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.

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

    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

    From the Daily Chronicle today comes “DeKalb aldermen confront budgeting issues.”

    During their Monday discussion of the budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, DeKalb aldermen were told the city will need to cut services or boost revenue in order to maintain operations in the coming years.

    Beginning July 1, alderman were told, the city should shift its structure and look at the way the general fund is used.

    “The main thing is the current structure of how everything is put together is not sustainable,” City Manager Anne Marie Gaura said. “Something has to change and that will require policy decisions in the coming months and coming years on how to address this long-term.”

    Gee, where have I heard this before? Read the rest of this entry

    The Daily Chronicle notes that new DeKalb city manager Anne Marie Gaura has made some personnel changes. I am particularly gratified by this statement:

    The moves all deal with personnel issues, a subject on which employers are generally limited on what they can say, but they could have announced they happened.

    The Chronicle’s actual main point is that Gaura is shaking things up and it looks like the aim is to save money while improving service. This is something I’d love to embrace 100% but I keep getting hung up on the city’s failure to communicate these decisions until confronted.

    By passing up opportunities to announce changes, DeKalb is squandering opportunities to rebuild trust that previous city leaders destroyed through a culture of dishonesty and secrecy.

    Speaking of which, have you seen the video of Saturday’s town hall meeting yet? Distrust and suspicion were recurring themes.

    Mayor Rey has un-ironically declared on his Facebook page, “I see a better, safer and more transparent DeKalb.”

    Yet DeKalb is a town that:

    — Told no one that its finance director had resigned until specifically asked about it more than a month later.

    — Refused to announce the location of its warming center during the worst of the winter.

    — Allowed citizens to find out the hard way last week that there was no one available to issue the permits that they needed.

    The above events don’t reflect a better, safer or more transparent DeKalb. They are anti-public relations and furthermore enough removed from common sense as to have ventured a toe into the realm of the bizarre.

    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.