Besides DeKalb’s difficulties in following the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (and basic principles of customer service in the 21st Century) there’s another serious problem: failure of its online “FOIA Center” to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) rules.

Mac McIntyre of DeKalb County Online, who has also written about the misuse of the new FOIA Center, discovered the non-compliance issues on those pages of the city’s website as well. They are similar to previous findings.

In a nutshell, if you have a visual impairment and try to navigate FOIA Center webpages, you’re pretty much screwed.

But at least the city’s new IT director has acknowledged the problem. Last time we broached the subject, the tactic was to deny, deny, deny. Maybe this time it’ll get fixed.

Related: City Barbs: Website accessibility and the fine print

I told you a couple months ago that DeKalb’s problems are remedial, and I really mean it. They do not have the slightest idea how to deliver a good customer experience to the public.

Their latest trick is the new Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) “system.” The press release is here.

The web-based FOIA software system allows users to register for an account, submit FOIA requests, and track progress of FOIA requests from submittal to completion. The system also allows users to browse all FOIA requests previously submitted to the City, along with the published responses and all responsive records.

It actually sounds like a good option, assuming the system works and that a person is both willing and able to create and maintain an account. The trouble is, in real life the city is not treating it as an option, but rather trying to force requesters to use it. They have eliminated information about alternatives from the website. Also, I have talked to two people so far whom city staff have called up and tried to bully into using the “system,” rather than do business their preferred way, which is email.

Bad form, DeKalb. Also wrong strictly from the FOIA standpoint. Read the rest of this entry

In my last post, I explored how Tax Increment Financing (TIF) dollars for FY2016 were budgeted versus actual spending. This time I hope to explain the discrepancies, at least partially.

TIF districts have their own budgets in their own funds that are separate from the city’s general operating fund called the General Fund. DeKalb currently has two active TIF districts/funds, TIF 1 (AKA Central Area TIF) and TIF 2.

To summarize the situation: For FY2016, $1 million was budgeted for street construction/reconstruction in TIF 1. However, in the budget narrative for the half-year budget called FY2016.5, staff reported that they “[f]unded street improvements in the amount of $600,000” in FY2016, and in the annual TIF report to the state for that fiscal year, it was revealed that less than $75,000 was actually spent for street improvements out of that fund. Read the rest of this entry

City of DeKalb budgeted $1 million for street reconstruction out of its FY2016 Central Area TIF District 1 budget, but actually spent less than $75,000 that year for all street work in the district, even though one official budget document indicates much more spending than that.

Here are the facts:

FY2016 Adopted TIF 1 Budget:
Street improvements/maintenance budgeted: 0
Street construction/reconstruction budgeted: $1,000,000 Read the rest of this entry

A friend of mine asked a couple weeks ago whether there is some way to calculate how much growth there’s been of bureaucrats in city government. Like many locals, I know that the DeKalb city manager has been generally allowed to spin off new departments and hire new administrators without restraint, but we’re somewhat lacking in numbers.

The main question: Just how top-heavy has the city become?

My approach was to look at departments funded by the General Fund — and divisions of these departments, where applicable — with a view toward defining what makes each particular department/division primarily about administration, versus frontline public safety, versus none of the above.

The details of the methodology are placed at the end of this post.

Going back far enough that I could fully appreciate what Mayor Rey and Manager Gaura have wrought, I found that expenses in the General Fund (GF) have grown by $6 million since FY2013.* Roughly $4 million of it has gone to the public safety category of police and fire personnel ($2.65 and $1.33 million, respectively) and $2 million towards administrative functions in GF departments.

To break it down further, of the $2 million for admin, a bit more than $300,000 has gone into the administrative divisions of police and fire, and the rest of it to the city manager’s office and the creation/expansion of the HR, IT, and Community Development departments.

