Archive for the ‘ City Watch ’ Category

In July 2013, the city council of DeKalb approved the DeKalb City Center plan, an update of the 2007 Downtown Revitalization Plan.

One of the key components of the plan is:

Leverage TIF to study the feasibility of and potentially promote the development of additional City Center traffic generators, such as a hotel/conference center, children’s museum, bowling alley, movie theater, or additional dining and entertainment options[.]

Except that by the time the plan was approved, DeKalb had already begun leveraging TIF to study the feasibility of a downtown hotel and convention center.

And had already begun negotiating with a developer.

And was already talking about helping to close a “feasibility gap” with public funds.

Why haven’t you heard about this? It’s because of the city manager’s spending authority. The city manager can authorize up to $20,000 in spending without going to the city council for approval. In the case of the hotel/convention center, the first study — dated January 2013 — cost $12,000. A supplement was completed this year for $7,500.

How convenient.

You can look at some of the documents, obtained through the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, at the City Barbs Blog Facebook Group.

This week’s number: $33 million

The city’s streets could need $33 million in repairs over the next five years, but a key funding source for the work will dry up by the end of the decade.

That has city leaders considering options including increasing the sales tax to generate more revenue.

Of the $1.5 million the city plans to spend on streets this year, $1 million comes from the city’s two tax increment financing districts. TIF districts allow the city to divert property tax money into a special account that is used to rehabilitate blighted areas.

However, one of the city’s TIF districts expires in 2018, while the other will expire in 2020, meaning the only source of funding left will be the local gas tax.

The above account is incorrect and incomplete. Let me count the ways. Read the rest of this entry

Let’s start with a summary of events.

– The group now known as Preserve Our Neighborhoods (PON) was formed last spring in response to concerns that residents were not being included in DeKalb-NIU redevelopment plans that would directly affect them.

– Misty Haji-Sheikh of PON received unsigned documents from an anonymous sender regarding a corporation formed for the purpose of redeveloping the John Street neighborhood.

– The corporation, College Town Partners, was of public interest because NIU and City of DeKalb were named as partners in documents related to its purpose and operations.

– Haji-Sheikh asked NIU and City of DeKalb for documents related to College Town Partners under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). DeKalb denied her some of the information under an exemption to FOIA for preliminary drafts/proposals.

– Haji-Sheikh requested that the Attorney General’s Office of Public Access review DeKalb’s denial of information to ensure the city has used the FOIA exemption properly. The AG accepted this Request for Review.

– City of DeKalb responded to the AG’s request to provide the legal basis for using the FOIA exemption(s) but in an unusual move the city asked for — and received — blanket confidentiality of its response.

– Haji-Sheikh is allowed under the review process to respond to the city’s response and she did so even though she hasn’t been allowed to read it.

Michael Haji-Sheikh has provided Misty’s response to the AG via Twitter. Read the rest of this entry

The Illinois Attorney General’s Public Access Counselor (PAC) has agreed to examine a City of DeKalb denial of information to a representative of a neighborhood group.

Here’s the usual drill. Upon the PAC accepting a Request for Review it invites the public body to respond with the legal basis for denial. The response is shared with requester, who gets a chance to respond to the response. PAC eventually delivers an opinion about whether the denial was legal under FOIA.

What’s unusual here is that the city is requesting that its response be kept wholly confidential. That’s right; DeKalb doesn’t want the requester to see any part of it. Read the rest of this entry

As indicated a few days ago, I have concerns about DeKalb’s hotel/motel inspection and licensing ordinance.

The good news is, the city does recognize that some people are permanent residents of hotels and motels.

“Permanent resident” means any person who occupied or has the right to occupy any room or rooms in a hotel or motel for not less than thirty (30) consecutive days.

However, status as a “permanent resident” only means that the usual 7% hotel/motel tax is not charged. It has nothing to do with tenancy or conferring tenants’ rights in long-term living situations in motels.

This is consistent with state law, which tends to keep considerations of landlords and innkeepers separate. Generally such a separation plays out reasonably, except in the case of people having to use cheap motels to keep a couple of walls between themselves and the streets on a long-term and/or indefinite basis.

Let’s consider how this works in case of a motel shutdown such as City of DeKalb’s closure of the Travel Inn.

In an email, Mayor Rey said, “The City is very sensitive to dispersing permanent residents from short-term rentals onto the streets. It is my understanding Lynne that due notice is given upon such displacements.”

“Due notice” is not required by DeKalb ordinance, and my Freedom of Information Act request returned no evidence of any such notice. Yet, conversation on Facebook suggests that people were indeed booted out onto the street.

