Open Thread 12/2/08

Thought you might need it after reading this.

The residing “leadership” at DHS is as ineffective and combative as any I have seen, mainly from the top. Staff is often disregarded, almost contemptuously so. Constructive input, normally valued in education, is consistently met with intense hostility. Valid concerns are routinely warped into that of enemy fire and met with swift, severe retaliation. An unhealthy obsession with power and authority has led to a palpable sense of resentment throughout the staff. It is no small wonder that there have been more union grievances filed against this leadership than any other in recent memory.

Students are treated with equal ignorance. As evidenced by abrupt dismissals of valued staff and the implementation of grade-school-like behavioral programs (i.e., Barb Stamps), student input is effectively nonexistent. In place of a healthy spirit, inspiring creativity, free expression, and opportunities for psychological/social growth, is leadership that inspires little more than apathy and rancor. It is this leadership, this environment, which has greatly contributed to DHS failing to meet [Annual Yearly Progress goals], four years running.

But this is an Open Thread–what else is on your mind? DeKalb salt shortage? TIF funds to First Rockford Group for facade improvements on Sycamore Road?

44 thoughts on “Open Thread 12/2/08”

  1. Lots of talk about the accident on Peace yesterday and questions about who is responsible for plowing there.

    The most recent snow plowing route map I found available on the city website is from 2007, but it shows both Peace south of 38 and Fairview as major roads (top priority) that should have been both plowed and fully salted even with the new salting restrictions.

    That area is annexed into the city. It is part of 4th ward. I presume that the sheriffs deupties responded to the scene because the city police requested assistance in handling the number of calls.

    So, looks like snow fences are going to be a hot topic for next Monday.

  2. Snow fencing does not work all that well unless you can put it fairly close to the road. It’s also pretty darn expensive. Especially considering all the country-type roads we have around here… Money being like it is right now…
    I just don’t see snow fencing as any kind of real solution myself.

  3. I received the call for jury duty yesterday. It started out with Clerk Maureen Josh thanking everyone for showing up, etc. and an invitation to tour the Courthouse building when we had a chance. She then proceeded to tell us that the Courthouse needs expansion and the parking situation is not that great, with an invitation for anyone with ideas to give them to the County Board.

    Although Josh seemed friendly, I thought the comments about the Courthouse expansion were inappropriate propaganda and a tip off that the County may be thinking about expanding the Courthouse, yeah, like we can afford that! I really appreciate being told that by someone whose pay raise was more than my take home salary in a whole year–not. After all, I thought the jail was first in line.

    I did not get picked to serve on an actual jury.

    –Anonymous ‘Juror’

    P.S. Seriously, it is not that far from the parking lot across the street behind the County building to the Courthouse. Drivers on Route 23 were very, very polite and stopped to let people cross, myself and other groups of people I watched.

    Dear County, do not spend anything on parking by the Courthouse.

  4. Maybe plant a couple rows of big evergreens on either side of Peace, at least to make it managable. Everyone I’ve talked to says they don’t believe it was salted at all. Can’t tell if it’s just people frustrated about it or if there actually were no crews out there.

    The other anon:
    All of the county facilities in central Sycamore are ultimately going to need to be expanded/replaced in the next few decades for capacity reasons. Since the people of Sycamore seem to not like the idea of taking land next to the existing buildings, I would think that the county will have to decide to move out of downtown, perhaps to the area by 64 and Peace. Sycamorians will probably protest then too and try to have things both ways. Some needlessly expensive proposal will then be made and quickly approved.

  5. I’m holding back comments on the horrible accident until facts are known… other than my prayers are with the victims and their families.

    The salt-shortage issue must be addressed if its severity resulted in not salting Peace Road, a major thoroughfare (and some say local Autobahn) that is heavily used by passenger and freight vehicles, in the first snow storm of the winter.

    Does Sycamore, the County and the Townships all face this shortage? If not, why not? Do the rainy day funds include snowy days? Basic government services, folks.

  6. Mac:

    Here in Crystal Lake, they’ve purchased about a third less than last year. The city Streets director said the mains would get salt and the residential will see plowing but no salt. He also said that local drivers would have to change their driving habits. Since my boss’ boss lives in the same city, I told him my driving habits would be less to work and more from home. He’s already adopting a similar approach. Hope all is well with our friends in DeKalb.

