Alderman Renews DeKalb for TIF Money

With the help of city administrators, Victor Wogen managed to parlay his seat on the DeKalb City Council into income approaching $60,000 of taxpayers’ money in 2008, about ten times more than his annual salary as representative of the Third Ward.

Third Ward Alderman Victor Wogen took his place on DeKalb’s City Council under a cloud of controversy in May 2007 and is still seated today. According to the Illinois Secretary of State’s online database, Wogen filed for LLC status in January 2008 under the name Masonry Works* and by June 2008 he was picking up masonry repair projects for the City of DeKalb following demolitions of downtown buildings. Wogen billed the city on at least six separate occasions and the invoice numbers –- 1, 2, 3, 3A, 4, and 9 — suggest he may have formed the company for the primary purpose of capturing work on downtown projects. DeKalb paid Masonry Works nearly $53,000 from its Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Fund for the six jobs.

Under the Radar

The alderman’s “side jobs” are not common knowledge because none were voted on by City Council. This is due to a DeKalb ordinance that allows the city manager to approve single expenditures of less than $20,000 without having to request Council approval in public meetings. It is not difficult to conclude that care was taken to keep at least one of these projects under the $20,000 threshold by breaking it up into smaller jobs. Repairs needed after the 231 E. Lincoln demolition were divided into three separate projects by using the addresses of the adjacent buildings as well, and thus were listed in the city’s check register as 229, 231 and 235.

Wogen duly recorded Masonry Works on his April, 2009 Statement of Economic Interests** as a company in which he held an ownership interest, and he abstained from at least one vote on a downtown project that his company pursued as a sub-contractor. However, he did not publicly disclose his financial interests before he voted to approve land acquisitions and demolitions that ended up benefiting him financially, nor did any city official disclose them at any time before or after his selection as City of DeKalb Vendor #3104.

Masonry Works, LLC, was involuntarily dissolved by the Secretary of State in July 2009.

_______________

*Masonry Works, LLC, must be distinguished from Masonry Works, Inc., which is a corporation in good standing with the State of Illinois.

**Municipal Statements of Economic Interest are filed annually with the DeKalb County Clerk.

37 thoughts on “Alderman Renews DeKalb for TIF Money”

  1. Excellent reporting, Lynn! You have built a shocking case for two things: 1) review of the City Manager’s discretionary power which was doubled to $20,000 early in his tenure, and 2) consideration of formal disciplinary action up to and including termination.

    I am shocked and appalled that they were up to this — these “projects” were of a much larger cumulative magnitude than I had first caught wind of. And it brings incredible disrepute to the integrity of City Hall.

    When I spoke to Mayor Povlsen about this last Monday, he considered it to be “old news”. He directed an end to these shenanigans which dated back to the Van Buer era. However, the City Manager is the common thread here. An immediate review of all discretionary expenditures under the City Manager’s tenure must be undertaken and brought into public scrutiny.

    As the City Manager, Mr. Biernacki is the statutory ethics point person for DeKalb. I recently FOIA’d his continuing educational accomplishments supporting this role, any classes, seminars, programs, books, online training, etc. related to municipal ethnics. The FOIA was responded to: NO RECORDS FOUND.

  2. WOW!!! 69 viewers and no one wants to comment. Must be a record. First of all thanks YINN for taking the place of the press on this issue. The people’s only hope for open and honest government is an active and responsive press (I.E. a local newspaper) The freedom of the press is so important that the country’s founders gave them special attention in the First Amendment to the Constitution. Unfortunately our local paper is failing in their duty to ” keep the people informed on what the government is up to”.

    Now to my comments. Without a doubt it is time for the Illinois Attorney General to take a look at what is going on in DeKalb. This “story” has been all over town for the past few months and until some independant investigates little will be done to restore the reputation of the present mayor and council. How could this happen in this “open government” we now have in DeKalb.

    Some aldermen making such a big point to openly abstain from voting on social service budget cuts ( of a few hundred bucks) because they sit on those agencies boards and then sit silently while alderman are awarded contracts to companies that they own in the thousands of dollars. But wait there just TIF funds.

    Pevo

  3. Well Lynn, you have dropped the bomb because the local fish wrap has dropped the ball. The state of local journalism here is really sad. It makes me wish that Dave Smith would come back to DeKalb County and fire up the “Vigilante” once again. Now, there was some *real* investigative reporting! I agree with Pevo that it is high time for the state Attorney General to step in and help us clean up this mess. The “buy-partisan” nature of the local elite makes it impossible for anyone in the county government to do the task of cleaning out our own Augean Stables.