Mayor Rey also said:

The closure of the local motel was not a result of city causation. We were merely enforcing health/sanitary living condition standards for short-term rental available to visitors.

Irony alert! Living on the street can be bad for your health, too, which is why people will put up with fleabag conditions to avoid it. Especially those with children.

I’m also pretty sure that if harm should come to someone as a direct result of being kicked out of his or her residence without time to make other arrangements, it would put the city at risk of legal action.

The larger issue, of course, is simply one of conscience. I want local government to have one. You?

Originally, I had no plans to publish this email exchange. It was just me as Joan Q. Public, sending an opinion on a budget allocation to His Honor and to other DeKalb city council members I thought might be receptive. I expected a generic “thanks for the input” response, which would have been fine.

But the conversation, which began in June, became extraordinary and eventually sparked a Freedom of Information Act request; and after digesting the response to that request, I’ve decided to share the emails with you. Read the rest of this entry

This is an item from the May 27 council meeting agenda that I’ve been meaning to address.

It’s about a water main project on South 4th Street.

This project would have abandoned a 6” water main on the west side of Route 23 (South Fourth Street) from Lacas Street south to approximately 110 feet south of Charter Street. There are approximately twenty services that would have been be disconnected from the 6” main on the west side of Route 23 and be reconnected to the 8” main on the east side.

The project was already coordinated with the Illinois Department of Transportation, which is planning to resurface Route 23. It does make sense to do the underground work first if possible.

However, at the May 27 council meeting the one proposal sent in was rejected. Read the rest of this entry

I’ve read the College Town Partners documents that were leaked to the Preserve Our Neighborhoods (PON) group. (Want copies? Send an email to preserveourneighborhoods@gmail.com.)

The agreements, which were never signed, lay out a corporate partnership between City of DeKalb, NIU, a local developer and two banks.

They strike me as kind of nuts, actually, being fraught with conflicts of interest that government bodies could never ignore. Whoever developed them — at this point I’m envisioning somebody’s partially demented but clout-heavy uncle who must be humored — possesses no grasp of the “public” part of public projects.

For example, the agreements place the DeKalb city manager in the position of manager of a self-interested company operating in the same community. They also attempt to make rules for the participation of the government bodies (e.g.: confidentiality, non-compete clause, predetermined developer) but that’s the flip of what’s supposed to happen.

The plans as written didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in sunlight. Still, somebody thought enough of them to stuff 60 pages into an envelope to mail to the PON folks. Why? I think it must be a warning that an awful lot of planning has been going on behind closed doors, and that some of it may not represent the public interest.

Speaking of which, let’s look at the recent naughtiness of your mayor that ties in here. Read the rest of this entry

**Update 2:15 p.m.: The Daily Chronicle has posted the Memorandum of Understanding referred to in the press release. Don’t miss the confidentiality rules (Item 16) on page 7.**

The following is a press release from the Preserve Our Neighborhoods group, the organization that sparked a recent town-hall style meeting to clear the air on the city’s and NIU’s redevelopment plans. Read the rest of this entry

I am loving the budget talks, mostly. They make me feel like the city is in much better hands than it used to be.

For example, in response to a question from a Financial Advisory Committee member last Saturday, the city manager confirmed: Revenues that for the previous year had been spent out of (off-budget) balance sheet accounts have all been returned to the budget.

We probably dodged a bullet, and by that I mean city administrators have reversed a corrupt trend that eventually could have rendered meaningless the annual DeKalb budget.

But we still have the same council.

Fifth Ward Alderman Ron Naylor and 3rd Ward Alderwoman Kristen Lash contended the city has held the line on property taxes because the dollar amount the city collects has not changed much in previous years.

“When I look at it from year to year and see that I’m paying the same amount from year to year, that’s not an increase,” Lash said. “I’m paying the same amount.”

David Jacobson, 1st Ward alderman, contended “holding the line” could be seen as a tax increase considering the drop in property values.

Jacobson is right, but in my opinion he is not going far enough. We should figure out how much the conscientious underfunding of the pensions during the past decade has cost us.

You see, every dollar we short the pension funds is a dollar that can’t be invested. I don’t know about you, but my assets have performed very well the past few years — it’s a shame that our pension funds couldn’t have maximized their earnings in this market.

That’s not to say that underfunding is the only problem with the public pensions. It’s not. But a council truly serious about “holding the line” for our sake would be doing a bit less self-pleasuring and a lot more work toward a solution.

Related:

Painting a Picture of DeKalb’s Pensions