Last year, City of DeKalb got caught violating the Illinois Open Meetings Act (OMA) in approving a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice.

There were actually two violations, but the one we are concerned with here is DeKalb city council’s failure to take its final vote on the matter in a public session of city council.

Because it looks they’ve done it again. Read the rest of this entry

City staff are proposing to spend $400,000 in 2017 for a STEAM learning center — and that’s just for the architectural service called “building analysis.” The city is already spending $75,000 on a consulting firm, and council has been spending time in closed sessions to discuss the purchase or lease of property. This is an expensive undertaking, ripe for abuse, and should be done only under the watchful eye of the public.

But obtaining information can be difficult, what with our city hall existing now in a perpetually locked-down position, and today I want to share an example. In April 2016, the Request for Proposal for the consultant referred to decisions made by the “stakeholder project team.” In early September, a posting on the city’s website about a survey taken of the community also mentions the “project team.” Do you get the idea that there’s some sort of committee at work? Me too. However, when we ask about the actual makeup of this “STEAM Team,” staff in the city manager’s office deny us.

Here’s how the attempts to get this information have played out so far. Read the rest of this entry

DeKalb city clerk Jenny Johnson does not know where the official seal of the city is located, or even whether it is secure.

We found this out last Saturday, when she held a meeting to inform citizens of her current role, and to gather information about what we envision for the future. A dozen citizens attended, most of us members of the informal citizens’ committee called Citizens for Restoration of the DeKalb City Clerk.

Ms. Johnson explained that because of her part-time status, which she says is forced by low compensation of $5,000 per year, she felt compelled to transfer her authority over the city seal to a deputy clerk to avoid being continually on call to sign/certify/attest.

Unfortunately, the people she’s deputized are actually employees of the city manager’s office. Essentially, then, the city seal is under the control of the city manager’s office, a non-transparent arrangement that brings a slew of questions to bear about the custody and handling of official documents and use of the seal.

Yes, we’re talking about the loss of real-life “checks and balances” and what that might mean. Read the rest of this entry

***Update 5:45 p.m.*** The Facebook discussion on this post is here.

I’m going to ask you to set aside for a few moments everything you’ve heard about why Steve Kapitan resigned as DeKalb city clerk in 2012. Instead, I’d like for you to entertain the possibility that he was a casualty of a DeKalb city government intent on exchanging its elected city clerk for an appointed clerk for quite some time. Read the rest of this entry

I knew the General Assembly was debating the bill last year, but missed the August passage of Public Act 099-0402, which amends an important provision of the Illinois Open Meetings Act (OMA).

(5 ILCS 120/3.5)
Sec. 3.5. Public Access Counselor; opinions.
(a) A person who believes that a violation of this Act by a public body has occurred may file a request for review with the Public Access Counselor established in the Office of the Attorney General not later than 60 days after the alleged violation. If facts concerning the violation are not discovered within the 60-day period, but are discovered at a later date,
not exceeding 2 years after the alleged violation, by a person utilizing reasonable diligence, the request for review may be made within 60 days of the discovery of the alleged violation.

(Emphasis in original, to mark the amended language.)

Discovering an OMA violation beyond the old 60-day deadline was a teeth-gnasher, and happened more often than you’d think. This amendment should make a real difference.

OMA and Real Estate Deals

City of DeKalb just paid for an appraisal of the old Ducky’s/Otto’s building at Lincoln and First. I haven’t heard a peep otherwise, but mindful of possible next steps I’ve done a little homework.

The Open Meetings Act (OMA) has a couple things to say about what a local government can do in closed session when it comes to real estate deals.

[2(c)](5) The purchase or lease of real property for the use of the public body, including meetings held for the purpose of discussing whether a particular parcel should be acquired.

(6) The setting of a price for sale or lease of property owned by the public body.

Exceptions to openness must be strictly construed, so we need to be clear on what’s not okay to talk about in closed session, and this isn’t always readily apparent (and/or has been more firmly established by case law instead of legislation). In this case, a publication from Ancel Glink called “304 Questions that Have Actual Answers” gives us examples. Read the rest of this entry

I want to thank the DeKalb County Citizens for Better Mental Health Care (CBMH) for keeping abreast of these developments and getting the word out.

In fact, if it weren’t for the ad hoc CBMH, there wouldn’t even have been a public hearing on the matter; hearings are not automatic and must be requested of the supervising state board.

This post combines facts from the application itself (the proposal requires approval of the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board), my observations of the September 24 public hearing, and reports from CBMH co-chairs Barry Schrader and Eileen Dubin obtained at a press conference earlier this week.

