Archive for the ‘ City Watch ’ Category

I knew the General Assembly was debating the bill last year, but missed the August passage of Public Act 099-0402, which amends an important provision of the Illinois Open Meetings Act (OMA).

(5 ILCS 120/3.5)
Sec. 3.5. Public Access Counselor; opinions.
(a) A person who believes that a violation of this Act by a public body has occurred may file a request for review with the Public Access Counselor established in the Office of the Attorney General not later than 60 days after the alleged violation. If facts concerning the violation are not discovered within the 60-day period, but are discovered at a later date,
not exceeding 2 years after the alleged violation, by a person utilizing reasonable diligence, the request for review may be made within 60 days of the discovery of the alleged violation.

(Emphasis in original, to mark the amended language.)

Discovering an OMA violation beyond the old 60-day deadline was a teeth-gnasher, and happened more often than you’d think. This amendment should make a real difference.

One Step Closer to the Edge

Look at that nice, wide gap between General Fund revenues and expenditures during FY2011 and FY2012.

dyerware.com



(All figures are actual as reported in annual city budgets, except FY2015 numbers are the end-of-year budget estimates and FY2016 are, of course, the projected amounts.)

What the gap represented was a huge reset of the operations (General Fund) budget that was accomplished by actively reducing the city’s workforce by some 20% on top of a couple years of attrition.

Mind you, we’d gone a couple rounds of tax and fee hikes by then, but it didn’t matter; city staff calculated at the time that if the reduction in force didn’t happen, we would be $5 million in the hole by the end of FY2011.

What the reset did was to fix the structural budget issue of personnel costs outpacing revenues during the Great Recession and the “flatlined” revenue period following (that DeKalb, by the way, still hasn’t quite overcome). A nice side effect was meeting capital needs. Following the reduction in force, there was enough money to put into the fleet, a new police station, and needed expansion/repairs of the fire stations.

But now, the gap is closing and, once again, money for capital needs has disappeared. And since most of the rise in expenses reflects increases in wages and pension contributions, it’s clear the reset has been squandered by the hiring spree that came after. Read the rest of this entry

Here are four reasons to be suspicious of the “unlawful assemblies” ordinances coming up for a vote on Monday.

1. The “unlawful assemblies” and counterpart “unlawful weapons” ordinances came out of nowhere on the January 11. Council did not ask for them. There have been no discussions of why the PD needs another tool. The city attorney took on an extra-curricular activity of his own volition. That is not his role.

2. The ordinances were received and filed (first reading) on the 11th, and the draft has been changed since then — that’s right, the ordinances the council might vote into law on Monday are not the same ones that went through first reading. They’ve been privately changing them since the 11th. And considering what’s happened in the past (city voted on a different version of the contract with CivicPlus than was in the agenda packet) we actually can’t with certainty know what they are voting on Monday.

3. If council hadn’t canceled its second regular meeting for the month of December, this might have passed before the NIU students came back. Large assemblies in public spaces are, as we all know, something the students engage in more often than anyone else in DeKalb. Where’s the stake holder input?

4. Bizarrely, the city attorney used major cities across the country as “comparable communities” to DeKalb. That means he was not particularly tuned in to Illinois law, and it shows because the ordinances are not in fact in line with our own statutes, which would have been the best way to help ensure the ordinances pass Constitutional muster.

The fixation on major cities (the smallest of which is still 10 times larger than DeKalb) also suggests this is not really meant to be a local ordinance. Rather, the city attorney seems to have written the ordinances for the national stage. If so, we should let him go so he can pursue his dreams of stardom.

More:

Chronicle: “DeKalb Considering Unlawful Assembly Ordinances” Consider taking the poll in the far right column, too.

Letter to the Editor: “Assembly Laws Should go through City Commissions”

City of DeKalb: Regular meeting agenda for January 25, 2016 On the third page, find items G7 and G8. Click on an item to reach the backup material.

City Still Losing Water Customers

These are the numbers of City of DeKalb water billing accounts for the past 10 years, as reported in DeKalb’s FY2015 Comprehensive Annual Financial report released last month.

Water
Billing
Accounts
Residential
Customers
Industrial/
Commercial
Customers
Non-Profit
(Gov, Schools,
Churches)
Total
Customers
FY069,38472820610,318
FY079,83874721010,795
FY089,99377423010,997
FY0910,00778723911,033
FY1010,01176122110,993
FY1110,02076722411,011
FY1210,10475622411,084
FY1310,01575322510,993
FY149,96073122210,913
FY159,96371721110,891

Tomorrow, City of DeKalb is sponsoring a business development presentation featuring a local businessman who has already made a lot of money doing business with DeKalb. I understand that this is the second such presentation.

