of each calendar or fiscal year and shall state the regular dates, times, and places of such meetings.

So even if the city is following changed meeting schedule rules — and I am by no means sure this is the case, until I can check a certified copy of the ordinance — it neglected to post the new ones in the Muni Code by the time the new fiscal year began July 1.

Once again, citizens are getting bad information despite good-faith attempts to look it up.

Anyway, the usual way to address a point of order is for the chair to make a ruling on whether a breach of the rules has occurred, and if so to resolve it.

Mayor Rey’s response to Misty Haji-Sheikh was to say, “Take it up with the Attorney General.”

In the excitement, the meeting proceeded without council’s having approved the agenda.

Newspaper coverage of the meeting is here.

The Illinois Attorney General’s Public Access Counselor has accepted my Request for Review of the DeKalb city council’s decision of May 26 to raise the city manager’s pay without public discussion.

From the Request:

There was no public deliberation of this matter even though citizens requested beforehand, both privately and publicly, that Council remove the item from the consent agenda to discuss and vote on it separately.

I believe a reasonable person would conclude that the matter had been discussed in closed session, which of course is allowed by the Open Meetings Act. However, OMA requires that closed session deliberation on personnel matters must end with public action, including recitation of the action item and giving other information to educate the public before the final vote is taken. These things did not happen, so the public was deprived of information such as why the raise is justified, how it affects the current budget, and why the decision was made to make it retroactive.

Although I did not specifically allege that an improper closed session took place — my focus is on council’s failure to bring what was discussed in closed session to light — the PAC will review both open and closed session meeting minutes. And there’s a question hanging: Who’s bright idea was it to place the raise on the consent agenda to avoid public deliberation, and how was consensus reached? The personnel exception to OMA allows only deliberation of:

The appointment, employment, compensation, discipline, performance, or dismissal of specific employees of the public body or legal counsel for the public body, including hearing testimony on a complaint lodged against an employee of the public body or against legal counsel for the public body to determine its validity. [5 ILCS 120/2(c)(1)]

Nothing in this exception allows for discussion about how to dodge public openness via consent agenda.

To my knowledge, three citizens requested of council members that they remove the item from the consent agenda for separate consideration. Council used to honor these requests. If they had done so on May 26, the city wouldn’t have to explain its actions now. Too bad.