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

Comp Time Champs

***Clarification*** added 12/3 due to a question that came up in this Facebook discussion: Firefighters often work overtime and they almost always receive overtime pay for it. However, according to their contract they might with permission accumulate a little comp time instead, up to 205 hours, after which no more comp time is permitted to be accumulated. My investigation of firefighter comp time actually turned out to be a red herring when it comes to high accumulations of paid leave and I only mentioned it to show that the path to the truth is not always linear.***

I’ve continued to look at the DeKalb firefighters’ current labor contract with the city since it is set to expire at the end of June. It says that fire personnel may accumulate up to 205 hours of comp time, so I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for comp time records for firefighters at about the end of the 2013 fiscal year (end of June or early July).

Luckily, I received more than I asked for because DeKalb Fire isn’t so much the story here.

Below is information about banked comp time hours drawn from a Benefit Hours Report that was generated June 26, 2013. Repeat: This is banked comp time only.

Name & Position/Dept.Banked Hours AvailableAvailable Cost
Espiritu (Asst. City Mgr.)689.845,399.19
Cleveland (Airport Mgr.)1660.075,525.02
Bauling (Engineering/Code/Transportation)1776.580,825.42
Maurer (Engineering/Code/Transportation)5337.0304,449.17
Hicks (Fire Chief)640.539,456.72
Hoyle (Fire)504.029,130.39
Hoadley (Police)706.5540,837.46
LeMay (Fire)1030.628,767.24

Another two dozen city employees had banked $5,000 to $25,000 in comp by the time of the report.

I’ll put up more numbers later this week.

Related post: On the Trail of the Legendary Comp Time Monster.

DeKalb Public Library and Greed

In a post from January 10, I told you I’d continue trying to get information about the state’s Public Library Construction Grant Program since we knew so few of the institutions that won them.

Part of the reason it has taken so long to get back to you is that I goofed up my chance to fight for the information. Yep, I sure did. Since the Illinois State Library had always responded quite fully and promptly to previous Freedom of Information Act requests, I didn’t bother to make a copy of the request for the list of awardees. This time they denied me the document and I was unable to ask for a review of the decision because under FOIA you must provide a copy of the original FOIA request along with the Request for Review.

The lesson here, of course, is not to trust anybody — not even librarians. Read the rest of this entry

Last month I was going through recent City of DeKalb check registers for something or other and came across a payment out of DeKalb’s Central Area Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Fund for $189 with the description “EGYPTN THTR UNCLG BSMNT DRN.” I also found descriptions for “EGYPTN THTR STG DOORS LCKS” and “LGHT FXTR WMNS BTHRM.”

These items sounded more like regular maintenance than the private property rehab/development that TIF is supposed to support, but I figure the city probably has plausible excuses for them, perhaps repairs for damage done by clumsy plasterers or painters?

Two of the October entries are for engineering services with descriptions of “EGYPTN THTR ALLEY RCNSTRCTN.” This must be TIF-speak for “taxpayers are footing the bill for heated sidewalks.” Read the rest of this entry

Click on the image for a larger version.

TIF Funds Spent on Airport photo 2013TIFmoneyforairport_zps90cec782.jpg