  4. Lynn- Excellent Job. I am in the process of contacting city attorney and staff and Council. It is my hope that at Monday’s City Council meeting that the public raises a STINK about this, because something here absolutely SMELLS AWFUL!

  5. Thanks everyone.

    I didn’t say anything at last night’s meeting because I felt council needed the time to digest the information. Silly me, operating on the assumption that council members didn’t know about it.

    Yesterday I sent them all an e-letter telling them about the article and suggesting the only remedy is a passle of resignations. This morning I got a reply from the mayor:

    Would you like to meet with Mr Biernacki, Monas and me to discuss the facts, truth, and legal aspects of this matter. I would also like to discuss what action I have taken and will be taking in order for more transperancy even tho no laws have been broken and no corruption has occurred.

    I told him I could not bear to speak to anyone about this who doesn’t understand this situation is the very definition of corruption.

    As for transparency, that would have been helpful up front when he first knew about it, not after they’d been “busted.”

    Lastly, about the Chronicle: It is absolutely true that I approached the paper about this story and they refused to cover it.

  6. YINN your meeting with these guys should be at a Committee of the Whole so the entire community can watch their explaination. The mayors response just doesn’t cut it. The standard is not if any laws were broken the standard is ” is what was done open and transperant, was it ethical, and is it something that the community would support”. I don;t think you will find anyone in this community that would support what has occurred here. Also your passle of resignations should go beyond city hall and include all those at the local newspaper that refused to cover this issue.

  7. 1.) *IF* no laws were broken then the city should tell the public openly about giving Ald. Wogen city contracts and let them decide if they find that acceptable or not.

    2.) For complete transperancy [sic], that model TIF sunshine ordinance I gave them weeks ago that they ignored needs to pass.

    3.) I guess the Mayor never heard of chaining or stringing.

  8. Day 2 and the “mainstream media” still hasn’t picked up on this important story. Northern Star has had some of the underlying data for over a week now without going to press on the story. The Not-quite-Daily Chronicle? Well, we all know how that goes!

    I do understand that a thin sliver of of this issue is slated for the Committee of the Whole meeting Monday (10/26) — but of course that means the public is precluded from direct commentary! City staff will have a chance to defend itself without public rebuttal.

    Will at least three aldermen have the temerity to insist the entire matter — and ALL the underlying principles exposed here — come before a regular council session so that the public may be included? Or will they close ranks behind their fellow alderman? Will Mayor Povlsen persist in his stance that this is “old news”?

    Will Wogen himself have the courage to attend the meeting, or will his seat remain vacant as it did yet again last night? The financial solvency of the city is at stake yet he is too busy attending to his own personal affairs to engage in the post-EPI-report process. I am not a third ward constituent, but we need an aldermanic recall process here.

    In the near future, I intend to bring forth an Alderman Accountability Act which I hope will be incorporated into existing city ordinance structure. I welcome any suggestions. It is essential that we as a city learn from our mistakes and not allow them to be repeated with such frequency.

  9. Was this work bidded out? Was this the type of job that they considered “urgent” and decided to go just “hire” someone? I know of many construction companies right now that would have loved to bid this work out. I know three masons out of work right now and I could have even bid this job and put them to work.

    No wonder things seem to be going the way they are especially when you know you have votes to do whatever it is that you wish to do. This does need to be investigated and quickly. Nice job uncovering this Yinn. Chronicle could definitely learn a few things by you.

  10. BFeldman, if you’d like one of your posts deleted just let me know which one.

    Ivan, the work was not bidded out. Quotes were solicited and I don’t know from how many vendors, iow don’t know whether it was competitive in the least.

    I have yet to speak to anyone who is not shocked to the core about this. So, whichever aldermen want to really stand apart from the stonewalling crowd and capture the support of the public will be the ones who publicly demand cleaning house of those who were involved. In fact, why wait until Monday? Call a special meeting for this week.

  11. Lynn, no matter how you go to meet with anyone about this matter, I suggest that you bring expert legal counsel with you. There is a lot at stake here, and I suspect that things might get heated, if not ugly.

  12. Ivan (or anyone in the know), how specialized is bricklaying? Perhaps Mr. Wogen possessed special skills necessary to fulfill these tasks? I know I have emailed Mr. Wogen (on the EPI report — well before this hit the fan) and never received the courtesy of a reply.

    Has anyone else had any experience attempting to get a reply from him on city business? I FOIA’d the City Manager’s request for EPI report priorities… and was saddened that Mr. Wogen didn’t have time to reply.

    Then again, neither did Aldermen Simpson or Keller. Guess city business isn’t really a priority to them either.

