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.


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.

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

As the city ponders a property tax hike of 37% as well as water rate and fee “adjustments,” you may wonder how DeKalb has got itself mired in financial straits.

It’s actually nothing new. DeKalb’s budget issues are — and have been since at least 2005 — the result of snatching nearly every penny of revenue growth and putting them into more staff and higher salaries, to the detriment of other areas such as street maintenance.

Worse yet, DeKalb has to come up with, at minimum, a half-million new dollars in revenue each budget cycle just to stay abreast of annual personnel cost increases. It’s rendered the financial gurus unable to look ahead more than 12 months at a time because they continually need to chase the next rabbit for the proverbial hat.

Want proof? The stated Number One strategic priority of the City of DeKalb is “Infrastructure,” yet capital improvements are precisely the area that’s been starved in the current budget. That’s pretty messed up.

And a proposed 37% hike in property taxes bespeaks the latest shortage of bunnies for the hat trick. Read the rest of this entry

The Illinois Attorney General’s Public Access Counselor has accepted my Request for Review of the DeKalb city council’s decision of May 26 to raise the city manager’s pay without public discussion.

From the Request:

There was no public deliberation of this matter even though citizens requested beforehand, both privately and publicly, that Council remove the item from the consent agenda to discuss and vote on it separately.

I believe a reasonable person would conclude that the matter had been discussed in closed session, which of course is allowed by the Open Meetings Act. However, OMA requires that closed session deliberation on personnel matters must end with public action, including recitation of the action item and giving other information to educate the public before the final vote is taken. These things did not happen, so the public was deprived of information such as why the raise is justified, how it affects the current budget, and why the decision was made to make it retroactive.

Although I did not specifically allege that an improper closed session took place — my focus is on council’s failure to bring what was discussed in closed session to light — the PAC will review both open and closed session meeting minutes. And there’s a question hanging: Who’s bright idea was it to place the raise on the consent agenda to avoid public deliberation, and how was consensus reached? The personnel exception to OMA allows only deliberation of:

The appointment, employment, compensation, discipline, performance, or dismissal of specific employees of the public body or legal counsel for the public body, including hearing testimony on a complaint lodged against an employee of the public body or against legal counsel for the public body to determine its validity. [5 ILCS 120/2(c)(1)]

Nothing in this exception allows for discussion about how to dodge public openness via consent agenda.

To my knowledge, three citizens requested of council members that they remove the item from the consent agenda for separate consideration. Council used to honor these requests. If they had done so on May 26, the city wouldn’t have to explain its actions now. Too bad.

While there are several things wrong with the city’s new Freedom of Information Act policy when it comes to direct violations of FOIA as a law, there is also something larger and more insidious at work here.

What I’m talking about is that the FOIA policy item was placed as a resolution on the consent agenda of the meeting. The move side-stepped the obligation to hold first and second readings and have a final roll call vote.

An even more basic error is that the city is now writing resolutions where they should be crafting ordinances. The consequence is that there are now a bunch of rules that now ostensibly apply to us, that we can’t look up in the Municipal Code. If we don’t stop this trend, we’ll end up with a bunch of “handbooks” with rules that the public is expected to follow, but which much of the public can’t access, or perhaps won’t even know exist.

What’s the difference between a resolution and an ordinance? An ordinance is a permanent, enforceable local law. A resolution is a written statement of a municipality’s opinion, will or intent.

Here’s an example of a resolution. It has a lot of “whereas-es” explaining the intent to authorize an intergovernmental agreement, and more importantly it’s not trying to regulate Jen Q. Public.

I believe the city passed this measure as a resolution in order to avoid public discussion and to keep the provisions off the books and therefore out of the hands of people who would embarrass them about their missteps.

The determination arrived Friday. Find it here.

The Illinois Attorney General’s Public Access Counselor (PAC) has found that City of DeKalb violated the Open Meetings Act (OMA) in two ways when it approved a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice on January 12:

  • The city misused the exception to open meetings having to do with imminent/pending litigation by failing to first make a finding that there actually was imminent/pending litigation.
  • The city failed to take final action (vote) to approve the agreement in open session.

  • While both violations are important in helping council members understand the OMA better, as well as to evaluate the performance of their attorney AKA SuperLawyer, it’s the second that probably has more implications for how city business is done in DeKalb. Read the rest of this entry

    The data for the following charts come from Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFRs).

    In view of DeKalb staff’s continually stated desire to hire, I’ve begun with a look at the numbers of full-time equivalent employees. The city is using a figure of 220 city employees during its budget process instead of the most recently available CAFR number of 230. I’ve arbitrarily split the difference for the chart.*

    No matter whose number you use for the past year, DeKalb’s been hiring at a brisk pace following the Great Recession crash-and-burn. However, some council and Financial Advisory Committee members would like to start putting the brakes on hiring. Let’s look at why. Read the rest of this entry

    Council Needs New Counsel

    Sometimes we believe things that are completely false, and a lot of times belief holds strongest when it comes to having faith in professionals who, by definition, are supposed to have your back.

    That’s what I think is happening with the DeKalb city council: They are trusting that what city attorney Dean Frieders says about the law is right. Well, they shouldn’t.

    Today I’ll show you examples for why I have come to this conclusion, starting with the January settlement agreement with the Feds that was approved in secret. The city attorney says it was OK to do this because the city manager has the spending authority to sign contracts costing less than $20,000. I’m going to explain why it’s not OK.
    Read the rest of this entry

    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