  7. I hope Mr. Verbic is reading this. The City and the District need to be talking, and poor road conditions must be taken into account for District snow emergency days. As horrifying as the accident on Peace was, imagine a school bus in similar circumstances. And they drive through residential areas (which are not salted well … or at all???) How many accidents must occur before road safety becomes a priority this winter? Because here comes Round 2 …

  8. Snow and ice are a very difficult combination to take care on their own, now throw in 30 mph winds, dropping temperatures and open fields to the Mississippi River and now you know what the street and road departments must contend with. If there truly was 10 inches of snow at the accident site, this tells me that it had been a while since a plow had been through. It is right that salting will melt and freeze again as snow is being blown over the wet, melting ice.

    Since we only have 2 accesses to the tollway, it is pretty difficult to close these down, this is why there should have been a permantly assigned plow truck (or 2) to this stretch of road. Inexperience with driving in these conditions and the fact that so many drivers today are preoccupied with something else than driving leads to many accidents and/or near misses.

    We need to slow down, focus on driving and keep the spacing between cars and trucks longer. When you see flashing lights, this does not mean to speed up to see what is going on down there, it means slow down and drive with caution. Also, my best advise to all. Most times it is better for you to drive behind a plow allowing for decent spacing as not to get salt hurled up at you. The road isn’t any better ahead of him, that is for sure. Also, leave early on a bad day if you really have to go. Allow 15 to 30 minutes at least. Who knows, the life you save may be your own.

  9. Unless I mis heard, salting for major roads is no different this year than last year. it is the residential streets that will not get enough salt.

    So sad on the accident but if paper accounts are correct Peace was receiving the normal amount of salting. Very scary for all and a horrible tragedy for the families involved.

    If I remember correctly at the budget hearings, public works mentioned the dramatic increase in the cost of salt and the problems in obtaining it. No one — council, financial advisory committee nor observing citizens — suggested increasing that budget line as the goal seemed to be to hold back expenses.

    Critics mentioned that the cpi was going up by what 3-4 points, while government costs were increasing by more. Salt costs were up by what was it 50-100%. Did the streets department lose personnel during the cutbacks? Can’t remember and I can’t make the Chronicle search engine work.

    A mess and a tragedy

    Herb

  10. First and foremost we all need to take moment and lend our thoughts and prayers to the friends and families of those who lost their lives in this tragedy. A full investigation needs to be conducted before any final conclusion can be made as to the events that transpired on Monday afternoon.

    That being said, some observations of mine as to the conditions present on the roadways of DeKalb on Monday afternoon.

    Plowing was very good…SALTING almost NON-existent! I traveled from Fairview Northbound to Dresser Rd and it was a SHEET of ICE ”

    Upon calling various City of DeKalb elected officials, they assured me, on the basis of information provided by City Dept heads, that salting HAD occurred on Peace Rd (and on Annie Glidden for my travels) I cannot personally comment on Peace Rd, but I can tell you that “IF” Annie Glidden was salted, it was NOT at all evident in my travels despite the assurances given to my by our Mayor and our city manager.

    Road conditions did not improve until I was NORTH of the DeKalb City limits on Annie Glidden

    A Special message to our elected officials:

    We are at the start of the Hazardous Winter driving season. Let’s keep in mind that people’s lives and their safety should be a priority! Sure… we are dealing with tough budget challenges, but keeping our roadways safe for the citizen’s of DeKalb and it’s visitors should be a PRIORITY.

    Let’s take a step back, and determine what we could do to make our roads safer in these winter travel months and DO IT!

    Note of Caution! Be Careful of asking for answers or for criticizing our elected officials with regards to this awful tragedy. I have already been accused by our Mayor and one of our Aldermen of “Politicizing” this unfortunate occurrence. The City manager also reacted angrily to my questions as well

    Our “UN”-ELECTED Mayor did not appreciate my observations and criticism of the lack of Salt on our roadways on Monday.

    Mr Mayor: Show a bit of leadership! Questions need to be answered, so that we can prevent this sort of tragedy from happening again.

    People’s lives need to come first!

  11. A question to Mark.
    How does one know that a road hasn’t been salted, especially when people said it had been. (I got the same answers from staff without any irritation).
    Also did you get any info on availability irrespective of cost?
    Herb

  12. Herb can you please let me know why the City of Chicago can buy snow on contract at 41$ a ton, and we end up paying more?

