It’s not just DeKalb’s mayor who’s having trouble with the Open Meetings Act lately. The Edgar County Watchdogs report that the president of the Village of Wheeling recently used police officers to stop a citizen who wanted to address public comments to one particular public official instead of the whole board.
The focus of this Watchdogs’ report was the advice that the law firm Klein, Thorpe and Jenkins* have given Wheeling — and other public bodies in Illinois — when it comes to local government making rules about public comments at public meetings.
The Open Meetings Act says this about the public’s right to speak:
Any person shall be permitted an opportunity to address public officials under the rules established and recorded by the public body.
It’s a newer amendment to the Open Meetings Act, and yeah, it’s kind of vague. But that’s okay. The granting of a right to speak by any level of government automatically puts us under First Amendment coverage since nobody’s allowed to supersede the Constitution. Continue reading Freedom of Speech starts at home
At the end of the August 28 city council meeting, DeKalb mayor Jerry Smith pushed back against public criticism of staff members, threatening to cut comments off with his gavel if he feels “personal attacks are being made.”
There are three of us who have used the forum of public meetings to criticize the city’s website, the rollout of the “FOIA Center,” and most especially the actions of FOIA officer Aaron Stevens (all of which we can prove, by the way). There’s no doubt the mayor was talking about us while he swung his gavel in the air.
But it was when I decided to transcribe the mayor’s comments in full (to counter an argument about their being misconstrued) that I also realized he is mischaracterizing mine. My remarks about Stevens were not personal. They were about his job performance, particularly his reprehensible behavior toward members of the public. That is public business and therefore perfectly appropriate to the venue.
As previously noted, it so happens that making the criticism at a council meeting, while fully within my rights, was actually a last resort for me. It followed mistreatment at a private meeting that nobody has done anything about, including “the buck truly does stop here” Smith.
And FOIA as practiced at City of DeKalb is still not fixed.
DeKalb County Online: Letter: DeKalb Mayor advocating censorship
My transcription of the mayor’s August 28 comments: Continue reading Mayor Jerry Smith is mischaracterizing my comments
I went to a special city council meeting last night, where I noted two odd occurrences.
First off, Aaron Stevens attended. Stevens is DeKalb’s Freedom of Information Act officer, but there was nothing on the agenda about FOIA.
The second weird thing was the attentiveness of council members. Gone were the usual tablet-tapping movements and studied indifference as I shared my views during the citizen comment portion of the evening. They were rather intent, if you get what I mean. Expectant, even.
Afterward I was talking in the city hall parking lot with a neighbor who said I should catch the video of Monday’s regular council meeting (August 28) because the mayor called out some of us who have been critical of the FOIA Center and the way it was and is being deployed.
In view of the information from my neighbor, my observations of the odd suddenly made sense to me. I realized that a portion of the room must have anticipated that I would use my public comment time to respond to Mayor Smith’s remarks from Monday. However, I hadn’t attended or watched Monday’s meeting by that point. Not knowing anything about the specifics, I’d stuck to talking about the Streets budget as directed by the meeting agenda.
Today I find that the Daily Chronicle has reported on the Monday remarks, and it occurs to me that some were probably expecting not only my comments on them but also, perhaps, a mayoral smackdown of yours truly. Continue reading Mayor Smith runs from Freedom of Information right smack into the First Amendment
Last year I looked into the type of municipal elections we have here in City of DeKalb, and learned that we technically have partisan elections, though we do not actually exercise the right to have parties and primaries.
The idea’s been stuck in the back of my mind ever since. Now I’ve written about it, and placed the post at DeKalb County Online. Hope you’ll give it a look.
***This letter from DeKalb resident and NIU faculty member Michael Haji-Sheikh references a Washington Post article by Jon Marcus, “Golden parachutes for presidents of public colleges with thin budgets.” ~yinn
Dear Board of Trustees,
As a citizen of Illinois, I have become aware of another embarrassing news article. Unfortunately, the severance of Dr. Baker (and I do mean severance) has continued to bring negative publicity to NIU as shown in the following article – https://www.washingtonpost. com/amphtml/news/grade-point/ wp/2017/08/25/golden-parachutes-for-presidents-of-public-colleges-with-thin-budgets/ . This article is in one of the two largest papers in the country and will affect how we are perceived by the general public.
