Lunch is on Me

I wasn’t going to even go there this month (start p. 42), but some Internet Research Commandos (though not our beloved Originals) kept bugging me about stuff like this:

196055 FIRST BANKCARD…8376 17.24 FINANCE CHARGES [oops?]

I guess because, knowing what they do about the city budget, they resent our administrators acting like they have no cares in the world.

Personally, I also resent $150 being spent for these DeKalb County Economic Development roundtables (monthly, I think? p. 57) when we already pay DCEDC thousands.

But when it comes to the City Check Register for the month of April, I most of all resent $2790 being paid to a person who was contracted–instead of hired in order to get around the freeze–for a department that supposedly doesn’t even exist yet (p. 62 and here).

Question: How many people who do business with the City of DeKalb ended up on the Financial Advisory Committee? There is at least one. Does that seem right to you?

38 thoughts on “Lunch is on Me”

  1. Yinn you write so well but are rushing in this one and have lost me. So a few questions (and one comment).

    The first two lunch expenses do we know the why of them? Was there some public sector purpose accomplished? I can’t decipher the explanation in the ‘check register

    I do disagree on the DCEDC thingie. Everyone pays the lunch fee. Periodically I attend these sessions (at my own expense even though I do so because of my committee work) Uniformly I learn more from these sessions than I do at conferences that costs hundreds if not thousands (because they are out of town). The session on economic development strategy and the other one housing that I attended were quite valuable to me as a scholar and activist and committee person and did present information that city administrators ought to have. Combining planning concerns about housing and economic development and jobs is what city planning folk ought to be doing.

    But now the biggie: Do we know what the contracted person was doing? If the person was acting as an inspector for current programs, I’m a tad upset, because of the freeze, but maybe a need came up. Yeah, I am upset because of the freeze.. But if the person was hired for the proposed but not passed program I do will be very upset. In any case, an inquiry is in order.

    I was going to thank you for your work, but am not sure. I really was feeling calm today, doing some of my own work, and now this. ugh. Seriously, thanks for digging and let’s get the next level of facts on these matters.

    I think I’ll send your post to Rudy and see what he says.


  2. It’s to bad we do not get to see all of the “checks” in the “check register”. Just think how many qustions there may be if all the checks were posted not just those they want to release. Just follow the “check nunbers” and see how many “checks” are actually excluded.

  3. Ed,
    Are you really sure or are checks just coming from different accounts with different return dates. What you are saying is really serious if true since this is the official report to the council on actual expenditures. I highly doubt that there is any selectivity in what appears to be a photo of the actual ledger.

    Can you double check in the previous months report to see if there are overlaps.

    Do you have evidence to the contrary?



  4. Topic At Hand:

    Having someone go to a restaurant IN DEKALB on the taxpayers’ dime is ridiculous.

    Topic of Waste:

    I received one notice from the city about the June 9th meeting on the proposed TIF district about two weeks ago or so. Yesterday, I received a notice from the Post Office that there was something I had to go sign for and pick up in person at the Post Office. Anyway, I made a special trip to the Post Office during lunch to pick up whatever someone sent me. It turns out it was a certified envelope from the City, the same letter I already received!! I have not yet had time to look to see how much more expensive it is to mail a second set of letters out at certified mail rates but I can imagine it is NOT FREE. I have not had time to dig around in ordinances, etc. to see if sending a notice by certified mail is required, but whatever it takes to change that, this waste needs to stop. The Post Office is competent enough to deliver one letter using regular mail.

    Topic of Why I am Irritated Today:

    Sometime in the middle of the night, I heard gunfire, lots of it, off in the distance. It was loud enough to disrupt my sleep but not loud enough to wake me up fully. Instead, it was loud enough to completely disorient me. I could not decide if I was having a nightmare but it was not loud enough to wake me up enough so I could get out of bed and call it in. My guess is someone was using the empty building behind Woodworks on Pleasant as target practice again. It really messed with my sleep and I was a zombie all day. I did talk to the police this morning, just in case the nightmare was real. Others did call it in and I cannot imagine how terrifying that noise was to those who lived closer to it. I hope nobody got hurt. That said, I am furious. Having gunfire in the city certainly causes some negative quality of life issues, besides just the noise. Gee, I cannot imagine that a building full of bullet holes would be worth a lot to contribute property taxes to its fullest value and potential either, nor the houses in the surrounding area.