    Could it be poor planning? Lack of redundancy…no contigency plan?…

    Once agan I reiterate my posts from last year… this is becoming dejavu all over again..

  13. It seemed like the public works guy was still working on solutions on the salt during the budget process, and would still be working on it after the budget process.

    This is for Herb, something he should never forget:

    Vince the Substitute Teacher LOST HIS JOB as a substitute teacher by writing a letter. Some people do RISK LOSING THEIR JOBS and cannot use real names.

    http://www.daily-chronicle.com/articles/2008/12/03/opinions/letters/doc493542b848b3c099763702.txt#blogcomments

    It looks like he got the Amanda Nelson treatment. He did write that he was there 2000 – 2007 so I hope he found something else for employment.

  14. Mark,
    Same reason people buy commodities at different prices. People make guesses and some win some lose. This time Chicago bet right, more power to them. They are also selling their parking meters, have sold some highways ….
    Southwest looked very smart with its hedges on aviation fuel and less smart when the prices dropped.
    Tribune had article showing many other cities bet wrong on salt and even Paul Greenlee indicated his town was in trouble.

    I don’t and can’t follow internal personnel matters of the school district or any organization in fact.

    Before retirement I did pay attention to such matters at my place of employment. There certainly were cases in which I thought people were unjustly punished or fired. But there were also cases in which people claimed such injustice and the organization could not respond in public because of privacy laws. As I said we are only getting one side of a story and the other side often by law can’t reply. Doesn’t mean they are right but also doesn’t mean they are wrong.

    I understand your concern anonymous. Owner of this blog also uses a screen name but does so for protection from internet bad guys. We all know who the person is and she does take responsibility for her statements and that’s fine with me.

    I’m bothered by the ability to make extreme statements without taking responsibility for them. I also understand that workers often do live in fear and that to me is also wrong.

    Herb

  15. Mark and Dr Rubin.

    I think Dr Rubin is correct when buying the salt. It is a commodity that calls for market price at the time it is ordered. I believe the city of Chicago had a multi year contract for their salt purchase.

    In a similar issue DeKalb set their FY 09 fuel budget when gas was over 4/gallon. Now that gas has dropped way below 2/gallon lets keep an eye on that budget line which should show a huge surplus as the year progesses.

    Pevo

  16. Now I might be wrong but I’m willing to bet that we will need salt for the winter of 2009 and maybe might even go further out on the limb and guess that will also be the case for 2010.

    If the City of DeKalb actually had some cash reserves available, they could actually do like Chicago did and sign a mulitple year contract thus locking in the lower price. It happens in every business. We need this mayor and council to direct staff to actually run this city envisioning the future needs, not just the needs as they pertain to payroll and expensive equipment.

    Suspend all purchases of any equipment unless it can be said without a doubt that it has to be replaced. Many communities get their equipment to go a few more years and allow for this with a great maintenance program to do just such. Our police department is a prime example of being fiscally responsible but yet they continue to be bounced around with their request for a police station.

    DeKalb could have purchased salt the same way Chicago did. Maybe not for the same exact price but they definitely could have made the purchase to supplement what they knew would be a shortage. What they don’t use this year can be used next year.

    I wonder how this shortage of salt and the way public works is dealing with it will work in the upcoming mayoral election?

    With regards to being harassed because of public comments. It happens everyday. Until you get that voice mail saying what they will do to your family or that your business is done in this community or just plain vulgarity most wouldn’t and couldn’t believe it. The fact is that there are many hateful and vengeful people working in our government offices today. Ranging from city to school and factions within both of these groups with regards to various unions. State is no better but right now most of concerns revolve around the day to day business at hand.

    I can say that it has been a very interesting and eye opening experience working with the schools FPC group post school referendum. I can see certain administrators want what they want no matter how it will affect this community. We have to always remember one thing. We are the taxpayers and we are the reason they can even receive their checks. We need to reinforce this much better over the next few months.

    This is the fact Herb, many potential whistle blowers who could really help in many matters today stay quiet because there truly is no way to keep them from losing their jobs when they do expose the bad. I believe City Barbs does a fantastic job in keeping this blog headed the right direction. This is definitely one the best assets this community has for free speech and open discussion.

