City Watcher Thought #1 on Friday the 13th: Abandonment of City Manager

The Revoke Home Rule movement began earlier, but I am finding as I talk to well-informed neighbors that there is nearly if not just as much support for a referendum on abandoning the Council-Manager form of city government. Some believe the manager position should be abolished to make it clearer where the buck stops, but others think it could be a temporary measure for the sake of cleaning our municipal house.

16 thoughts on “City Watcher Thought #1 on Friday the 13th: Abandonment of City Manager”

  1. The whole problem that I have with getting rid of the manager form of government is that how many mayors that we have had or will have truly have the background, experience, and time to fulfill a full time obligation?

    I like the present form of government when it is being used and run correctly. With no offense intended to our council and mayor but how many truly have the experience in running a business with the assets and obligations that DeKalb has. This is why the manager needs to be forthright with his advice and has to be trusted to the outmost that his advice and recommendations are for the best of this community. It is his job to present all facts and information to the council so that they can have proper discussion on all matters so that when they do vote, that this vote included all factors and that the council and mayor could make that vote as a truly informed one.

    Agreeing to the city employees contract that also included the need for 6 additional tax hikes was not putting everything in front of the council. We see that now with the new found monies. Rushing the council with a false sense of urgency was also not proper on the managers side.

    I do not say that the mayor and council are not guilty of some wrong doings here. I for one am not crazy about meetings going long and do not think that the mayors push to hurry the council meeting offered an opportunity for proper discussion. There also may be a little intimidation involved to where council members feel that they are limited to questions they ask. I was always thought that there is no such thing as a stupid question. I have found out that some questions sound completely different when truly spoken out however.

    I’m not sure where we would be right now if a few more questions were asked last year when the first inkling of a deficit was mentioned but I do know one thing for sure today, there are many more questions that need to still be asked and more importantly, answered.

  2. The problem in DeKalb is not the form of government and not the taxing situation, but the root is with the city manager himself. He is pushing for all these programs that were tried in Elgin and the result there are many empty but new buildings downtown. We cannot afford that here. We cannot afford to have tax money siphoned off and diverted to TIF. Without TIF, I believe there would be no budget crisis. Do we really need to spend $2,000,000+ to redo a parking lot? No. Could it use some resurfacing? Maybe, but it does not have to cost $2,000,000+. Would we need all of the tax increases without those projects to save everyone’s jobs? Maybe not.

    Sure, that money for whatever that equipment is in Public Works may have been sitting there in plain site but there was no indication from the city manager weeks ago that perhaps that money was not necessary.

    Do I think the city manager is trying to manipulate the city council? Yes. Do I think he is trying to cram that chronic nuisance ordinance down everyone’s throats by telling the council that if they don’t approve that, then three people will lose their jobs? Yes. Do I think that it was wrong to budget salaries to a program not yet approved? Yes. Do I think that was rude and immoral? Yes. Is that illegal? No. Is it something that we want for our community, to have someone play with city employees’ livelihoods and jobs as though they are pawns to get tax increases and to get pet projects supported? I hope not. What good will two new $55,000 hybrid SUVs do if there is no one around to drive them?

    Herb may disagree but when the choice is between a skating rink, raising taxes, and keeping people employed, it is time to completely reassess the decisions that were made, and the decisions that will be made.

    It is time to choose to put people first.

  3. With all due respect boy do I disagree. It is not the manager that is at fault but the mayor and council.

    Just look at the recent budget advisory committee. I watched Tuesday night, member after member of the citizens committee give opinons and recomendations to the council. The council just stared into space. How many members stated that the city needs to look at cost sharing for the health insurance premiums? What did the council recommend? Nothing. How many stated we need to address the way the city taxes and it’s proportions to the total revenue? What did the council do? Nothing! Suggestion after suggestion was made by the citizens committee and the council just sat there. FINALLY the City Manager said to the Council you need to give us some direction on what you want staff to do. Staff does not want any last minute suprises on June 23 give us direction now.