    Ivan–This means I will support whatever it takes to allow the police to do their jobs to the best of the ability to round up and nail all these jerks to the wall. There cannot be underfunding of police (and fire) because of over-funding of pet departments and projects elsewhere. There cannot be true economic development until residents and business owners can live in a reasonably safe environment. Period.

    The Pleasant Street area Neighborhood Watches will meet at Liberty Park on Thursday, June 5th, at 7:00 p.m. Any Neighborhood Watches elsewhere in town can come and others are welcome. Folks can bring kids, dogs, and lawn chairs, although there is a shelter with benches.

    The group did vote to kick out a certain person known for having a problem with lying and association with a particular discriminatory piece of correspondence.

  5. The point I was trying to make is that I would guess that the missing sequencial checks are payroll related which I believe is the 800lb Gorilla.

  6. Sorry I missed a point. I have never seen a check register that lists the checks accourding to accounts or when they clear the bank. I check register is just that, a numerical listing of all checks in a sequencial order.

  7. Whew! Pevo, glad you clarified your points. I suppose the omission of payroll checks is governed by the same privacy niceties that don’t allow us to see individual salaries. Not that I agree, esp. as concerns appointed administrative positions.

  8. Kay,
    We had few troubles or complaints during the years I was on plan commission. (people disagreed with much but procedures were smooth).

    But early on some people claimed they had not gotten notice of a meeting impacting their property. Staff at that point started sending certified letters to people within x distance of the property under discussion.

    This is one of those darned if you do, darned if you don’t situations. Certified mail costs more but citizen complaints on zoning matters that they didn’t receive notice were also taken seriously and if a home within x feet of a case did not receive a notice the zoning decision could be more easily contested in court. State law requires people within x feet to get such a notice and if the city can’t show that such a notice was received it is in violation of state law.

    Ed, I thought you were implying that some sneaky items were being paid for. Glad that you weren’t.

    Again Kay. I’m puzzled by the small restaurant bill but assuming that it was for a legitimate business purpose the location shouldn’t matter. If it weren’t a legitimate business purpose the location should matter either, it would be wrong. When we had job candidates in at NIU, we took them out to dinner, one person who took them out got a free dinner (and any one else who accompanied the group paid for themselves.) On a ledger that would show up as a DeKalb dinner (and nobody really liked those dinners since they were away from home.) Again, info is needed before jumping to conclusions; that is why I asked Rudy.



  9. I don’t usually have to do much moderating besides eliminating spam, but every once in awhile we hit a nerve. Dear would-be commenters: a respectful tone is very important.

    Herb, I’m afraid I don’t care what the business was, AFAIC if they were in town they can brown-bag it or pay for their own lunch. I don’t care what the contracted person is doing–I mean, besides hawking the rental inspection program–a hiring freeze is a hiring freeze. There’s a lot of talk about economizing but the registers haven’t shown much of the “lifestyle” change that is required. Don’t make me bring out the petty cash records!!

    Anon: good thinking.

  10. Yinn,
    You are persuasive on the hiring freeze meaning a freeze. At the university I used to complain when all academic positions were frozen and then a ranking administrator would get to hire an assistant.

    I’m still not sure on the small lunch expense. The city could and should adopt an economy policy of no lunches, that’s fine. But if someone were told to take someone out to lunch, forcing the person to pay is also not right, IMHO. Do we know if the city employee actually ate the lunch or the compensation was for paying for a guest? (Confession city once treated me to a veggie sandwich along with less healthy things for others on a committee on which i was on. Committee had an emergency meeting that backed up on another meeting allowing no time for a light meal outside; that expense i bet showed up under the bureaucrat’s name)

    Where I’m coming from is a concern that employees are mandated to do something that costs them money yet can’t get compensation back. I’m probably responding on a personal level here to my own experiences. As an academic i was mandated (well, not quite mandated but couldn’t do my job) unless i attended meetings that nowadays would cost about 1500-2000 a throw. University usually compensated at about $400 level, leaving me with an after tax loss of well over a grand. I had no choice but to eat that grand but was not pleased being told you more or less have to do this but we won’t pay.

