**Update September 15: Here’s the link to the full, 56-minute Housing Bureau discussion (HT M.C.)**

The City of DeKalb and the Chronicle recently made a big deal of a Housing Bureau employee’s using city email in negotiating her rent. But now that looks like the tip of the iceberg.

For adequate context, I recommend watching from about 6:30 to 9:30. The money quote from Alderman Baker comes after 8:30 and he makes another comment about the matter at 14:00.

What should be our conclusion here? That there’s rampant corruption but it’s kept secret unless the employee is stupid enough to put it in writing?

And where’s the Chronicle? This happened on Monday.

Power Shifts and Pushback

Let’s cut loose a couple of these agenda items for tonight’s DeKalb council meeting and try to paste them into the big picture.

It is odd that this fiscal year’s budget allows for the hiring of code inspectors into the police department’s Crime Free Housing Bureau instead of mingling them with the rest of the code enforcement people. It also has seemed wrong to members of the DeKalb Area Rental Association, who have been questioning this arrangement from its inception. They’ve finally gotten a couple of aldermen to bring up the question again so these assignments and allocations can be reconsidered.

The Chronicle does a good job with the story if you need something to get you up to speed. Of course the misplacement is major mission creep and strikes a blow against accountability in blurring boundaries between code enforcement and what Crime Free Housing is supposed to accomplish.

Then there’s the new truancy ordinance (see pp. 157-9 of the agenda PDF). Here’s what home-schoolers are reacting to most: Read the rest of this entry

Chronicle’s Corn Fest 2011

ear of cornDeKalb Corn Fest just filed its IRS Form 990 this month for calendar/fiscal year 2011.

Let’s add the numbers to our chart:

YearRevenuesExpensesGain/LossGrants
Given
Ending
Fund
Balance
2004129,016153,600-24,584None25,805
2005174,734140,83933,895None59,700
2006183,392163,69819,69425,20079,394
2007167,509156,17411,3353,00090,699
2008160,999178,519-17,5204,00073,179
2009183,662184,376-1,01430072,165
2010155,804171,748-15,944None56,221
2011133,058151,358-18,300None37,921

Corn Fest was able to to reduce its costs over the previous year. Unfortunately, its revenues took another dive. This (along with the sorry parking fee revenue total for 2012) is consistent with our hypothesis that Corn Fest is back downtown because it was dying at the airport, no matter what public officials say about it.

I’m calling it “Chronicle’s Corn Fest” for fun, though it really isn’t funny. In fact, let’s talk. Read the rest of this entry

The Chronicle covered the public hearing on the proposed Sycamore Road and South Fourth Street TIF districts last night. The article seems a bit short but I’m gratified to have been quoted.

Three of us spoke at the hearing: Kerry Mellott, Mac McIntyre and me. If you did not observe Mac’s and Kerry’s contributions, let me assure you they are worth an ear when the city makes the video available.

Today I offer my prepared remarks* because they represent a somewhat organized body of objections that I haven’t yet shared here.

Jump to look. Read the rest of this entry

City Pay Raises Approved

In reading the agenda for last night’s meeting, I noticed council members were getting set to “reconsider” Resolution 13-56, the same one they shot down last meeting that would have given the contracted attorney a 2% raise.

I would’ve liked to have read a summary of the contentious June 24 discussion, but alas! I couldn’t find the regular meeting minutes in the agenda packet, nor was approval of those minutes part of last night’s agenda. Wonder what’s going on in the clerk’s office that they’re running late on something so basic?

Anyway, after two weeks of the miracle of “reconsidering,” the lawyer and others will now enjoy 2% increases; and apparently anything less now constitutes abuse of city staff. Read the rest of this entry

Fun with Friends of Goliath

The Illinois Supreme Court refused last week to hear an appeal against the DeKalb County Board’s decision to allow Waste Management’s landfill expansion plan. In response, Daily Chronicle editor Eric Olson patted the Stop the Mega-Dump people on the head.

Their effort was driven by their convictions. Members of the unfortunately named Stop the Mega-Dump believed what they were doing was right and the county was in the wrong. They took it as far as they could because they cared about the effect this landfill expansion would have on our shared environment.

There, there.