    It was then that a few of the alderman said we need to increase what we are budgeting for fuel as that seems low.

    GIVE ME A BREAK!!!!!

    If it wasn’t for Mac MacIntyre that woiuld have been it. Mac insisted that the city propose a budget with a 10% reduction in administrative costs. Without Mac nothing would have been done to the budget recommendation even after pleas from the manager for the council to give some direction.

    Meeting after meeting I hear the Manager ask council for direction on an issue and the usual response from the council are usually blank stares or something like ” well you should know what to do”.

    This budget shortfall should not have surprised anyone. Look at the budget report that says the City has not met it’s financial obligation for the past 2 years. An obligation to put 2% on the City Home rule tax aside for capitiol improvements was passed in 2006. It was never honored in 07 or 08. Where was the council on this issue?

    Finally the issue of trust has to be brought up. After years of supporting the issue of remodeling downtown DeKalb it finally comes up to a vote to spend some money. One council person who has continually supported this program suddenly states that he can no longer support this project. Talk about “grandstanding” for one’s own political future.

    I really think this couincil and mayor have missed the boat the past 4 years but fully understand there are those that will disagree. I feel that this council got to tied up in it’s socail agenda and completely missed the boat it it’s financail responsibilites. The council needs to take care of the City business first and foremost.

    Sorry for all the typos but as one can tell I’m ******* off

    I will always sign my name
    Ed Pevonka

  4. The petition is online @ Bigdekalb.com

    “To: Mayor Frank Van Buer; Aldermen Bertrand Simpson, Kris Povlsen, Vic Wogen, Donna Gorski, Ron Naylor, Dave Baker
    and Brent Keller
    Whereas: we the undersigned citizens and taxpayers of the City of DeKalb are concerned with the lack of transparency and
    integrity of financial accounting as demonstrated by the transfer of an $800,000 deficit and then the sudden appearance of a
    $485,000 surplus in the FY09 budget. We demand transparent accounting of public funds, public borrowing and public
    contracts with private ventures. There should be no lingering doubt of any improprieties.

    Now therefore: we hereby call for an Independent Certified Financial Audit of ALL City of DeKalb financial records
    and accounts for FY06, FY07 and FY08 and demand that the unedited comments and recommendations from the
    auditors to the Mayor and City Council be made public immediately.”

  5. You are correct Ed. The buck does stop with the mayor and council. No matter what the manager does do or has done, the final decision is the council. The council had and still does have many opportunities to do right by this community and they are showing us their cards early.

    They are not going to take the advice they have been given despite knowing that possible turmoil (let’s rephrase that with inevitable turmoil) just around the corner.

    I also have a problem is that the police station has been in the planning stages for over 7 years now and nothing has been saved for it. Oh, sure they bought the land for it but no monies for a station. They could easily make the recommended cuts, start redoing contracts for a co pay on insurance (15 to 25%) and easily build this police station by just making these cuts from well thought out and community supported recommendations.

    I personally see and notice that there are several councilmen that seem to be positioning themselves to run for the mayor position. Well, if they don’t do right now with this budget and make some more cuts, they need not even try.

  6. Audit? I thought that is what they hire Sikich to do, to audit. I thought they already audit. Maybe I am wrong? I thought they hired Sikich to audit last year and they just voted to accept Sikich again this coming year to do an audit. What am I missing?

    The carried over debt and the $485,000 are not auditing problems. That comes to no one asking what is that $485,000 designated for in the Public Works section and the poor timing of when Biernacki and Monas said they no longer have a need to buy the equipment. Making a decision not to buy equipment is not an auditing issue. Waiting until the last minute to say they did not need the equipment is a decision issue. I know I asked that “inanimate objects” that are not needed be cut during the first budget meeting.

