Archive for the ‘ City Watch ’ Category

Laura Pisarcik was City of DeKalb’s financial director for three years until her resignation March 7.

Despite her position as a department head, Pisarcik’s departure went unannounced until the Daily Chronicle began making inquiries and reported the separation April 12.

Since then I’ve obtained the separation agreement from the city under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.

A non-disclosure provision is item numbered six in the agreement, while items 10 and 13 indicate Pisarcik had up to 21 days to consult with an attorney before signing, and notes that she did. Pisarcik and Anne Marie Gaura signed it less than two months following Gaura’s installation as city manager in January.

Severance pay is explicitly rejected in the agreement, but Pisarcik’s accrued hours of paid time off came to a payout of $9,000.

The document is five pages long and I’ve placed it after the jump. Read the rest of this entry

From the Daily Chronicle’s weekend edition:

The city of DeKalb is without a finance director after Laura Pisarcik resigned the same week city Manager Anne Marie Gaura announced financial consultants would review the city’s financial policies and procedures.

Ordinarily I’d applaud the sight of heads rolling for the sake of accountability. This time I can’t. Here’s the problem: Though the Daily Chronicle published the news yesterday, Pisarcik resigned the first week of March. Her absence was discovered by accident last week, when somebody noticed her name had been removed from the city’s website and thought to ask about it. (Yeah, that was me.)

A city department head has been gone for a month without a public announcement of the departure? I wonder why?

Gaura acknowledged there is a separation agreement between the city and Pisarcik, but declined to disclose the details.

Oh.

Does Ms. Gaura think she can withhold these details indefinitely? I’ve already submitted a Freedom of Information Act request, and please note I’ve never been denied copies of any contract. And when it comes specifically to separation agreements, we have only to recall that the Chronicle had no problem obtaining agreements signed with former city clerk Steve Kapitan and former park district executive director Cindy Capek.

There’s no doubt the separation agreement will come out. Also, Laura Pisarcik would have been missed at the next budget meeting, right? The city manager has blown, for no good reason, an opportunity to build trust with the community.

City of DeKalb’s use of administrative tow fees brings up lots of questions, such as how many of these off-budget accounts the city has and whether their collective use rises to the title of “shadow budget.”

I don’t have the answers to the above questions, but I do know that even off-budget transactions are included in the invoice payment listings, aka check register. And thanks to the new account coding, you can usually easily tell what type of account each purchase is charged to, should this be of interest to you. Read the rest of this entry

The Daily Chronicle may have just published one of the most important investigative reports ever written about City of DeKalb finances.

Since early 2013, the DeKalb Police Department has used around $300,000 of the $350,000 collected in administrative tow fees to buy a wide range of items outside of its regular budget.

There are a lot of potential issues arising from this revelation, from whether the tow fee ordinance is fair to how much the equipping of the new police station might have gone over budget. The article seems to suggest that, right now, the city is mostly concerned about the administrative tow ordinance itself coming under attack. But to me, we’re taking our eyes off the prize if we stray too far from the simple fact that $300,000 in public spending was not publicly accounted for in 2013.

I mean, doesn’t it make you wonder:

  • What other accounts holding fines and fees are used for “extras”?
  • How this might relate to the $3-million-plus “excess expenditures over budget” that the city’s auditors found noteworthy?

  • Why the city has begun changing the policy even while insisting there’s nothing wrong with the status quo?
  • That’s just for starters. So I’m going to keep my eyeballs on this for awhile, yes, yes indeedy.

    Last Saturday I attended a “strategic planning retreat” of DeKalb City Council, department heads and a couple others. Here’s a slideshow of the agendas, planning guide and timeline. Read the rest of this entry

    **Update, noonish: Just picked this up on Twitter: IL Rep. Tom Demmer (R-Dixon) is sponsoring legislation to help prevent thefts of local government funds. One of the key provisions includes auditors’ sharing copies of the management letters with the governing bodies of counties and municipalities.**

    Recently I became aware that each annual financial audit includes an auditor’s “letter to management” with comments and recommendations. As far as I know, such letters are not published (perhaps due to inclusion of deficiencies that some would find embarrassing) but a citizen can obtain them via Freedom of Information Act requests and I did.