    Anyway, your broad principles are find and with them i totally concur:

    open and transparent budgeting
    no pretending that there are economy moves when they are ignored

    Upside: until some of us (you and me included) pressured for more openness none of what we are learning would have been as easy to learn as it now is. To me that is progress. Sunlight first then disinfectant.



  11. When I was hired by a city, the contract had to be approved by an ordinance passed by a majority vote of the council. The amount was public knowledge. This should be the case for the contracted professionals here in DeKalb. Irene Rubin drilled it into our heads that it was absolutely imperative to avoid even the slightest whiff of impropriety. To that end, I always bought my own lunches, and if I took someone, say the school superintendent, out to lunch, it came out of my own pocket. I think the only time I got reimbursed for a meal was when I took the officials from our sister city in Sweden out on the town of Galesburg. I would also drive out of town if I wanted a glass of beer or wine with my dinner. No sense getting the rumor mill fired up unnecessarily. Again, a matter of propriety. Since the City is in a financial bind, I would think that its employees should make at least a show of reducing expenses, even something as seemingly trivial as a lunch.

  12. Steve,
    Who is this Irene Rubin :)

    I checked out one of the meal things. it was breakfast for some staff who voluntarily showed up very early for non compensated overtime for work that had to be done pre work day.


  13. Herb–Fine on the certified letter but that does not explain why there were two mailings, one by regular mail and one by certified mail.

    Everybody–There is a foreclosure notice on the back page of the Classified Marketplace section of today’s Chronicle. It is LaSalle Bank v. Park 88, Francis D. Spooner, River Mist, Paul J. Lehman, and Macom for 11 parcels of land near Fairview and Peace. Is that what Shodeen’s plans to purchase (or a portion)?

  14. Kay,
    Don’t want to sound like I’m defending the city, just always looking for alternative explanations. I’m guessing now. Registered letters would be sent to those that the state mandates must get notice. Regular letters were sent to a wider area to include more people and then someone simply didn’t pull out the duplicates (that they should off/ Certainly the city should try to save the postage but the extended mailing is n attempt to be more inclusive in what are often controversial decisions.

    No on theShodeen. Shodeen purchase is of another farm next to 38 and Peace.

  15. People show up when they feel they’ll be heard and that it might make a difference. Results often have not been encouraging, and of course there’s always the intimidation factor.

    Mayor Van Buer should be congratulated for creating opportunities that I am now taking advantage of. Not only has he consistently championed public access and input, but in taking steps such as eliminating the stopwatch he has somewhat addressed the intimidation factor, too–though I bet a lot of people don’t know about the changes.

    Whether or not one speaks at a meeting also depends on one’s goals. Right now we’re not getting much gratification on the budget, and I don’t really expect to with this crew, but there are other things to be accomplished. For example, the city manager is now on record admitting that a new contractor was picked up despite the freeze. Also, he has asserted that all of the people slated for retirement as a budget-balancing measure will indeed be gone at the end of June–this is important to me, as the rumor mill suggested not all of them still planned to go after the sales tax hike was enacted. And if I make certain people uncomfortable, well, that’s always a bonus.

    Most of all, at this point with every defensive assertion it is becoming clearer which staff have retained strong identities as public servants and which ones have become “renegade” insofar as forming what I call “The Club,” showing departmental favoritism and forgetting whose feathers they are using to build their cozy nest. Next is to figure out its mysterious hold on the bulk of the Council–mostly it seems to be simple codependence, but there could be other factors–and to find a way to loosen or to break it, especially as concerns the spending spree.

  16. Right on Yinn. Hurray.

    Change is slow but with persistence it occurs. Remember even up to last year there was only one very brief non participatory public hearing and no financial advisory board and no one eyeballing the details of the budget. Problem is so many of the gorilla expenses are locked into future negotiations.

