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.

City of DeKalb’s use of administrative tow fees brings up lots of questions, such as how many of these off-budget accounts the city has and whether their collective use rises to the title of “shadow budget.”

I don’t have the answers to the above questions, but I do know that even off-budget transactions are included in the invoice payment listings, aka check register. And thanks to the new account coding, you can usually easily tell what type of account each purchase is charged to, should this be of interest to you. Read the rest of this entry

Did You Get Invited? Me Neither.

Last week I decided to email our almost-daily newspapers to let them know I’ve been searching them each day for news of the DeKalb city manager interviews. You’ll remember that last summer the date for the interviews was set for November 1, but a lot could have happened since then.

Then an article appeared in the weekend edition of the Daily Chronicle. (I don’t know if I can take credit for this or not.) It confirmed the date of the panel interviews but not much else.

You see, in July when the interview schedule was set, the Community Committee interview panel and a candidates’ evening meet-and-greet were designated public meetings, so I’d expected to get details about those events in the article as well.

I guess we second-class citizens who would like to attend the public events will need to make an extra effort to find out the where and when, unless we’re content to wait for the state-required public notices to come out Wednesday and scramble from there.

Of course, it’s entirely possible city officials have decided instead to renege on the earlier plans for openness and are now keeping all panels and the meet-and-greet limited to the select few. Read the rest of this entry

The Search for John Rey

A reader sent me this yesterday.

If you’re new to DeKalb, I should explain that John Rey was elected mayor of DeKalb last spring.

search for john rey photo thesearchforjohnrey_zps60910e25.jpg

To be fair, the city’s website search seems to have made a recovery today. It may even function better than it did before, though I say this cautiously, not having accessed the search for many months due to its years-long history of exceptional uselessness.

Still, even in the face of apparent improvement it doesn’t earn a “B” in my government website gradebook. That’ll happen when I no longer have to file Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests — as I did today — to get check register entries grouped by date, vendor and/or fund.

The campaign promises to bring us searchable databases ring hollow to my ears now, six months later.

A link to this city council special meeting agenda for Wednesday dropped into my inbox October 9.

I am 99.9% sure the closed meeting is about creating a short list of candidates for city manager, which is important to us and by no means a secret.

But unless you recognize the significance of the timing, how would you know? You’d have to take extra steps to find out.

Next time they brag about their openness and terrific customer service, laugh.

Meanwhile, the default response to this useless agenda should be: “What else are you keeping secret that you shouldn’t?” Because that’s what unnecessary mystery does to trust.

**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.

Talk of a possible teachers’ strike last month was tense and emotional for a lot of us. When the school board and the teachers’ union came together at nearly the last minute, I felt relieved and psychologically moved past it right away.

But that was wrong.

What I should have done, and will do now, is to recognize that District 428 put out a bunch of information about the negotiations at its website. At first they posted the final offers from each side. Then they added a document clarifying the sticking points between the two groups, and others that compared District 428 work hours and pay to other districts in the area. Anyone who cared to read them was totally in the loop.

The district also front-paged a link to all these documents for easy access.

Well done, District 428.

Just in time for Sunshine Week, I’ve re-scored the City of DeKalb’s website transparency score from scratch.

Does it come anywhere near the Illinois Policy Institute’s score of 88.1 points? No.

But at least I have found out why. Check out the scoring rubric, here. This is the one I used both in December 2010 and yesterday, but it’s been unhooked from the main scoring page. You can see that six of the 10 categories originally required documents to be searchable for full credit, but this requirement eventually got dropped in favor of simply encouraging the posting of more documents online.

Without further ado: Read the rest of this entry

*As promised, I’ve continued pursuing the mystery of last month’s awarding of the Illinois Policy Institute’s website transparency award. Here’s an update.*

I’ve been in communication with Brian Costin, director of the Local Transparency Project at the Illinois Policy Institute, about the award for website transparency he gave last month to the City of DeKalb.

The issue is the score of 88.1 given by IPI. It shocked me because I’d used the same test in the past and scored the city at 44 points, a most definite “F.” Read the rest of this entry

There is no “r” in Fazekas

I want to offer a few words on my write-in candidacy for DeKalb City Clerk so it doesn’t get weird between us. I filed last Thursday, aware by that point of one other person who might be running and found out later that we are four.

A public statement of candidacy and a Facebook page are planned, and I’ll let you know when they are available.

Outside of those things I am still working out what’s fair to post here during the campaign. Of course I have opinions, strong ones, on the so-called “neutering” of the city clerk’s position, on Kapitan’s candidacy and about the mayoral candidates, but I don’t know that City Barbs will cover any of these topics directly between now and April 9.

One matter we will explore soon for sure is the City of DeKalb’s improved website. You may be aware that the City of DeKalb recently passed, in the “B” range, the Illinois Policy Institute’s transparency test for its online postings even though it’s gotten an “F” from me on the same test in the past. The good folks at IPI are waiting for me to rate the site again; it will be a good test not only of the site but of the IPI scoring system as well. The matter is on my list in ink and I hope to get to it sometime this week.