  17. The Orchestra students of Huntley Middle School are still waiting to hear if they will have a teacher next semester. The stand-in will leave at the end of this semester. Some college students may be candidates for the position.

    Amanda Nelson was let go last spring. Since then, she’s been teaching all along without skipping a beat. She’s employed by another school. This is not about her.

    Speculations stirred up by the administration’s actions months ago, and the ongoing F.U.D. (fear, uncertainty and doubt) are counterproductive.

    Children want to know whether they will get to have a real orchestra or a study hall. Past optimistic assurances repeatedly fizzled. Imagine the kids’ feelings.

    It is futile to try to cast doubt on good teachers. These kids read the internet. They have their own well-informed opinions about teachers, and about the administration.

  18. I was very happy to see many high school students write in the comments section of the Chronicle blogs.

    The Chronicle checks its letters with the authors and I know they will not print something if they do not think it has a basis. Yes, Vince the Substitute wrote a lot of opinion but I know from many parents and kids that something smells rotten at the schools.

  19. Now that is exactly what the Superintendent should have done. The Superintendent also needs to make sure that the sub. teacher actually is given hours no different then prior to the letter.

  20. Pevo… on the fuel. Fuel budgets were deliberately underfunded in the budget by every department. The reason given was that they knew with the high prices they would go over budget but could make cuts in other categories to make up the difference. I disagreed with that logic and my choice of words — pork — incensed the police chief.

    I do believe, however, that there was an expectation of unforetold revenue derived from the local sales tax increase due to the high gas prices that will not materialize.

    I’ve yet to see a monthly revenue report, as promised to the council and advisory committee. The close to $1 million projected surplus, due to cuts and tax/fee increases is all but completely wiped away. The cuts were made. I believe the tax/fee increases have not generated the projected revenue streams — and that has devastating effects on the private sector. For the City to lose a dollar in sales tax revenue means local businesses must have lost around a hundred dollars in sales.

    If revenue projections are off then the tax/fee increases were counterproductive.

  21. Mac

    Thanks for the info. I know the finance committee was promissed allot of things like those you mentioned. I also seem to remember report on monthy overtime. Have you seen one of those?

    I am one that was hoiping we would see the finance advisory on TV once a month on the special Monday night broadcasts. All I ever see when I tune is is another Liquor meeting. Priorities?? I am afraid the present council thinks the bad times are behind us and we are out of this mess. I believe the worst is yet to come.

    If anyone else is interested in change I am sure one candidate could use our help. I also know first hand it is hard to ask for $$ so I will ask for her.

    Please send whatever you can to

    Friends of Lynn Fazekas
    2583 Sycamore Rd # 40
    DeKalb Illinois 60115

    Pevo

  22. A question to maybe Mac or someone on fact finding committee. City buys salt from the state as part of some macro contract, I think. Anyone know the constraints, term etc. of this contract

    Herb

  23. Herb…

    If I understand my reading material cities may purchase a minimum of 70% of the bid amount in a mild winter, and up to 130% in a harsh winter. For reasons really unknown there are shortages everywhere for those without sufficient inventory. Excuses are given, investigations forthcoming. Funny how gas prices have dropped, ehhh?

    Conservation methods could include:
    1. Not supplying salt to any outside entities
    2. Diluting the City’s salt; including the salt the City already has in storage, with an aggregate such as ice control sand;
    3. Treating the salt chemically to increase its performance. (i.e. beet juice);
    4. Adopting a Wisconsin or Minnesota service level type by continuing current service levels on main streets and hill routes to keep the City moving, while only plowing or sanding residential streets.

    More info:

    http://www.neoso.org/images/articles_salt_shortage.pdf
    http://www.moline.il.us/government/agendas_pdf/090908COWMinutes.pdf

  24. Ivan (I know you asked Mac)
    At council meeting workshop public works said that if they sand they have to clear out the sand before the runoff gets to the river. Estimated cost was a $100k.

    Herb

  25. I think I would prefer the sand going to the river vs. the salt residue. For the most part, the new EPA storm water runoff is ridiculous and very expensive for each community.

    Many communities will not be able to implement programs to keep an eye on this. Absolutely crazy but you can flush you medicine down the toilet or wash them down a drain and the Federal government allows old tanks, planes, trucks and ships to be dumped off at sea. Go figure.