[sympathetic cooing noises]

Suddenly, he attacks! Read the rest of this entry

*Update: Final list of candidates is here.*

In the article, “DeKalb County Certifies Preliminary Ballot,” the county clerk stated that there are about six people who have filed as write-in candidates in April’s Consolidated Election so far. As of 9:30 a.m. today there were indeed exactly six:

  • Michael Franckowiak – Genoa Park Board
  • Veronica Bruhl – Kaneland Board of Education
  • Rick Goken – Shabbona Township Trustee
  • Virginia E. Toppe – Malta Library Trustee
  • Charles G. Rose – DeKalb Regional Board of Education
  • Antonio C. Amaya – Genoa Park Board
  • We could see additional declarations of write-in campaigns this week because the deadline is Thursday, after which the final list of candidates will be posted at dekalbclerk.com.

    While I’m at it I’d like to recognize John Acardo and the Office of the DeKalb County Clerk & Recorder for their high standards of professionalism and customer service. Nobody answers requests for information faster than they do, the communication is very good and I like how I am treated.

    Here’s the latest.

    DeKalb library leaders asked the DeKalb City Council on Monday if it would consider borrowing $7.5 million for the $24 million construction project, which would add 47,000 square feet to the 19,000-square-foot building at 309 Oak St. Library leaders need to secure $15.5 million by June 1 to qualify for an $8.5 million state construction grant they were offered last month.

    No, that’s not quite right. They weren’t “offered” anything. DKPL applied for the grant last April and its number finally came up, probably because a couple other libraries lost referenda in November (but we don’t know for sure, because I’ve been foiled in my FOIA inquiry).

    It’s a crying shame for taxpayers that DKPL turned in an application with a plan to spend $24 million, because the eligible construction costs only come to about $13 million. This means there are a lot of goodies in there that the state won’t cover. When DKPL board members say they really, really tried so hard to save taxpayers money, the fitting response is a derisive laugh, IMO. Read the rest of this entry

    DeKalb TIF Absurdity

    Wow, today’s Chronicle article about TIF seems very one-sided and in need of additional viewpoints.

    That’s what blogs are for!

    Let’s start with the statement about Sycamore Road.

    DeKalb’s districts helped revitalize Sycamore Road with the additions of Target, Walmart and major shopping corridors.

    Revitalize? Do they think Sycamore Road was full of slums? It was mostly farmland. Last I checked, farmland was an asset in DeKalb County. But, to start a TIF district you need to declare the area you want to develop as a sort of disaster area known as “blight.” In Illinois TIF parlance, “blight” is anything a municipality needs it to be, as long as it can persuade the General Assembly and governor to buy in. So…corn fields equal blight in DeKalb.

    Yes, it’s a corruption of TIF; and the most amazing part, to me, is how a publication can write about Illinois corruption on a regular basis and yet not recognize local examples of it.

    Back to the article. How about this:

    “We’re blessed to have the working relationship we do with the taxing districts,” [DeKalb city manager Mark] Biernacki said. “We work to make that longer term more short-term by ending TIF districts in less than 23 years.”

    DeKalb’s largest TIF district was amended, expanded and renewed for an additional 11 years in 2008. This assertion of Biernacki’s that DeKalb closes TIFs early should not have gone unchallenged, yet it totally did.

    Also going unchallenged is the notion of opening new TIFs in town AT THIS TIME. I can’t believe we are going there and will spend the rest of the post explaining why it we shouldn’t. Read the rest of this entry

    In “DeKalb Gives First Approval to Property Tax Levy,” we get this:

    The aldermen had previously set the ceiling for a property tax levy at $9.67 million, and were given two options by city staff to set the request at either $9.67 million or $9.63 million – the amount the city levied last year.

    According to the Chronicle, the city council appears to support the higher levy, and the rate would go up, too, to about 79 cents. Anything else?

    The city uses property tax revenue to fund pensions of city staff, police officers and firefighters. The $9.67 million request would be able to fund all the police and fire pensions, and 45 percent of the pensions of city staff. The other 55 percent will have to be made up from one of the city’s other funds, she said.

    Let us summarize (using both today’s Chronicle story and Monday’s CB post.)

    • As a rule, city property tax collected ONLY goes to city pensions.

    • The property tax levy will probably go up for tax year 2012.

    • As the levy goes up, the rate will go up, too — about 7 cents.

    • A 7-cent hike would probably set a record.

    • Despite a probable record hike — and the investment gains we showed you Monday — it’s said we still need to put more money up front to cover rising costs.

    Read the rest of this entry