    This piece of the FY2013 letter caught my attention:

     photo AuditorsLettersOverBudget_zps70d364e4.jpg

    “Excess of actual expenditures over budget” to the tune of $3.1 million is pretty major, especially for a town that supposedly is striving to meet a target to hold the equivalent of 25% of its General Fund balance in reserve.

    Why isn’t the overspending big news? When it comes to the General Fund, the city enjoyed revenues that exceeded projections for the year — enough to cover the excess spending and a bit more. I guess the philosophy is, if you don’t end up with an actual deficit in your GF, it doesn’t matter what you spend.

    Other funds, such as Equipment and Fleet, aren’t so easy to explain. For example, Equipment had excess expenditures of $512,680 according to the letter, yet total expenditures as shown in FY2013 estimates (which are part of the FY2014 budget) are only $259,310. Fleet has a similar story. Did someone OK last-minute spending sprees that didn’t make it into the FY2013 budget estimates? What should we make of this?

    Now We’re Getting Somewhere

    Turns out, City of DeKalb’s press release this week about hiring outside help has a backstory, and the Daily Chronicle has unearthed it..

    New DeKalb City Manager Anne Marie Gaura wants the city to hire an outside financial expert after staff recently broke rules for making purchases in excess of $20,000.

    First, the council approved the changes to city hall that included moving the finance office to the first floor and upgrading security. When city staff sought council approval, $14,000 in work had been completed, but the project was slated to cost $36,000. During their last meeting, aldermen approved a $22,864 expenditure for fitness equipment at the police station that had already been purchased using administrative tow funds.

    “This just goes to the long history of the organization,” Gaura said. “It wasn’t anything intentional, but it indicated to me we need to improve our purchasing policies.”

    Wow, dig it. The new city manager is saying it’s not OK to come to council for authorization to exceed the $20,000 spending authority after the fact. Think about what that might mean for fiscal discipline and accountability in DeKalb if the city manager is a stickler for the rules.

    I Have More Questions than Ever

    Out of the blue, City of DeKalb has announced a Fiscal Responsibility Initiative.

    Mayor John Rey said the initiative was made to strengthen financial transparency and accountability.
    “Through the initiative we hope to move in a positive fashion toward financial stability,” Rey said.

    I thought the city already was the role model for transparency, accountability and financial stability? Huh.

    The article also says the city will bring in more experts from outside to accomplish these things. That sticks in my craw because we already have a $50,000+ report from outside consultants sitting on the shelf.

    – If you want to strengthen transparency, my dear CoD, un-redact and release the full strategic planning report by the financial consultants, not just the parts that make you feel good about yourselves.

    – If you are concerned about financial stability, put the strategic planning report and the Financial Advisory Committee together, as I called for the other day.

    – If you value accountability, clean house. It’s the perfect accompaniment to the fresh, new city manager we are all so hopeful about.

    At any rate, we shouldn’t pay for more outside help without good reasons and the ones given in the article are too vague to support. Try again.

    First, let’s update our pension percentage-funded chart with the FY2013 numbers. These are from Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFRs).

    dyerware.com


    City of DeKalb is quick to tout its balanced budgets and its growing “reserves.” But if DeKalb is doing so well, why isn’t it making up the pension-funding ground it lost during the past two recessions? Read the rest of this entry

    From a Northern Star article this week:

    City manager Anne Marie Gaura said the finance committee typically reviews the budget and looks at policy recommendations and general fund balance.

    “The goal is to utilize the finance advisory committee in the most effective means of how to benefit the budget and the community,” Gaura said. “It’s an incredibly talented group, and we want to make sure we’re utilizing their talents to the maximum.”

    If we REALLY want to utilize the talents of the city’s Financial Advisory Committee (FAC) to the max, we need to move it past budgets. Read the rest of this entry