  26. When I lived in Moscow, they had this stuff that melted the snow and ice better than anything on the planet. It was not the best for the trees, though. It looked almost like soft horse manure, with a gritty texture. The Russians nicknamed this stuff Luskov’s Solution, after Mayor Yuri Luskov. The Finns, though, improved the stuff and made an environmentally friendly version of it, and it carried the nickname the Finnish Solution.

    Whatever this stuff is, if it could be manufactured here, then someone could probably make millions of dollars. It is incredible. I did not find anything on the Internet about it, including the online archives of the newspapers I read when I lived there. I found a lot of hits related to global warming, and that was frustrating. Moscow could afford buying the stuff although when I lived in St. Petersburg, they could not as their city had less money.

    Maybe this stuff sounds familiar to you smart guys out there? If not, I will trying searching the Internet again later this weekend; maybe I need to search in Russian.

  27. I heard there is a ReNew DeKalb sign up on the property where the state recently tore down the old bank on 4th St. Did the city really buy that land from the state?

  28. I’m not 100% on the details here but memory is that the state offered the city part of the land at what was considered a very good price keeping just enough land so IDOT can do a right turn lane or some such thing

    Sorry I don’t remember more details

  29. Has anyone else noticed that work on the Ice rink in Lions park has come to a screeching halt? It certainly can’t be because think it won’t freeze enough.

  30. Herb so we are buying the land twice?…No price can be acceptable in this case, unless you say Free was the price..

    Also on the Ice rink, if the PD stopped becuase of the rink in town, and them realizing people were not using it, it would in fact be a shame, and so obvious the city then by default can be laid to blame for stopping the PD one.

  31. Mark,
    I was just trying to be helpful on something I vaguely heard about so don’t jump to conclusions one way or another. I’m guessing the state paid for the building, land and demolishing the building and Dekalb got some of the land for land costs without having to pay for demolishing the building or the building. Again, just a guess as sometimes (more often than I’ll admit) my attention wanders sitting through 4 hour meetings.

    Has anyone called the PD before reaching conclusions?

  32. Herb, and I was asking a question, lets not jump all over the people asking questions that are legitimate questions, just like my questions regarding the clean up of the land under the ice rink…

  33. No matter what the Park District ends up doing, Genoa is putting in real ice for $600.

    When looking at the big picture, the skating rink, buying up properties, and what the schools are doing all seem to represent the culture that helped get us into the global economic meltdown, living beyond our means. We are spending money on caviar when we should be buying hot dogs. We have a half million dollar skating rink when we should have a $600 rink. (Until that land is sold, it should be thought of as the half million dollar skating rink–there is no guarantee the land will sell anytime soon.) Then when we need something, like a police station, people got creative at trying to find enough money to pay for it, but the architect is not getting creative about keeping the costs reasonable.

    This not the direction people want the city to go. At the school referendum meeting and in the newspaper, many people asked for the Ford and the Chevy, not the Cadillac. Well, we are getting more than a Cadillac for the skating rink and more than the Cadillac for the schools.

    The attitude needs to change. Priorities must be set based upon needs, not wants.

    Otherwise, the money will run dry and we will all end up eating Spam, if we are lucky to have something left.

  34. Is there any reason why the city would want to go with a “self-funded workers’ compensation” program? Is there such a thing as some sort of a pooled workers’ comp package that various municipalities could join? I can understand not wanting to pool with Chicago, as their police officers have a greater chance of being killed. Also, getting ‘hurt,’ having a doctor sign off on it, and going on disability is the ‘Chicago way’ of retiring early, but why don’t municipalities downstate pool together and have a workers’ comp package that many cities can join in order to get better rates? (Chicago leads the nation in disabled city workers, go figure).

    Health insurance generally works in a way that the more people who have it as a group, then the cheaper the price can be per person. I do not know if workers’ comp works that way. I just know that when there are not very many employees, self-funded health insurance plans generally cost more money.

  35. One more topic–TIF gone bad, very bad.

    Check out the story on Republic Windows and Doors, where the workers are occupying the building:

    http://www.nbcchicago.com/news/local/Republic-Windows-Was-Daleys-Darling.html

    It certainly looks like that company went beyond caviar, and moved into truffles territory, panhandled from taxpayers, and in the end there are no winners in this story.

    Key quote:

    “. . . critics such as Joravsky point out that TIFs hoard money that would otherwise go to schools and other taxing entities.”

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