  13. Telling that the Chronicle won’t cover this, not that I expected any better from that paper. I’d like to say I join in “shock”, but I’m not actually shocked. This doesn’t strike me as surprising in the least, not in DeKalb anyway. Sad state of affairs.

    This situation is exactly what the media is there to report on, the death of newspapers is not something that is happening now. It’s something that’s already happened, just that their physical form persisted long after their soul left it behind. I fear situations like this will only increase as fewer and fewer outlets are left in local media everywhere. I guess it’s up to the concerned few to stay on top of these corrupt officials.

  14. No matter what the job BFeldman, there is a right way to do the job and the other way.

    Vic Woggen is trained as a bricklayer and I have seen some of his work and it wasn’t bad. Tuckpointing is an art and requires patience and knowing what you are doing.

    It just doesn’t look good on the City of DeKalb administration part that this work wasn’t given out by bid but instead handed out to a sitting alderman who had voted “yes” for the purchase and demolition of each of these projects. This has all of the makings of a “pay to play” in that a yes vote was given and work returned in favor of that vote. City officials should never find themselves in this situation and and our city management knows better. The mayors response on this is truly weak.

  15. I wrote to DeKalb City Attorney Norma Guess on the Wogen issue. Here is her E-mail response. I can see defensive nature of where the discussion of the issue will head at Monday’s Committee of the Whole meeting. If the response I received from Norma Guess is a predictor, the city’s shenanigans will be vigorously defended by Staff and Council. It is my hope that Ald Gallagher will continue to take the lead and ask tough questions of the Mayor and City Staff.

    Corruption has run AMOK at City Hall!

    ———————————–
    Dear Mr. Charvat:

    Please be advised that I have reviewed the factual situations regarding your claim of a conflict of interest on Alderman Wogen’s part. At the time of the City Council’s authorizations for the purchase of the subject properties and demolitions, the condition of the adjoining properties’ exterior walls was not, and could not be, known. Accordingly, since neither Alderman Wogen, nor City staff, knew of the future need for masonry work to those adjoining properties, there was no statutory need for Alderman Wogen to recuse himself from the discussions or votes on the purchase or demolition of the subject properties.

    With regard to his company’s performance of work for the City, I have attached a copy of the Press Release issued by the City on October 20, 2009. It should address the issues that you have raised. If, after your review of the Press Release, you have further questions, please feel free to contact me.

    Norma J. Guess
    City Attorney

  16. Any mason worth his salt would have known these old buildings would need work after the demolition — especially after the first one! It defies belief that the conditions would not have been known or suspected.

    But that’s not really the point. No alderman should seek or accept city work. Period. No city manager should think it’s OK to ask or approve it. Period.

    Furthermore, I have talked to a couple dozen people so far and have yet to find ANYONE who thinks any of this is OK. In fact they are shocked and incredulous.

  17. Mark Charvat ( and others) It appears the city attorney, mayor and alderman have placed the City in a box where there are only 2 opitions. The first would be to ask the Attorney General for a review of the city practices and procedures that have been followed in these allegations. By “asking” for a review the outcome will either be the city acted properly or mistakes were made. If the city acted properly no problem. If mistakes were made then the issue of compentency of those making these decisions has to be discussed.

    Their second option is to claim that nothing was done wrong and change a procedure and move on. The problem with this choice is that the citizens of DeKalb will not stand for it and instead of having a review of the procedures the people will DEMAND an investigation of the incidents by the Attorney General.

    Now I ask the question would you rather have the mess reviewed or investigated? Difficult choice but if it were up to me I would be asking for a review asap so I could claim simple mistakes were made instead of having to answer the hard questions during a formal investigation.

    I also think that the council should consider outside legal advice on this issue. Sooner or later the discussion will turn to the retention of city staff and it is difficult to seek a legal opinion form someone that is so involved in the process.

    Should be very interesting. I also wonder if this new transparent government would be so transparent if this had not been made public. Where was the tranparency by the mayor when he first heard of this or did he quietly hope this would just go away.

    As to public opinion I have also talked to dozens of people and no one thinks this is okay. With one exception they all feel people should be fired immediately for what has occurred.

  18. Correct on both points Yinn.

    First, when the vote came up to purchase and demolish these buildings, a good mason should have and would have known that you do not knock buildings down that are literally touching each other and not do some type of damage. This was a good point by you. The second point however is the point that should have been the deciding factor.

    No honorable person would have done what Victor Woggen did while sitting as a public official. Being a public official and personally benefitting from ones action (voting) is definitely an immoral act in my book. Voting yes for downtown building purchases, voting for the demolition of these buildings and accepting work that resulted from demolition that his vote made possible and doing so under a business not using his personal name but a business name or alias shows nothing but intention to benefit.