    I sometimes think we are doing too much micro-management by looking at the details (don’t yell at me yet) but i think it is important that we do look at these details simply encourage the more knowledgeable folk at city hall to ask themselves is this expenditure necessary because if it isn’t Kay or Yinn or Pevo (and maybe even Herb) will notice.

    First book I read in graduate school (40 plus years ago) was Lippman’s Public Opinion in which he emphasized the importance of the press (and citizens) shining the spotlight on government as a form of popular control. We’re doing that.

    On speaking, not everyone needs to speak. On the water issue in my neighborhood we had a room full of people at city hall. I spoke, but then referred to all those in the audience. On the anti-discrimination ordinance, more spoke (on both sides, never could figure out why anyone would speaking favoring discrimination?) but again large numbers were in the audience that the speakers referred to as willing to speak. That worked (I was in the audience and didn’t speak but was ready if necessary)

    Council involvement is interesting. I know the time that Yinn and Mac and Gracie and myself are putting in (also Kay but she works full time). All council members with the exception of the Mayor have full time jobs. Us citizen activists (busy-bodies, depending on you perspective) actually have more time to look at the budget etc. than do the part time council members. Advantage of such a system is none (or at least most) of the council members aren’t financially dependent on their office (though they can get ego dependent on the position but down side is that they can’t put in a full time effort, that’s what the council-manager form of government is about.. I really don’t know what balance I prefer but that is another problem for another day.


  17. I must expound on this one. Herb, we own a business. Like most business owners, we work way more than 40 hours/wk. even when times are good. We choose this life partially because of the freedoms it allows us. In THIS economy we are working even MORE hours than usual, just to keep up… OUR checks don’t just come to us if WE don’t bring the money in…. unlike those who work for the government.
    We are empty nesters now and don’t have the time requirements with our children that we used to. We are the type of people who have always donated some of our time to worthy causes. What Mac and I choose to do with our ‘freedom’ we get from owning a business, right now, is to spend the hours we used to spend with the kids, trying to help this community dig itself out of the hole we’ve gotten in to. We can go to daytime meetings and just work longer into the nite. I know not everyone can do that. However… IMO if one runs for City Council, or any position, they are telling the public that they will commit the time needed to get the job done. No excuses.

  18. Sorry if any insult was taken. I’m in awe of the time Mac and Gracie put in.

    Pre-retirement I made similar time decisions to you two, doing stuff at weird hours. Don’t have to now.

    Anyway, I don’t always agree with you too, but when i discuss local political activists with others you two are always at the top of my list of dedicated (perhaps excessively dedicated public actors). Mac was teasing me once about all of us getting a life.

    Anyway, I don’t know where you get the time. I know how long it took me to go through the budget and I did so less carefully than others in this blog.
    And, it was a huge amount of time. Those on the council have to spend time on other public issues and to be honest I don’t see where any one with a job has the time to do so.

    The purpose of a council-manager form of government is to have the manager do all the detailed stuff so council only has to do the broader policy stuff. One can question if that is working as it should right now.

    Hopefully the citizen advisory board will help bridge the gap. On plan commission stuff, the PC saved the council oodles of time. When large policy issues were evoked council did get involved, but the PC saved all the time on double checking plats, and clearances, and reconciling some but not all neighbor disputes), consistency with zoning etc. That way council could either quickly react to routine issues, spend time on the contentious ones, but not have to worry about the thousands of details that PC covered. No parallel body has existed until now to help with the budget.

    Anyway, apologies if any offense was taken. Having battled Mac and allied with Mac now well over too many years I am fully aware of the commitment of time put in by the Gracie-Mac team. (Not downplaying Gracie, but most of the public battles in which I was involved were Mac-Herb ones. When Gracie testified years ago on Mac’s side on impact fees, I think, I didn’t even know that Mac and Gracie were a pair.)

    Whoops I re-read my post. It was awkwardly written. I had already praise mac and gracie and Yinn etc. for their time commitment and then noticed that I had skipped Kay and that’s where the awkward phrase came in.

    Anyway, is that enough of a mea culpa?


  19. What I don’t understand is why the city is paying for lunches. Is it that the city employee is entertaining someone to do business with the City of DeKalb. It’s usually the sales person who pays for a lunch if the meeting is set up around a meal.