    I agree with a lot of what Ed wrote. The Council is supposed to give city staff direction but they are leaving decisions up to city staff. I do think there is a major intimidation part–how many people can stand up in public to ask questions when they get dressed down for asking those questions? So, what happens is there is a lack of intestinal fortitude to stand up and ask the right questions, which leads to poor decisions. The pet downtown projects get approval when we cannot afford them. The city manager says either inspectors go or the proposed nuisance ordinance goes. No one on the Council questioned that. Mac did–he asked for a preparation of what the budget would look like if the proposed ordinance does not pass. If the city manager is setting the wrong priorities, those will go unchecked.

    I was for the $100,000 they spent a while back to get some paint downtown. Some of the buildings look a lot better. But to spend $111,000,000 pay-as-you-go for twelve years? Other than Mac who asked about that, why did it not get questioned months ago?

    When is Mac running for Mayor? :-)

  7. Sorry for my vent but one more issue.

    After seeing first hand the way this City manages it’s own properties ( IE Police Department) I do not want them passing landload / property ordinances. Their track record speaks for itself.

    Boy am I havig a bad day

    Ed Pevonka

  8. Ed–You said what had to be said.

    So when does the mold in the Police Department get labeled a “chronic nuisance” and the City starts paying itself $250 per day until abatement and re-inspection?

    ;-)

  9. Some humor is certainly needed. :-)

    Somebody needs to mow that vacant lot on the south-east corner of where N. 4th St. turns into Sycamore Road, across from Clinton-Rosette.

    The Park District seems to do a really good job of taking care of its stuff. They do a good job of mowing. I am happy to have Park District facilities in my neighborhood. Maybe the City should hire out some folks from the Park District to help. :-)

  10. The terms of the aldermen need to be changed to two years, and all of them are elected at once (hey if it’s good enough for the US House it should be plenty fine for DeKalb). The mayor can be 4 years.

    Somebody mentioned earlier somewhere that the labor contracts should be restricted by the muni. code such that their terms do not extend beyond the next mayoral election so that we voters can sanction in change on labor agreements more quickly (they work for us… remember?). Maybe give six months after the election as well so a new mayor has time to get adjusted to the job before negotiations begin, then space out the three contracts shortly thereafter.

    Those two ideas can pretty much be universally agreed to (except for the forces of the ruling clique who like their status quo just the way it is thank you very much).

    If the state ever gets its act together and allows recall elections of public officials (state constitutional amendment required) then that would probably be the best option of all, but because we have a bunch of felons running our state I may not ever see it in my lifetime.

    This gives me an idea. You have the home rule-repeal people go directly to the city manager’s office and present a deal. The city implements these reforms at the next possible meeting and the home rule referendum is taken off the table. Yes seriously. Mr. B. is a crafty guy and will realize that this is better than facing a massacre at the election which cripples the city’s spending prospects. Think of it like one of the many negotiation sessions during the Cold War. The Soviets agree to back off some such and such and we won’t nuke them. Of course we reserve the right to engage in the first strike doctrine (I’m sounding like Reagan! help!). :P

  11. I’d run for delegate to the constitution convention because that’s where a lot of the solutions are. That’s about the only race I’d be interested in as a candidate, anyway.

    I must say that city hall ain’t doing too well, as far as convincing DeKalbites that home rule should be retained. That could change. Action speaks louder than words but showing a little compassion for others would too… a little.

    “Ask not what your Public Servants can do for you. Ask what you can do for your Public Servants.”

    Did JFK really say that?

  12. thanks for the kind words guys and gals… I’m really just the mouthpiece for what I read and hear from y’all here and elsewhere. I can be as blunt as is needed because I got nothing to lose. Really.

  13. Dear Ed, it is certainly not disrespectful in & of itself to disagree; it’s the way it’s done. I throw it out there, it’s fair game as long as we don’t “go all Chronicle” and insult people.

    Dear Mac, you can’t blame an adoring public for trying to draft you…

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