    People have been claiming that this council seems to be rubberstamping votes, it would be interesting to me to see how many of these votes run parallel to the city managers recommendations for approval. LIke I said, no honorable person would be found in this position and I do feel, unlike our city attorney, that this does warrant an investigation and not a review. I’m also afraid that this may only be the tip of an iceberg.

    Earlier comment made that I will also agree with. #3 candidate is doing what most mayoral candidates do. #2 mayoral candidate however is showing her sincerity to this community as to why SHE WAS and REMAINS the right choice and SHOULD HAVE been elected mayor. There are many within the 18% who voted who knew this and this is why I supported her along with others the remaining of the 18% who voted in the current mayor and those of the 82% who found other more important concerns that election day now have to ask themselves if all of this could have be thwarted by electing Lynn Fazekas for mayor and for REAL transparency in our local city government.

    The States Attorney General should start becoming a little more familiar with the City of DeKalb file and Mayor Povlsen, it truly is time that you step up and RUN your city council.

  19. Thanks Ivan.

    I remember the feeling I had when I first discovered this business. Of course it’s no secret I’ve never been a fan of Wogen, but the potential number of people who might have known about it and enabled him boggled the mind. City manager, public works director — who else? Legal? Financial? Engineering? We’ve been betrayed by a whole bunch of people. I guess Monday we’ll find out if Council betrays us, too.

  20. Hey! Hey! Hey! I was able to login!!!

    From Norma Guess H/T MC:

    Accordingly, since neither Alderman Wogen, nor City staff, knew of the future need for masonry work to those adjoining properties, there was no statutory need for Alderman Wogen to recuse himself from the discussions or votes on the purchase or demolition of the subject properties.

    From the check register (City of DeKalb) H/T LF:

    ______________________
    July 2008 Check Register, TIF Fund [p. 91 of the online PDF version of the agenda packet]
    3104 MASONRY WORKS, LLC 4* 06/27/08 13/ 2008 732794** 07/11/08 63 8621 12,000.00 229 E LINCOLN WALL REPAIR
    3104 MASONRY WORKS, LLC 3* 06/27/08 13/ 2008 732794** 07/11/08 63 8621 19,500.00 235 E LINCOLN WALL REPAIR
    Check Total: $31,500.00
    _____________________________________
    August 2008 Check Register, TIF Fund [p. 126 of the online PDF version of the agenda packet]
    3104 MASONRY WORKS, LLC 1* 07/17/08 2/ 2009 733316** 08/15/08 63 8399 2,500.00 1ST & LOCUST REPAIRS
    3104 MASONRY WORKS, LLC 9* 08/07/08 2/ 2009 733388** 08/22/08 63 8621 880.00 LABR-RPR CMU MORTRJNTS-EDJO
    Month’s Total (2 checks): $3380
    _____________________________________
    December 2008 Check Register, TIF Fund [p. 143 of the online PDF version of the agenda packet]
    3104 MASONRY WORKS, LLC 2* 12/05/08 6/ 2009 735165** 12/19/08 63 8639 5,500.00 231 E LINC RPR EAST WALL
    3104 MASONRY WORKS, LLC 3-A* 12/11/08 6/ 2009 735165** 12/19/08 63 8625 12,500.00 345 E LINC RPR E WALL FACADE
    Check Total: $18,000.00
    Grand Total: $52,880 (found so far)
    _____________________________________
    *Invoice numbers
    **Check numbers

    Even if I was in complete agreement with Norma’s position then the level of incompetence infuriates me. We should be able to expect the administrators, planners and engineers on staff to know of the likelihood of such repairs, especially after the additional expense of professional architects and engineers employed through outsourcing. Empirically, Alderman Wogen knew such repair work was likely.

    Note: In July (08) 229 E LINCOLN WALL REPAIR and 235 E LINCOLN WALL REPAIR cost $31,500.00, yet were treated as separate under $20k items (services paid for with the same check). These two buildings were adjoined to 231 E LINCOLN which was demolished. Services required for 231 was paid for in December 2008.

    It is painfully transparent that this whole ordeal was influenced by the desire, regardless of motivation, to circumvent the rules in place. Even if for all the noblest of intentions this paper trail reveals a cover-up.

  21. I get you. If Ms. Guess is to be believed, there were over $53,000 in expenditures that the city was somehow unable to anticipate. That’s an awful lot of “surprise” considering how many people around town could have told them.

  22. If these projects were not advertised for open bidding, who is lucky enough to receiving one of Mr. Biernacki’s special invitations? Besides Mr. Wogen, who is on that short list of privileged insiders who have been allowed to submit quotes? What does it take to get on the wink-wink-nod-nod list?

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