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

The special joint meeting between city council members and the Financial Advisory Committee (FAC) on Saturday filled in a lot of blanks, even for — or maybe especially for — folks who have reviewed the FY2015 City of DeKalb budget including its excellent Transmittal Letter.

One of the changes proposed by city manager Anne Marie Gaura is to split off community development services from Public Works and place them into their own department. Community Development would then handle and/or oversee the following:

  • Planning & economic development
  • Building services such as code enforcement
  • Community Development Block Grant administration
  • One part of the argument is that Community Development functions are not Public Works core competencies. Splitting them off would allow PW to better concentrate on the budgetary and strategic priority of infrastructure.

    Also there is a track record to consider. As you are probably aware, the city has placed a building supervisor and two building inspectors on administrative leave as it debates their fates vs. the proposed reorganization. From the budgetary Transmittal Letter:

    In the past year, the City has seen a number of very public, very unfortunate business closures and even building collapses. In order to protect public safety, changes in the City’s operations are essential.

    On Saturday it came out (during the Workers Comp discussion, actually) that the police officer who was injured by falling through the floor of the old Wurlitzer building may remain permanently disabled. Read the rest of this entry

    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

    I’ve isolated the comparison charts for you and put them after the jump (or you could teleport to the agenda instead and go to page 5 of the PDF file).

    First, though, I’d like to spend a minute on city staff members’ reasons for requesting approval of new fees and fee hikes:

    The changes of these and others are recommended at this time as it is convenient to do so with full implementation of financial tracking software.

    So: We are doing this now because it’s convenient for us.

    The CPI increases of building permit fees since 2003 has not kept pace in some cases for present day inspector rates of approximately $60 per hour including overhead. Also since 2003 more commercial activity occurred to track anecdotal information that inspection time for instance is significant for large amperage commercial building electrical services with intricate electrical cabinet circuits to inspect for code compliance. Other recommended fees are new to account for recent national or state building code requirements or to account for outsourcing for expedited plan reviews or in-house reviews not previously charged for having more than incidental review time.

    More reasons: We pay our inspectors a whole lot. We finally figured out the real costs of some of the inspections. We’ve discovered there are more things we can charge for. Read the rest of this entry

    The Manning Numbers

    A request made by Brad Manning Ford came up in the last DeKalb council meeting agenda:

    The dealership says it can get $400,000 from Ford to put towards the [$2.3 million expansion] project, but that it still can’t foot the rest of the bill. The $110,000 that it is requesting from the city represents about 4.7 percent of the total cost – below the city’s traditional maximum project cost-sharing percentage of 20 percent.

    The requested rebate would come from new sales taxes generated over and above the existing taxes that the dealership generates now, according to city documents. The program would end after seven years, or whenever the $110,000 mark is met using a 50-50 split – whichever happens first.

    According to documents that the dealership provided to the city, it expects to generate a total of $110,000 in sales taxes in 2014 and more than $170,000 per year by the year 2020.

    I left a comment with the story:

    I like Manning Ford a lot and have had great experiences with their sales, service and rental departments. However, I note that the City of DeKalb purchased a $29,350 Ford Explorer from them in June, and I wonder which dealer ended up supplying the new squad cars totaling $151,700? In other words, maybe Manning is already getting enough help from the city?

    Read the rest of this entry

    The city manager, not the mayor, is the chief executive officer in DeKalb’s council-manager form of government. Ideally we should be paying as much attention to selection of the city manager as we do the mayoral election — especially these days, when the city council declines to put expiration dates on their managers’ contracts and allows the manager to spend up to $20,000 at a time without council approval.

    Personal conclusions notwithstanding, there is a process in place for hiring a city manager that is supposed to let the cream rise to the top. Recently I sifted through documents obtained through the Illinois Freedom of Information Act to bring you an update. Read the rest of this entry

    **Update September 15: Here’s the link to the full, 56-minute Housing Bureau discussion (HT M.C.)**

    The City of DeKalb and the Chronicle recently made a big deal of a Housing Bureau employee’s using city email in negotiating her rent. But now that looks like the tip of the iceberg.

    For adequate context, I recommend watching from about 6:30 to 9:30. The money quote from Alderman Baker comes after 8:30 and he makes another comment about the matter at 14:00.

    What should be our conclusion here? That there’s rampant corruption but it’s kept secret unless the employee is stupid enough to put it in writing?

    And where’s the Chronicle? This happened on Monday.

    *Update 8/22: City IT director Jeremy Alexander notified me early this morning that an encoding error is the cause of the audio glitch. They expect to have the problem corrected before the end of the day.*

    It has come to my attention that the audio portion for much of the August 12 city council meetings is missing from the recorded video uploaded to the city’s website.

    At this point I don’t know if they will be able to restore the audio, but I do know that two sections of that meeting, the TIF hearing and the Irongate discussion, are important for people to hear, and unfortunately both have been affected by the technical glitch.

    So here they are. Thanks once again to Mark Charvat, who pulled them from his home recorder for us.