For all of NIU’s having publicly “backed away” from a partnership for redevelopment with City of DeKalb et al last spring, it seems the institution had already secretly created a “charity” with a local developer and a banker in December 2013 for similar purposes.

The documents were Tweeted to me.

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.

Let’s start with a summary of events.

— The group now known as Preserve Our Neighborhoods (PON) was formed last spring in response to concerns that residents were not being included in DeKalb-NIU redevelopment plans that would directly affect them.

— Misty Haji-Sheikh of PON received unsigned documents from an anonymous sender regarding a corporation formed for the purpose of redeveloping the John Street neighborhood.

— The corporation, College Town Partners, was of public interest because NIU and City of DeKalb were named as partners in documents related to its purpose and operations.

— Haji-Sheikh asked NIU and City of DeKalb for documents related to College Town Partners under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). DeKalb denied her some of the information under an exemption to FOIA for preliminary drafts/proposals.

— Haji-Sheikh requested that the Attorney General’s Office of Public Access review DeKalb’s denial of information to ensure the city has used the FOIA exemption properly. The AG accepted this Request for Review.

— City of DeKalb responded to the AG’s request to provide the legal basis for using the FOIA exemption(s) but in an unusual move the city asked for — and received — blanket confidentiality of its response.

— Haji-Sheikh is allowed under the review process to respond to the city’s response and she did so even though she hasn’t been allowed to read it.

Michael Haji-Sheikh has provided Misty’s response to the AG via Twitter. Read the rest of this entry

The Illinois Attorney General’s Public Access Counselor (PAC) has agreed to examine a City of DeKalb denial of information to a representative of a neighborhood group.

Here’s the usual drill. Upon the PAC accepting a Request for Review it invites the public body to respond with the legal basis for denial. The response is shared with requester, who gets a chance to respond to the response. PAC eventually delivers an opinion about whether the denial was legal under FOIA.

What’s unusual here is that the city is requesting that its response be kept wholly confidential. That’s right; DeKalb doesn’t want the requester to see any part of it. 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?

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

Laura Pisarcik was City of DeKalb’s financial director for three years until her resignation March 7.

Despite her position as a department head, Pisarcik’s departure went unannounced until the Daily Chronicle began making inquiries and reported the separation April 12.

Since then I’ve obtained the separation agreement from the city under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.

A non-disclosure provision is item numbered six in the agreement, while items 10 and 13 indicate Pisarcik had up to 21 days to consult with an attorney before signing, and notes that she did. Pisarcik and Anne Marie Gaura signed it less than two months following Gaura’s installation as city manager in January.

Severance pay is explicitly rejected in the agreement, but Pisarcik’s accrued hours of paid time off came to a payout of $9,000.

The document is five pages long and I’ve placed it after the jump. Read the rest of this entry

From the Daily Chronicle’s weekend edition:

The city of DeKalb is without a finance director after Laura Pisarcik resigned the same week city Manager Anne Marie Gaura announced financial consultants would review the city’s financial policies and procedures.

Ordinarily I’d applaud the sight of heads rolling for the sake of accountability. This time I can’t. Here’s the problem: Though the Daily Chronicle published the news yesterday, Pisarcik resigned the first week of March. Her absence was discovered by accident last week, when somebody noticed her name had been removed from the city’s website and thought to ask about it. (Yeah, that was me.)

A city department head has been gone for a month without a public announcement of the departure? I wonder why?

Gaura acknowledged there is a separation agreement between the city and Pisarcik, but declined to disclose the details.

Oh.

Does Ms. Gaura think she can withhold these details indefinitely? I’ve already submitted a Freedom of Information Act request, and please note I’ve never been denied copies of any contract. And when it comes specifically to separation agreements, we have only to recall that the Chronicle had no problem obtaining agreements signed with former city clerk Steve Kapitan and former park district executive director Cindy Capek.

There’s no doubt the separation agreement will come out. Also, Laura Pisarcik would have been missed at the next budget meeting, right? The city manager has blown, for no good reason, an opportunity to build trust with the community.

When I told you about City of DeKalb’s policy to allow staff in administrative positions to bank comp time — as well as how much comp certain employees had accumulated — I could not include the comp and other accumulations of former city manager Mark Biernacki because he’d already cashed out in mid-June. But, here are the payout numbers for you. Read the rest of this entry