I hardly know where to begin.

In response to a tenant complaint, at 10 a.m. Friday, city inspectors met building owner Pat Bragg at the Edgebrook Manor Apartments and within hours they had decided to condemn the property, requiring everyone living there to leave their homes within 24 hours.

A few years ago, a friend of mine who lived on Roosevelt Street complained to a City of DeKalb code inspector that her landlord had refused to properly clean up flood damage to her apartment. The landlord immediately terminated the month-to-month lease. My friend struggled to find a new place even though she had 30 days’ notice and, in fact, she had to couch surf for a month or two. It was horribly disruptive to her life.

So I don’t get that nobody bats an eyeball when City of DeKalb boots people out with 24 hours’ notice and no solid alternatives. Read the rest of this entry

As indicated a few days ago, I have concerns about DeKalb’s hotel/motel inspection and licensing ordinance.

The good news is, the city does recognize that some people are permanent residents of hotels and motels.

“Permanent resident” means any person who occupied or has the right to occupy any room or rooms in a hotel or motel for not less than thirty (30) consecutive days.

However, status as a “permanent resident” only means that the usual 7% hotel/motel tax is not charged. It has nothing to do with tenancy or conferring tenants’ rights in long-term living situations in motels.

This is consistent with state law, which tends to keep considerations of landlords and innkeepers separate. Generally such a separation plays out reasonably, except in the case of people having to use cheap motels to keep a couple of walls between themselves and the streets on a long-term and/or indefinite basis.

Let’s consider how this works in case of a motel shutdown such as City of DeKalb’s closure of the Travel Inn.

In an email, Mayor Rey said, “The City is very sensitive to dispersing permanent residents from short-term rentals onto the streets. It is my understanding Lynne that due notice is given upon such displacements.”

“Due notice” is not required by DeKalb ordinance, and my Freedom of Information Act request returned no evidence of any such notice. Yet, conversation on Facebook suggests that people were indeed booted out onto the street.

Mayor Rey also said:

The closure of the local motel was not a result of city causation. We were merely enforcing health/sanitary living condition standards for short-term rental available to visitors.

Irony alert! Living on the street can be bad for your health, too, which is why people will put up with fleabag conditions to avoid it. Especially those with children.

I’m also pretty sure that if harm should come to someone as a direct result of being kicked out of his or her residence without time to make other arrangements, it would put the city at risk of legal action.

The larger issue, of course, is simply one of conscience. I want local government to have one. You?

Ethics “In a Nutshell”

Robert Wechsler, director of CityEthics.org, has just released a new intro to local government ethics called “Local Government Ethics Programs in a Nutshell”, in which he has distilled an 800-page digital book and years of blog posts into a 27-page resource for public officials, journalists and others interested in good government. Here’s a bit out of the intro:

Government ethics is not about being “good” or “a person of integrity.” It’s not something officials learn at home, at school, or in their house of worship. In fact, conduct that is praiseworthy outside of government, such as helping a family member get a job or returning a favor one has been given, is considered wrong in a government context…It is about preserving institutional rather than personal integrity. Government ethics decision-making should be just another professional routine.

We also sometimes talk about ethics in the public domain as public morality vs. private morality, and I favor an approach that deals with what to do when conflicts occur, not if. Read the rest of this entry

Rockford Register Star asked the question: When it comes to municipal electrical aggregation, what’s in it for the city?

City brokers deal with other municipalities, lands nearly $20 million in savings for area customers, hands over thousands of accounts and gets nothing in return?

Rockford’s Central Services Manager Carrie Eklund says that’s exactly what the city did when it decided to waive an administrative fee, a small amount that would be added onto everyone’s bill and funneled back to the city.

The state’s new electrical aggregation law allows cities to do it, Eklund said, and some have. But not Rockford.

“We are getting no compensation from this whatsoever,” she said. “The option was there, and we chose not to use it. We wanted to pass along all of the savings to our residents and small businesses.”