    I would really be interested to hear the story and particulars surrounding these lunch outings. If we are paying for an employees lunch while he/she is meeting with someone pertaining to city business then I say no more meetings during breakfast, lunch, or dinner unless the other buys.

  20. Actually, I work full-time and have two more jobs (taught five college courses in the spring–considered part-time for some reason), I am a full-time doc student, and I sent in three works for publication in the past two weeks.

    No offense Herb, but when you say how busy you are, you are kind of talking to the hand. ;-)


  21. P.S. That is sort of the new economy. So many people I know have more than one job just to make ends meet and to stay above water. People just do not have time to go to meetings all the time.

  22. Okay,
    Point is made. Kay clearly has the time sharing device that Hermione had in Harry Potter; I forget in which book. Point being made is how does anyone have the time for the public involvement? Yet, such involvement is increasingly necessary.


  23. I thought I wrote something about the IT department once before but I do recall people at the budget meeting questioning snow plowing and overtime. Snow is difficult to gauge as to when it comes and how long it takes to clean up. But, there should be no overtime in the IT department.

    The technology department of the city budget may be the biggest bloat. There should not be any overtime because those people should all be on salary. Those who have to show up to run the cameras for meetings should not be getting overtime because those happen at regular intervals. Their contract should be redone so the person (or persons) comes to work later in the day every other Monday, and so on for meetings. The industry standard for tech is salary with no overtime.

    For staffing, there should be one person for every 75 computers. To run computer systems, there should be one network administrator, one assistant who can fill in for the network administrator if out, and the rest should be technicians. There is no reason to have a technology director if that person cannot run servers. Usually a high salary comes with such a title. All of these people should be capable of adding content to the city’s website.

    Generally, no one else has any clue what computer people do for their jobs so sometimes they are the last group to get cut and those running the budget have no idea how much work they can and should do. I do not recall any discussion about the IT department during what I saw of the budget meetings.

    Taxpayers will scream if their streets don’t get plowed but won’t scream if it takes a couple of extra days for a technician to get around to loading the newest version of Word on the secretary’s computer, etc.

    There better not be any upgrades to Microsoft Vista in a cash-strapped year. When money is tight, some computer upgrades can be delayed, especially rotating in new computers to replace older ones that are not having any problems.

    There are 911 telecommunications to run. I can’t provide any advice on how many people should be involved with keeping that running. Obviously, that is not an area that should be short on staff.

    The Webcam idea for the parking lot is a big waste.

  24. IT is indeed one example of a division that grew fast over the past 6 years. The Webcam is an example of the creme de la creme the city is used to getting when it comes to technology.

    Even if this weren’t a crunch year, all these lunches are symbolic of the skewed priorities. If they had instead saved all the money spent on the lunches and the coffee and the gym memberships and the assistants to the assistants, we might have a chunk of change towards a police station by now.

    Gracie’s right that public participation is a matter of priorities but certainly not easy to juggle. Another part is the realization that a particular boat may not be able to right itself this time, that it may go under without additional help. To me, the city is that troubled boat right now.

  25. An anonymous source asked me to post the following information concerning the rare free lunches and gym meberships. They wanted to know why the “bloggers” were so harsh on them and afraid to take on the unions. Their case in point Firefighters contract Section 2.3 Special Assigments Battalion Chief Subsection A-4 says that everyday these Administrators work they will be paid 1/2 hour overtime for showing up to work 1/2 hour early. This is alomost $25.00 per day in overtime or about $8,00.00 per year. Questions that need to be asked are why do Admisistrators get overtime and why not just alter their work hours. Paying overtime to the admistrators of the fire department who already are making over $80,000.00 per year in base pay seems alittle much.

    I tend to agree with their statement.

    P.S. I did check the FY09 budget and there is $15,000.00 in overtime for the Fire Department Administrative Division. Since when do the Admisnistrators get overtime??


  26. Pevo, I am pro-union but do not believe that they should get every single thing they ask for. We obviously have been out-classed in the negotiations department.

    These administrators you are talking about should not get overtime, nor should others at that level. They should be salaried, as has been mentioned in the context of IT. If it hasn’t been brought up before, it’s merely a case of “so many issues, so little time” as well as the relative availability of certain documents.

