Archive for December, 2011

In “Sparland Officials Resign Amid Investigations, Controversy” we learned that most of the officials of the Village of Sparland resigned in December and that it had to do with investigations into possible Open Meetings Act and Freedom of Information Act violations.

But we were missing something.

[Resident Margaret] Murry asked for records that included meeting minutes, copies of some ordinances and amendments, certain financial records and the oaths of office taken by elected officials.

State law requires a response to FOIA requests within five working days. Murry asked the AG’s Office to review the matter after two weeks had passed.

“The public body has failed to respond to my request,” she wrote.

The investigation comes at a time when the village has no one filling the legally required position of FOIA officer. [Village Clerk Susan] Persinger resigned from that appointed post the day Murry submitted her request, Mayor Linda Medearis said at a Dec. 1 Village Board meeting.

Murry, who has experience in LaSalle County government, has been appointed village clerk.

[HT Boone County Watchdog for pointing me to additional stories.]

light bulbAn organization I belong to has hundreds of members. During a recent general membership meeting, one of them stood up and pitched the idea that the group should be selling his brand of electricity to the rest of us as a fundraiser.

The board of directors asked him to confirm whether his is a multi-level marketing venture. The response: “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

Thus the retail electricity market in the era of “unbundling” the costs of energy supply from those of delivery suddenly appeared to take on a somewhat pyramidal shape. The meeting incident plus my own community’s pursuit of a municipal energy aggregation program prompted me to investigate these developments more closely. Read the rest of this entry

Prairie State Blue: The Problem with Pensions:

Defined benefit plans are not inherently unsustainable. They made sense and were solvent when salaries were lower, payout levels were lower, employees retired later and died earlier. With higher salaries and especially stepped-up pay schedules, earlier retirements, increased longevity, and payouts of up to 75% or higher on last year or so of salary, the system fails. In fact it has to fail.

What I like about the article is that the author has put out numbers we can play with. It’s not perfect — see the comments — but earns points for clarity and as a springboard for further discussion about reform.

Pro Publica: How Democrats Fooled California’s Redistricting Commission.

Previous redistrictings had been executed by political pros with intimate knowledge of California’s sprawling political geography. The commissioners had little of that expertise — and one of their first acts was to deprive themselves of the data that might have helped them spot partisan manipulation.

The law creating the commission barred it from considering incumbents’ addresses, and instructed it not to draw districts for partisan reasons.

The commissioners decided to go further, agreeing not to even look at data that would tell them how prospective maps affected the fortunes of Democrats or Republicans. This left the commissioners effectively blind to the sort of influence the Democrats were planning.

The commissioners were “civilian” volunteers who were holding down day jobs. They had neither the know-how nor the resources to winnow the wheat from the chaff, and in defensive attempts to limit input ended up shutting down legitimate citizen participation as well.

Reaction to the report, unsurprisingly, depended upon party affiliation.

The (Peoria) Journal-Star reports that five elected officials of the central Illinois community of Sparland have resigned this month.

The departing officials are Mayor Linda Medearis, Village Clerk Susan Persinger, Treasurer Margo Danger-Smith, and trustees Louis Lenz and Ralph McCasky. All have recently submitted notarized letters of resignation.
[…]
The resignations come in the wake of a third investigation by the Illinois Attorney General’s Office into village practices. That involves alleged failure to comply with the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, while two earlier probes focus on possible violations of the state’s Open Meetings Act.

In addition, the board had to revote on some major ordinance amendments that had been passed with illegal “proxy” voting by absent members, including a water rate increase. The village also faces enforcement action from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency over a sewer problem. And a topless bar that opened here last spring has continued to generate controversy and divisions on the board.

The Village of Sparland is a community of 400 people that lies about 25 miles northeast of Peoria.

Attorneys as FOIA Exemptions

This is a follow up to “The Housing Task Force, Its Surprise Consultant & Trust”.

The Illinois Attorney General’s Office of the Public Access Counselor notified me this week that its staff will review the denial of a related Freedom of Information Act request.

As I mentioned in the comments section of the post, DeKalb denied last month a FOIA request for records involving communications between Klein, Thorpe and Jenkins and city staff. The city claimed an exemption under attorney-client privilege in its denial. The exemption states:

(m) Communications between a public body and an attorney or auditor representing the public body that would not be subject to discovery in litigation, and materials prepared or compiled by or for a public body in anticipation of a criminal, civil or administrative proceeding upon the request of an attorney advising the public body, and materials prepared or compiled with respect to internal audits of public bodies.

Except that KTJ was clearly hired as a consultant, not as a legal representative. The letter describing scope of work says so, the mayor said so at the November Safe/Quality Task Force meeting, and now the Chronicle says so.

I’ll keep you, ah, posted.

Secret Santas

RRStar.com/AP: “Anonymous donors pay off KMart layaway accounts”

The benefactors generally ask to help families who are squirreling away items for young children. They often pay a portion of the balance, usually all but a few dollars or cents so the layaway order stays in the store’s system.

The phenomenon seems to have begun in Michigan before spreading, Kmart executives said.
[…]
The good Samaritans seem to be visiting mainly Kmart stores, though a Wal-Mart spokesman said a few of his stores in Joplin, Mo., and Chicago have also seen some layaway accounts paid off.

At least one beneficiary is “paying it forward,” too. A real upper of a story.

Calling All Cluck Lovers

Just a Few Hens petitionWant to know more about keeping chickens in the city? Join Hannah Dwyer at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship hall in DeKalb tonight.

Ms. Dwyer has been shepherding a proposal through the legislative process to allow City of DeKalb residents to keep up to five hens for their eggs. City council has so far assigned the draft ordinance to the Citizens’ Environmental Commission and the Planning & Zoning Commission for their recommendations, and these bodies are expected to consider the matter next month.

If the ordinance passes as written, each property owner with a hen permit and a lot size of 10,000 square feet or more will be allowed to keep hens on his or her property.

The UUF hall is on the southeast corner of Fourth and Locust. The informational program begins at 7 p.m.

Now that work has begun on the proposed police station site on Lincoln Highway, Northern Illinois University students have become aware what the city intends to build there. Some don’t like it.

The most immediate issue is a station sitting across from the Center for Black Studies and NIU Resources for Women, and in particular the potential for damage to race relations. There are also suspicions about the message inherent in its proximity to the NIU Police HQ, and wider worries about classroom disruptions and safety in a pedestrian-heavy area.

If you watched the November 21 and November 28 city council meetings, you saw NIU students laying out the concerns about PD placement. You also then, unfortunately, have witnessed the city framing this as a matter of aesthetics — that if they build a pretty enough building, this will all go away.

The students have started a petition to relocate the PD site away from the NIU campus: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/move-the-construction-site-away-from-the-niu-students/

DeKalb native Ivan Krpan shared an unusual rant on Facebook yesterday. What’s unusual: it’s in the form of a list! Reprinted with permission and minimal editing.

Ivan’s 22 Myths about DeKalb:

1. Lowered property values will translate to lower property taxes.

2. Mayor Povlsen and his city council are in control of city hall.

3. The recently increased levy for this year over last year’s levy won’t increase the rate on the tax bill.

4. The architect for the new police station is truly concerned about the local taxpayers and the police department they are designing the oversized and overpriced police station for.

5. The library board is truly concerned on how costs for the new library will not financially impact property owners already trying to figure out how to pay their current tax bills and real necessities that come day to day in life with the downturned economy. Read the rest of this entry