Reasonable people could make at least three objections to this series.

1. This is not a core function of city government. It is a core function of the Chamber of Commerce, which also gets a lot of DeKalb taxpayers’ money (the old ReNew DeKalb funding plus tourism funds). Our financial consultants have cautioned us to stick to our core competencies and this is not one of them. Likewise, it bears no relation to stated priorities.

2. The event throws Constitutionally-protected equal treatment under the bus. Here’s a business leader getting special treatment and free advertising for his business. You know what’s business-unfriendly? Playing favorites. Putting some companies under your wing while persecuting others.

3. Council just passed an unprecedented property tax increase and there’s still no plan to fund street maintenance at the level needed. There should be no frills while we can’t fund the basics and they have their hands out, but the city is spending our resources of staff time and money on extras.

It’s like a person putting feathers in her cap and not noticing that the cap itself has dry rot.

During the regular city council meeting last night, I challenged DeKalb city manager Anne Marie Gaura’s claim that she lives in DeKalb.

The DeKalb Municipal Code does not explicitly require that the city manager live in DeKalb, but the city’s contract with Gaura does. She was obligated to establish residency in the city within one year of her hire date in early 2014.

The requirement is important, because Gaura heads up emergency services. Police, fire, and public works all answer to her.

However, public records suggest she still makes her real home in Kane County. Read the rest of this entry

During the Committee of the Whole meeting Monday, city staff will present a report showing all of the estimated annual savings they’ve achieved for the FY16 budget and beyond.

Some of these cuts — in health care plans, comp time policy, and efficiency through technology in particular — do appear to be real.

Bravo, City of DeKalb!

Now explain this: Read the rest of this entry

OMA and Real Estate Deals

City of DeKalb just paid for an appraisal of the old Ducky’s/Otto’s building at Lincoln and First. I haven’t heard a peep otherwise, but mindful of possible next steps I’ve done a little homework.

The Open Meetings Act (OMA) has a couple things to say about what a local government can do in closed session when it comes to real estate deals.

[2(c)](5) The purchase or lease of real property for the use of the public body, including meetings held for the purpose of discussing whether a particular parcel should be acquired.

(6) The setting of a price for sale or lease of property owned by the public body.

Exceptions to openness must be strictly construed, so we need to be clear on what’s not okay to talk about in closed session, and this isn’t always readily apparent (and/or has been more firmly established by case law instead of legislation). In this case, a publication from Ancel Glink called “304 Questions that Have Actual Answers” gives us examples. Read the rest of this entry

Here’s a new state law we can all get behind: Public Act 098-0738, which requires certain disclosures pertaining to city and county audits.

Introduced by Rep. Tom Demmer, the law went into effect this month. Here’s another version with the deets.

Of particular interest to me is the now-required sharing of the auditors’ letters to management that accompany each audit. It was just a couple years ago that a tipster told me there was such a thing. Once aware of their existence, I began making Freedom of Information Act requests for these letters, and boy have they ever been illuminating. Just look at the posts I’ve done:

City of DeKalb Had ‘Excess Expenditures’ of $3.1 Million in FY2013

DeKalb’s Police Department Overspent by $700,000 last fiscal year

The latest management letter, for FY2015, was published with the annual financial report in the December 14 council meeting agenda. Start on p. 19 of the PDF. Notice the addition of the management response to each item of concern, too.

What a difference good transparency laws can make. Hats off to Rep. Demmer.

Hats off to anonymous tipsters, too.

City of DeKalb released its Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) for fiscal year 2015, which ended June 30.

I’m sure city staff will also release the Popular Annual Financial Report (PAFR) as they did last year. It’s a dumbed-down version of the CAFR that nobody asked them to compile, but they get some sort of warm-fuzzy award for it, so it’s all good.

Let’s update some charts. First, the hiring news:

dyerware.com


The hiring spree is still on.

The General Fund budget for personnel expenses this year is $26.9 million, a rise of 2% over last year and a net increase of $500,000 in this budget category. There are a couple reasons why the increase was “only” 2%. The primary reason is that a chunk representing another 2% was sent over to the Water Fund for Water to pay. They’ve also succeeded in reducing health care costs (something I’d like to compliment them on sometime, if only they’d stop annoying me for a minute with the Bozo no-nos).

But wages and pension costs are both increasing well above inflationary levels. I anticipate they will have to come up with $500,000-$700,000 more for this budget category next year.

In other words, despite the rosy picture staff will paint next month in an effort to persuade the city council to hire a human resources director, the council should no way, no how approve any more hires and, in fact, should let attrition do its work for awhile. Read the rest of this entry