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.

DeKalb County put its new website online this week.

The county says the overhaul was not made in response to the Illinois Policy Institute’s recent grade of D-, but has been in the works for about a year.

DeKalb County has put lots online for quite some time, but finding it or even getting a real sense of what all is there could be a problem. Read the rest of this entry

***Update 1:30 p.m.: Their lips say no, but the timing feels like there’s some piling on.***

**Update 9:45 a.m.: Here’s the latest put up by RRStar. I do NOT agree that WCFPD has a credibility problem (stated at the end of the article). Instead, I’d argue that any credibility problem is Randy Olson’s alone at this point and that WCFPD made all the right moves to set right a trust-busting situation that Olson created.**

To summarize: Former Winnebago Forest Preserve District president Randy Olson created and staffed a new public safety job even though the majority of the commission disapproved of his decisions.

Here is what the other commissioners did about it:

It took some time — and for Olson to actually make the hire — for the board to pick up the additional vote it needed to demote him. The fifth commissioner professed herself a good friend of his but busted him anyway. (Olson still serves, just not as president. It will be interesting to see what the voters say if he runs again.)

Well done, #wcfpd!

Website Transparency Standouts

The Illinois Policy Institute recently re-tested government website transparency in DuPage County’s York Township and released results last week.

Dubbed “The Local Transparency Project,” grades are based on the availability to the public of vital community information such as public meeting schedules, government employee salaries and tax rates. Since the project was launched by the Institute in February 2010, more than 160 government entities have been graded.

The government entities that scored above 80 percent were: DuPage County, Elmhurst School District 205, DuPage High School District 88 and the municipalities of Elmhurst, Hinsdale, Downers Grove and Lombard. The village of Lombard, in fact, maintained a score of 100 percent that initially awarded in May 2012.

Almost all of the websites gained points the second time around, and the top sites made such improvement as to suggest conscious responses to the first test.

And it’s not just about uploading content, but organizing it in such a way that it is easy to find.

The Village of Lombard website is tops for several reasons. Redundancy is one. For example, you can get to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) information and forms from both the “How Do I…?” menu on the front page, and via the “Online Forms by Department” menu. An “A-Z” index is also available, which is how I found out the village offers extra goodies for residents, such as a directory of local contractors who meet village requirements for insurance and so on. Read the rest of this entry