    It has also been brought to my attention that the rank-and-file have suggested cuts to administrators’ salaries, but of course that question has not been revealed yet in the budget meetings/hearings–but that will change.

  27. Ok Herb, apologies taken and you are forgiven. Sometimes I think folks believe that someone must be paying us for all this time we are putting in on public matters and that is definately just not the case. And… you only have more public battles with Mac than I because someone needs to stay out there and keep selling advertising on I do it cuz I’m prettier than him ;)

  28. Ed,

    Usually the folks doing the actual work know a lot about what should and should not be cut but almost never do they have the power to say anything.

    Fires, floods, water main breaks, potholes, etc. (criminals never work 9 to 5 either) are all unpredictable and I can see overtime in situations related to all of those.

    Perhaps if folks who have suggestions but have no power to make them could funnel them confidentially, that would be great (other than a rock with a message tied to it through my picture window at the house). ;-)

    Anonymous people can write here, as long as they are polite, as stated by the Webmaster the other day. Anybody can set up a free e-mail address that is not work e-mail.

  29. By no means have I stated that I am anti union but I am pointing put some big problems the City faces with their contracts ( in my opinion only). Without posting any backgoring I do have extensive experience in both negotiating union contracts and also in managing departments with extremely large budgets.

    The problem I was pointing out in the post is that it is extremly rare to include the entire organization in a collective bargaining agreement. I no doubt support the union and their rights to collectively bargain for firefighters/ medics but it makes no sense to included the officers and administrators in that agreement.

    Their rolls are different. The rank and file preform the tasks. The managers do just that they manage and should be judge on how well they preform not on how long they have served in the position.

    If one feels the officers needs a collective bargaining agreement that is fine but it should be separate from the labot force agreement.

    I just cannot justify the new battalion chiefs getting 1/2 hour of overtime every day just for showing up for work 1/2 hour before the regular shift workers.

    More on the overtime in another post.


  30. Ed’s comments seen in light of the Berniacki-Guess discussion of fair labor practices poses an interesting problem, maybe one with an easy solution, maybe not.

    Generally bargaining is done between city manager and top staff and unions in camera, with council learning what is going on in closed session. Many of Ed’s suggestions and concerns certainly need to be addressed.

    One way of course is making sure senior staff and council are on top of such issues. But is it also possible to have members of the financial advisory board involved in closed sessions that discuss such contracts. I don’t have the foggiest idea. We should find out.

    I guess what I am asking are for us to work out mechanisms to get ideas such as those Ed proposes into the bargaining process without forcing council or staff to violate fair labor laws. I’m sure there is a way, just we need to have the way explained.

    Let me be clear on some personal issues. I’m not in favor of paying people compensation packages that are way out of whack. But on the other hand, I am in favor of fair compensation, decent medical care, living retirements etc. Not on these blogs (thank goodness) but sometimes on the Chronicle blog, people argue that “I don’t get such and such” why should so and so get it. I take a different approach, all workers should get certain benefits (though I’d prefer medical from a single payer not from employers) and I’m pleased when some get the benefits because they provide what the rest of us should strive for.

    Let me be clear. On health care and other benefits, I’m not saying we all should have the Lexus package that Congress gets. What I am saying is that when some workers do have a solid upgraded Corolla package, that those who have nothing should strive for the Corolla themselves rather than trying to take it away from others. I really had to get that out of my system.


  31. Kay. I see your point but when speaking of over 900k in overtime just for the fire department I would want more information other than we cannot tell when a fire is going to occurr.

    First of all I would ask for a breakdown of all overtime by position
    Battalion Chef
    Assistant Chief

    I would also ask for a breakdown of the event in which the overtime occurred.

    Shift Recall
    Department Recall
    Contractual ( just being on call)
    Covering sick days of another
    Covering Vacation days of another
    Contractual or selling of services
    Airport Duty (Ha Ha had to add that one)
    Any other category one could think of

    Once it is broken down by position and then event the picture will become much clearer. Remember I am looking for solutions not asking questions but for any of us to offer a solution we need more date and information.


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