“Fee?” We need to get our terms straight. Read the rest of this entry

Roundup & Open Thread

In the Sun-Times this a.m.:

A top aide to Cook County Board President Todd Stroger was arrested Monday and charged in a criminal probe of county no-bid contracts, including one allegedly steered to the staffer’s privately owned public relations firm, authorities said.

“It’s in connection with the ongoing financial crimes investigation conducted by the state’s attorney’s office into the awarding of so-called 24-9 contracts,” [Cook County State's Attorney spokesperson Sally Daly] said.

The “24-9″ reference is to contracts that fall below the $25,000 mark, the threshold requiring approval by the Cook County Board.

You know, kind of like DeKalb’s “19-5s,” which refer to contracts that fall beneath the city manager’s $20,000 threshold at which he must seek approval from the city council. But in DeKalb, it doesn’t matter who gets the business, not even if it’s an alderman. At least Cook County sees justice every once in awhile.

[H/T J.D.]

Plan Commission Resignations

Joe Gastiger and Tom Specht both have sterling reputations, as their dignified resignations from the Plan Commission this week attest. It’s an old-school gesture of protest, and all too rare.

The story is here, available for about a week. Keep an eye on Lunatic Fringe of DeKalb at FB, in case there’s some action.

Council’s affirmation of the mayor’s removal of John Guio from the Plan Commission for reasons of ethics comes as no surprise. I wonder, however, if any of the aldermen get that wife Sue Guio’s former position with the city presented more in the way of potential conflicts of interest than her place on the board of Hope Haven ever has.

But I digress. What this action does is to set a precedent for an ethical cleansing, and just in time. DeKalb City Council must turn its attention to the board of the DeKalb Public Library, DKPL’s own conflicts of interest and its years-long pattern of ignoring the Open Meetings Act and Freedom of Information Act.

This will not be easy, because it is apparent most council members do not fully understand their responsibilities over this body and I’m betting city staff are not racing to tell them. The aldermen will have to insist on the discussion. Read the rest of this entry

Ethics in the City

City Council on Monday is set to decide whether the mayor’s removal of chair John Guio from the Plan Commission for an ethics violation is proper.

You’ll have to excuse me for not believing the party line here. IMO this was a move based on politics, not ethics. Consider:

— Another Plan Commission member, Vince Frye, was allowed to poison the well on the vote for the hog slaughtering operation just a few weeks ago. No penalty.

— Alderman Ron Naylor, a retired city employee, has made some errors in discussing post-employment healthcare benefits in violation of the ordinance that sets rules for proper meeting behavior. No penalty.

— Alderman Bert Simpson blasted me for criticizing Community Enhancement commissioner Paul Rasmussen for publicly supporting the utilities burial plan without identifying himself as a former city staff member who had helped come up with the plan. Rasmussen is now a “private citizen,” the argument went, and basic ethics rules do not apply to him anymore.

Wogengate. City staff involved in under-the-radar contracts to a sitting alderman are still there. The ordinance dealing with aldermen and future contracts does not even meet state standards.

If the administration really wants to pull out an ethics yardstick at this moment, great! — but use it to measure everyone, not just political adversaries.

Link: ICMA Code of Ethics (H/T S.B.)

Ethics & the Plan Commission

DeKalb’s Plan Commission has a Code of Ethics (PDF pp. 1-2). It’s flawed, but there you go. My emphasis added.

d) Code of Ethics. Plan Commission members shall abide by a code of ethics as follows: (03-18)

1. Members shall exercise impartial and independent judgment in their roles as advisors to the City Council.

2. Members shall be adequately prepared to render thorough and diligent service and to fairly apply facts and information to the decision at hand.

3. Members shall disclose all direct personal financial interest in any proposal, project or development before the Commission and indicate any personal financial benefit that could result from a decision made by the commission. When concerned that there is a potential appearance of a conflict of interest or a public perception of conflict of interest the Commissioner should recuse him/herself from the particular proposal. When in doubt, the Commissioner may seek advice, for example, from the City Attorney, Planning Staff, other Commission members, or others to determine if a conflict or public perception of conflict might exist. Read the rest of this entry