City-Connected People & Our Money

Last week I asked the City Clerk to help me get information about who, besides Victor Wogen, are or have been council members or city employees who’ve benefited as vendors to the city, beyond their primary roles.

The Finance Office was able to provide 11 names for the period of my request, which was 2002-present. Six of them were employees who either offered one-time expertise that didn’t cost a lot, or who took advantage of a program (e.g. sidewalk replacement) that is well-publicized and available to any resident who qualifies. Since there are no legal, ethical or moral issues, nor are they elected officers of the city, I will not list them here.

Then there’s the strange case of Dave Baker.

Sixth Ward Alderman Dave Baker, as a member of Council, could and should regularly disclose some numbers about the volume of office supplies he sells to city departments but he does note his ownership on his Statement of Economic Interest and it’s never been a secret that Dave Baker is Copy Service. During the period of 2002 through 2006, he made (very rough ball park estimate) somewhere between $7500 and $10,000 per year in city business but these figures dropped off drastically in 2007 and now it’s an anomaly to see a Copy Service purchase in the city’s check register. (No, I don’t know why.)

The reason I call Baker a strange case is that he neither goes in the first category nor to my knowledge has he engaged in Wogen-like pursuit of city contracts under the radar. In all, except for wanting a bit more disclosure I have no problem with Baker.

He also does not fit the next group I’m going to talk about, that of regular city employees, or spouses of city employees, who earn taxpayers’ money beyond the roles they were hired for. This group I have a problem with on both ethical and moral grounds. The ethical problems are the connections and inside information that give them an edge on others in the community. My moral objection is that they already have positions with decent compensation and reasonable job security and in my book it is greedy not to leave the extras for those with fewer advantages.

Here are the Top 5 earners of taxpayers’ money over and above their regular jobs with the city, since 2002:

#3104, Masonry Works (Ald. Victor Wogen) earned $52,880 directly from the city in 2008, over and above his compensation as alderman, and not including whatever he’s made as a sub-contractor on streetscape projects since then.

#249525, Copy Service (Dave Baker) has made approximately $45,000 selling office supplies and related equipment and services since 2002.

#425625, Hinkle Snow Plowing [Pat Hinkle (now Hiland) and/or spouse], makes an average of over $1900 per year as a snow removal contractor.

#598500, Midwest Tree Service (Jim Ryan and/or spouse) got paid $62,369 for tree and snow services in 2002-3.

#900410, Ralph Griswold, in 2004, earned an additional $1275 for electrical inspections at $25 a pop.

The Finance Office cautioned me that they can only disclose what city employees know about, so there could be more. This, I venture, is a good argument for yearly disclosures by all staff — and, please, put it on the website so we don’t have to go to Sycamore to look it up.

Some types of arrangements might be banned, others limited, still others just covered by disclosure rules. One method of disclosure I particularly like is a requirement that contractors and other vendors reveal their city connections and financial interests routinely and before decisions are made.

Finally, I want to point out that the city manager not only has the power to approve all expenditures under $20,000 without the participation of City Council but he can also dispose of any city property valued under $20,000 without Council approval as well. Actions related to this power also should be subject to public disclosure.

16 thoughts on “City-Connected People & Our Money”

  1. Lynn, I appreciate your discretion, but I disagree at there are no ethical ramifications for the other payouts. Hopefully most are on the up and up, but there is nothing wrong at looking at these through the ethical lens to see where we can avoid the appearance of impropriety.

  2. Ah, you are suggesting that not everyone would have come to the same conclusions I did. Perhaps. I felt the need to draw a line. If any of the first group had appeared more than once (or for one project) or if there had been a whole lot of them, it would have been a different story.

  3. Lynn, your FOIA scrutiny should be praised. Just saying that there are ethical ramifications even if some of these disbursements passed the legal test.

    But one other thought with respect to 65 ILCS 5/4‑8‑6 which relates to officers “elected or appointed”. Doesn’t this suggest that scope of inquiry might also be extended to commission members?

  4. I think some people have gotten this all blown out of proportion Yinn. It’s not that many are upset (Mr. Mayor Povslen) at city officials or employees doing work for the city, what they are upset at is all the effort that goes into concealing that knowledge from the taxpayers and many times fellow aldermen.

    TRANSPARENCY, maybe the mayor should look up the real definition for what transparency really means. He is nowhere close in bringing any transparency to his city council or administration.

    As for the the above mentions and their pay from the city. I have always questioned how Midwest was getting their work especially now when we have a tree service group within public works. Also the rebid that was performed for snow services needs to be explained a bit better to the public. I’m willing to listen to the truth about that.

    Ralph Griswold and several others were paid per ticket on calls that they made inspections for. The regular inspector was out that day and Ralph and others were paid to fill in. The question here is, do they get paid per ticket or hired on as part time. Part time here would cost us more in the long run I would imagine but discussion can always be held on that.

    We are just asking that there be a little extra effort brought forward by city hall to acknowledge who bids are let out to and how it went about.