They’re getting more in terms of GF dollars, but so is almost everybody. Are the admins actually getting a larger slice of the pie than they used to? Yes. The administrative piece from FY2011 through FY2014 averaged 21.5% of the admin-public safety total, but now its share exceeds 26%.

Public Works gets no pie, particularly not its Streets Division, which has had virtually the same budget since the personnel reduction and organization of FY2011.
Read the rest of this entry

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Our city is suffering, and at least one of the mayoral campaigns is distracting us from beating incumbents to fix it. This could have dire consequences for turnout in a campaign season that, like this one, has not generated a whole lot of excitement.

I get it. It can be difficult to face, much less articulate, the nasty truth of the matter, which is that on a good day city hall is dysfunctional, and on a bad one it’s a sociopathic looting machine.

But everyone should still try, and on that count let’s put this baby to bed. Read the rest of this entry

***Update 3/28: I’m hearing that some are having trouble with the links to the reports, so here’s an alternative way to get at them: 1. Go to the Comptroller’s Local Government Division page, and select the menu item that reads, “Upload TIF Reports.” 2. Scroll down to the bottom of the “Upload TIF” menu list and select “View Submitted TIF Reports.” It should be pretty straightforward from there.***

The TIF Joint Review Board will meet the morning of April 13. The annual TIF reports referred to in the agenda are here:

Central Area TIF Report for 2016

TIF District 2 Report for 2016

The Joint Review Committee usually meets in December or early January, so the annual meeting will be nearly four months late.

A few weeks ago I argued that City of DeKalb will continue to fail at solving its problems until we elect leaders who understand and value public ethics.

The apparent intertwining of city business with Mayor Rey’s campaign business reinforces my position.

January 9: DeKalb city council approves the hiring of a consultant to help with asset management of city streets and related infrastructure.

February 6: Rey’s campaign committee files a Statement of Organization with the Illinois State Board of Elections. It indicates funds available in the amount of $1,211.80. Reported on the same date is Rey’s contribution of $5,000 to his campaign.

February 15: Rey’s campaign committee reports that John Pappas has contributed $1,000 to Rey’s campaign.

February 26: In response to a question from the audience, Rey announces at a candidates’ forum that his campaign has raised about $10,000 so far.

February 27: Rey’s committee reports that International Union Of Operating Engineers Local 150 has contributed $1,000 to Rey’s campaign. Many operating engineers build roads.

February 27: DeKalb city council approves rezoning for the Cornerstone development at First and Lincoln. The principal developer is John Pappas. The deal will include $3 million in public money for the project.

March 3: Rey’s committee reports that Oakland & Sycamore Road Development LLC has contributed $2,500 to Rey’s campaign. John Pappas is named as agent and manager.

March 15: Daily Chronicle interviews City of DeKalb public works director Tim Holdeman, who describes the department’s development of a pavement management program that may recommend the city spend $5-$9 million per year on its streets.

I’m sure none of this is illegal in Illinois, but it smells of pay-to-play, a game a lot of us don’t like.

DeKalb’s latest Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) is out. It covers Fiscal Year 2016, which ended June 30, 2016. The big news is the net pension liability.

Public safety expenses related to the operations of both the Police Department and Fire Department accounted for the largest share of expenses at $33,400,660 or 50.1% of the total. This represents a 50.1% increase from the FY15 total of $22,259,920. This increase was due primarily to the increase in the net pension liability for police and fire pension plans.

Yes, the city’s net financial position was reduced in one year by $12.4 million, and an increase in long-term liabilities accounts for about three quarters of the loss.

We can attribute a combination of factors in the increase in liabilities, not the least of which were investment returns coming in well under the actuarial assumption of 7.5%. However, today I’d like to focus on the growth of membership in the public safety pension plans, because it’s shocking to see them escalate like this while DeKalb itself is shrinking.

dyerware.com


Read the rest of this entry

***Note: This was originally published in June 2016. I am posting an updated version today, since the referendum ended up on the April 4, 2017 ballot instead of last November’s.***

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