Here’s an excerpt from a memo included with next week’s council meeting agenda:

The City of DeKalb maintains Chapter 2 of the City Code which governs the City Council and meetings thereof. Old versions of the City Code included provisions which purported to prohibit public comment at certain meetings of the City Council or Committee of the Whole. In 2014, the City Council adopted Section 2.04(d) of the City Code, which clearly denotes that the public has the right to speak at any public meeting of the City Council or any derivative body thereof, including the Committee of the Whole.

Nope, the Code specifically mentions the Planning & Zoning Commission but not Committee of the Whole (CoW).

That’s important because Chapter Two of the Municipal Code still includes exceptions to allowing public comment, particularly in the case of CoWs.

c) The intent and purpose of the Committee of the Whole meetings shall be primarily for the purpose of discussion of consideration items brought before the Council and various smatters which require a presentation and/or upon which discussion is anticipated, but not for the passage of Ordinances or Resolutions. Public comments shall generally not be permitted at such meetings, but rather shall be reserved for the City Council meeting immediately following such meetings. The Committee of the Whole meeting shall be treated as a meeting where public comment is not permitted under Section 2.12(ad) of this Code. (13-51)

CoW meetings are where city staff make their case to council about stuff they want. What they don’t want is for you to rebut their arguments and they’ve gone to some lengths to keep your voice out of these meetings. For years they just outright prohibited your comments. Then about six months ago, they changed the rules to abide by the Open Meetings Act (OMA) but took steps that essentially kept the changes secret.

I’ve put together a timeline for you. Read the rest of this entry

On the February 9 DeKalb city council meeting agenda was this action item:

2. Resolution 2015-011 Waiving Competitive Bidding and Authorizing the Execution of a Website Design Agreement with CivicPlus in an Amount not to Exceed $56,189 in Year One.

Staff said they didn’t have time to put out Requests for Proposals (RFPs). They claimed they’d been taken totally by surprise by Department of Justice findings that the city’s website was not compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act standards and needed to act this instant to meet a tight deadline in June.*

Did the city council pass the resolution? I honestly don’t know. The discussion took one hour, twenty-six minutes and there were several votes taken, including one that I described in my notes as “original motion, DEAD, 9:07.” I could be wrong. At any rate, council still continued to talk and vote until an expenditure up to but not exceeding something around $51,000 was passed 5-3.

There’s another potential issue besides the possible zombie motion, too. Waiving bidding on a public improvement (as opposed to routine procurement) of $20,000 or more generally requires a 2/3 majority to pass. So do some budget amendments, and the CivicPlus deal definitely did blow the website budget of $20,000. I’m not sure what the exception was that allowed for a simple majority vote in this case.

Lest you think I’ve totally lost it, let me tell you I’m not the only one. Staff have not been able to get the minutes right for this meeting and the culprit is the CivicPlus discussion. Right now we’re awaiting the second revision. Read the rest of this entry

Mayor John Rey had a guest column in the Chronicle this week. As is par for the course with City of DeKalb administrations, he calls criticism of the city’s actions “misinformation” and “rumors.”

There are two reasons people are upset. One is evidence that the city withheld information about the U.S. Department of Justice evaluation of DeKalb’s compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act. The other is the manipulation of information to create anxiety over a DOJ deadline, which enabled the proposal of a no-bid contract with an overly expensive, non-local, sole-source website designer that the city manager likes.

We’ll discuss the first reason today. Mayor Rey, after you: Read the rest of this entry

Early last month, DeKalb’s city council considered whether they should waive the usual bidding process and immediately sign a contract with a website designer who appears to be “besties” with the city manager. The reason for wanting to waive bidding? Staff claimed the city had a crisis foisted upon it by the U.S. Department of Justice following a recently completed review of DeKalb’s website. The DOJ had found the city non-compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act rules and had given DeKalb an ostensibly super-tight deadline for correcting the deficiencies.*

There is a whole lot to say about the discussion and multiple votes taken on this item and we may get around to saying it here, too.

However, today I want to concentrate on the negotiated, formal settlement agreement with DOJ that city seems reluctant to discuss explicitly in public meetings. Read the rest of this entry

The city council voted Monday on a measure to waive the customary bidding process and award a contract to out-of-towners for a new custom website. Staff insisted only CivicPlus could make DeKalb’s official website comply with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) rules within a 4-month deadline negotiated with the U.S. Department of Justice.

Some city employees, including the city manager, have worked with CivicPlus previously and elsewhere.

Some city residents have questions about this deal and Bessie Chronopoulos offered a list of hers in a letter to the editor. Read the rest of this entry

**Update** 1/26. Related: “Sales tax coffers could get boost with new law”. Discusses the Marketplace Fairness Act and its impact (if it ever passes the U.S. House) on state revenues.
**Update** 1 p.m. Related: “Now comes the Internet Sales Consultants”. It provides more food for thought on this scheme, as well as a description of an omission that sounds like a possible violation of the Open Meetings Act.

DeKalb’s city council is considering a new kind of retail revenue source. You should know about it because your tax money is involved.

Chronicle:

City leaders are trying to lure Internet retailers with an 85 percent sales-tax rebate.

The first step in the coaxing process came Monday when aldermen unanimously approved an agreement with a shell company called Great Lakes Economic Development LLC.

The company was created by Tom McPeak, a partner with Atlanta-based Barnwell Consulting, who said he has an undisclosed client interested in setting up shop in DeKalb.

McPeak is an acquaintance of Roger Hopkins. Hopkins used to head the DeKalb County Economic Development Corporation, and after that contracted with the city to provide economic development services for a time. And it looks like he’s done us a solid in facilitating an introduction.

Let’s take a closer look at the potential in this gift. Read the rest of this entry

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.

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

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

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