    My whole concern is that the City of DeKalb hired Wogen’s company with no insurance or bonding. If they in fact did so, those who were responsible for hiring Wogen put the taxpayer in serious risk of liability if something went wrong or someone was hurt on these jobs. Really no different then we are seeing with the Monster truck episode. The real difference between the monster truck and Wogen is that the city’s obligation in a matter concerning Wogen would be much more cut and dry the city’s fault and obligation.

    Who down at city hall is truly looking out for you and me, the taxpayer?

  5. Just as the people who overuse the phrase “think outside the box” are the people least capable of doing so, the folks who throw around the t-word the most are the ones who least understand how to practice transparency.

  6. In all of my public administration courses here at NIU, I was taught the necessity of ethics in that profession. This was especially the case with those taught by Irene Rubin. Even the appearance of impropriety was to be avoided. If someone offers you something asking for a “favor” you have already failed, because even if you turn it down, they thought that you might have accepted it. She went so far as to tell us to keep a signed but undated letter of resignation in your desk, so that if you are ordered or expected to do something unethical, you merely have to date it and hand it in, retaining an unblemished record of personal and professional integrity. We were told, that it was relatively easy to find another job if you are ethical, and that is far better than breaking the ICMA Code of Ethics. I agree, and in my courses, I also stress the importance of professionalism and the Code of Ethics.

    So, when I see the tip of the unethical iceberg crashing into City Hall, it makes me extremely sad. There was no need for any of this to happen. If Mayor Povlsen were half as zealous in stamping out the corruption in his domain as he is about banning second hand smoke, this city would be in a lot better shape.

  7. Steve, would our current city manager even have taken a course such like Mrs. Rubin taught if he didn’t even study to be an administrator? I mean, I really don’t believe that he is a trained in city management is he? We’ve had real city managers in this community but what are the credentials that Mark has?

    Is our city manager a registered and practicing member of the ICMA?

    Mrs. Rubin was so correct in many of her teachings about ethics. For someone to think that you would even be willing to accept bribe or be part of a shady deal means that you have lost. Maybe that’s a reason I don’t get calls from city hall when emergency work is needed to be performed.

  8. Lynn, Irene Rubin is a fantastic teacher. I had her for public finance, and she was on both of my doctoral committees. Ivan, I believe that our current city manager is a member of both the ICMA and the ILCMA. I have seen him at several of the ILCMA meetings. I have not had the time to attend many of these for some time. I am not aware of his educational credentials. Chief Feithen has an MPA Degree from NIU, but I do not know if he had the benefit of taking any of Irene’s courses.

    As a bit of a disclaimer, after Jim Connors retired, and the city manager position here was open, I decided to play a bit of a prank. I had just earned my Ph.D. in political science and public administration from NIU, and I was busy sending out resumes for jobs. The Chronicle was telling everyone that the city wanted someone who had a degree from NIU in public administration, and who understood the problems facing the city. I knew that was a crock, so I spent a day writing up a special resume and cover letter describing my meager virtues, and hand delivered it to city hall. I pretty much had everything they wanted (officially) but did not have quite the years of experience they wanted in city management, but I had a background in engineering and project management. I was known to the then mayor and council, and I figured that my paperwork probably hit the shredder before I cleared the back door. I went elsewhere, and that is history. I wouldn’t take the job now, but if anyone is interested, Donald Crawford, who was the city manager here in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s is available once again. I worked with him in Streator and Farmer City, and he is not only one of our MPA Program’s leading success stories, but he is also one of my best mentors. I have kept him apprised of the situation here, and he just shakes his head.

  9. My father seemed to like Don Crawford as a city manager but also as an acquaintance. I remember tagging along with my father a lot especially in the 70’s when Don was here last and having to stand by and listen to many conversations between the two and not always about city politics.

  10. Here is the answer:

    Author: Biernacki, Mark T.
    Title: A locational decision model based on traffic generation resulting from land use change : a DeKalb, Illinois, example / by Mark T. Biernacki.
    Thesis/Dissertation: Thesis (M.S.)–Northern Illinois University, 1985.
    Physical Description: vi, 80 leaves : ill., maps ; 28 cm.
    Includes: Bibliography: leaves 77-80.
    Subject (LCSH): Land use –Planning –Illinois –De Kalb –Mathematical models.
    Traffic estimation –Illinois –De Kalb –Mathematical models.
    Other Name: Northern Illinois University. Dept. of Geography. Master’s thesis.

  11. DeKalb’s loss, Steve.

    We moved to DeKalb well after Don Crawford’s time here but it sounds like we need him or someone like him. This mess is the result of unbridled cronyism. How is it NIU has such a great MPA program and we can’t get one of these fine graduates for our fair city?

    Anyway my morning visit to DeKalb County Online made me realize last week’s FOIA did not turn up any info on the former cop who was contracted (in closed session) for the Rental Inspection Program that never was. If memory serves, he made somwhere between $20-25,000 during the contract term of one year.

    Wogen and the RIP guy are the poster children for why we should tell Alderman Simpson to take a hike when he talks about raising taxes to get us out of our financial mess. Oh — and add the airport to the poster, since we are overpaying for land. Obviously we are paying what Kay calls “corruption taxes” and we should not even consider giving city government one more dime until they get cleaned up.

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