Mergers vs. Acquisitions

Many people use the words interchangeably, but there’s a distinction between mergers and acquisitions and Northwestern definitely wants to acquire KishHealth. From the application:

In the proposed transaction, Northwestern Memorial HealthCare (NMHC) will become the sole corporate member of KishHealth System (KishHealth). As such, NMHC will have the power and authority to govern, direct and oversee the property, funds, business and affairs of KishHealth.

It’s a change of ownership that, regardless of the appointment of a few local people to serve on the new board, would effectively end local control over the second-largest employer in the county.

CBMH points out that when Kish acquired the DeKalb Clinic, the Clinic employees lost all seniority. In the case of staff cutbacks, they’ll be the first to go. What is there stopping the same thing from happening to Kish staff?

For that matter, what would stop Northwestern from closing some departments or facilities? Answer: apparently, not much. This, from the “affirmations” attached as appendices to the application (my emphasis):

[Northwestern] and KishHealth do not anticipate any reductions to the scope of services or levels of care currently provided at Kishwaukee Community Hospital within 24 months after the affiliation.

Same goes for Valley West Community Hospital in Sandwich.

Read the rest of this entry

We’ve occasionally pointed out how DeKalb’s ordinances don’t always match up to Illinois statutes. The most recent example is contained within the lawsuit filed last week against the city, which details how the language of the DeKalb Municipal Code differs from state law in the matter of mayoral voting.

So, too, does the language differ in the matter of the consent agenda. Here’s what the statute says (my emphases):

[65 ILCS 5/3.1-40-40] The yeas and nays shall be taken upon the question of the passage of the designated ordinances, resolutions, or motions and recorded in the journal of the city council. In addition, the corporate authorities at any meeting may by unanimous consent take a single vote by yeas and nays on the several questions of the passage of any 2 or more of the designated ordinances, orders, resolutions, or motions placed together for voting purposes in a single group.

And here are DeKalb’s rules:

c) The Consent Agenda may, in the initial discretion of the City Manager, include any of the items listed on the Regular Meeting agenda. Each and every matter contained on the Consent Agenda may be passed in an omnibus fashion and shall require the concurrence of a majority vote of the Aldermen holding office, with the right of the Mayor to vote as otherwise provided by law. At any Council meeting, any member of the City Council shall have the right to have any matter on the Consent Agenda removed therefrom and placed as a separate item on the agenda, within the appropriate category. At any time prior to a vote on the passage of the Consent Agenda, a member of the public may request of an Alderman that a matter be removed from the Consent Agenda and be placed as a separate item on the agenda. It is within the discretion of the Alderman to do so. (06-32)

DeKalb has once again created exceptions for itself. Instead of abiding by the rule that the consent agenda be approved by unanimous vote, it has lowered the bar to require a simple majority; and, in replacing the vote of the corporate authorities with aldermen only, is a rule that might exclude the mayor. Read the rest of this entry

Mayor Rey opened the city’s strategic planning meeting last evening just after 5pm, only to be challenged from the audience by county board member and Preserve Our Neighborhoods founder Misty Haji-Sheikh. Haji-Sheikh raised a point of order about the legality of the meeting. The “retreat” meeting was billed as Committee of the Whole, which the online version of the Municipal Code says takes place on the second and fourth Mondays each month, and in council chambers. Coming on a Thursday and being held at NIU, last night’s meeting met neither requirement.

Or maybe it did. City attorney Dean Frieders — who by the way got to take off his lawyer hat last night and help develop public policy, while citizens in the audience had to wait four hours to speak — said the applicable ordinance has been changed and the city is complying with the new rule, but that it just hasn’t been posted to the city’s website yet.

Here’s what the Open Meetings Act says:

(5 ILCS 120/2.02) (from Ch. 102, par. 42.02)
Sec. 2.02. Public notice of all meetings, whether open or closed to the public, shall be given as follows:
(a) Every public body shall give public notice of the schedule of regular meetings at the beginning of each calendar or fiscal year and shall state the regular dates, times, and places of such meetings.

So even if the city is following changed meeting schedule rules — and I am by no means sure this is the case, until I can check a certified copy of the ordinance — it neglected to post the new ones in the Muni Code by the time the new fiscal year began July 1.

Once again, citizens are getting bad information despite good-faith attempts to look it up.

Anyway, the usual way to address a point of order is for the chair to make a ruling on whether a breach of the rules has occurred, and if so to resolve it.

Mayor Rey’s response to Misty Haji-Sheikh was to say, “Take it up with the Attorney General.”

In the excitement, the meeting proceeded without council’s having approved the agenda.

Newspaper coverage of the meeting is here.

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.