If your legal adviser thought that the general public would buy the “transition agreement” argument then you were wrong. From the article: “Within two weeks of that report’s public release, Baker resigned in June. In a closed-door meeting of the university’s board of trustees, he was given $587,500 in severance pay, plus up to $30,000 to cover his legal fees. He’s also due a previously unreported $83,287 for unused vacation time, the university acknowledged.” You should have told him he could report to his Faculty job in the Fall – he would never have done it (disgrace has a bitter taste). Continue reading Open letter to NIU’s Board of Trustees regarding Dr. Baker’s severance package
We’ll be working on appearances and on the guts.
It’s no secret that my main concern for the Annie Glidden North revitalization effort is the possibility that City of DeKalb and NIU are preparing to push a secret agenda to the detriment of public input and outcomes.
As I exhaustively outlined for you earlier, email discussions of private planning, from the “DeKalb 2020 Prospectus” to the hiring of a neighborhood design consultant for “West Hillcrest” (a neighborhood designated as part of Annie Glidden North) suggest secret interference is a reasonable concern. They reveal that an actual redevelopment plan for this portion of AGN made it at least as far as a second draft, that it was enabled and supported by NIU staff from the beginning, and that City of DeKalb stated a willingness to “kick in” $18,000 to get it finished. Continue reading Task force a potential bright spot for Annie Glidden North revitalization
In case this is new to you, we’ll start with a recap. From a post published April 2015:
[DeKalb Planning & Zoning Commission] has discussed a request made by Central States Tower (CST) for a permit to place a Verizon cell tower/antenna at 1300 South 7th Street even though CST did not follow procedures required by city code in the application process — and despite city staff’s recommendation to reject the application for that same reason.
Public hearing proceedings revealed that CST did not arrange a pre-application conference with city staff, nor did it pursue a feasibility investigation into co-locating its tower on an existing site, such as the parcel hosting the AT&T tower a couple blocks north of the proposed site. The pre-application conference and co-location due diligence are required by DeKalb’s Unified Development Ordinance.
CST withdrew its application in May 2015 just before city council was to vote on it, presumably because the company anticipated a negative vote. But now they’re back with what looks to be the same plan as before, and will come before Planning & Zoning on Wednesday, August 23 at 6pm. Continue reading Fourth Warders on/near South Seventh Street: Cell phone tower application is back
***Update 8/12*** Added city manager Anne Marie Gaura and fixed clarity issues ~yinn]
As our city council prepares to discuss a revitalization plan proposal for the Annie Glidden North (AGN) section of DeKalb, we should be aware of the possibility of a “done deal” already worked out by NIU and private interests, promoted by city staff who are ready to sell it hard. As I’ve already explained:
Emails obtained from NIU via Freedom of Information Act requests reveal that in spring of 2014, then-NIU vice president Bill Nicklas met at Campus Cinema with Chuck Hanlon, principal urban planner with Wills Burke Kelsey Associates, and arranged for Hanlon to create “a proposal for us that looks at the commercial strip along Hillcrest and Blackhawk, as well as a wider area in all directions to envision a different neighborhood.”
A hypothesis that the city has already secretly bought into a plan certainly fits with its top-down approach in the matter so far, and would help explain the exclusion of DeKalb Park District and other interested public bodies from discussions of the proposal.
Anyway, there are a lot more of these emails. Coming mostly from the account of then-NIU vice president Bill Nicklas, they trace growing involvement of Nicklas and other public officials in private redevelopment and city rezoning issues from late 2012 through much of 2014.
This business involved “Neighborhood 3” of the three neighborhoods identified collectively as Annie Glidden North (AGN), so our purpose is to look not only at how city players have operated generally, but also at how events in the past might be driving today’s behavior.
Heads up: This post is longer than most, and I’ve placed an album on Facebook containing about two dozen of the emails in a timeline that contains even more details. It’s kind of a project to read all of it, is what I’m saying. Continue reading Where the city’s interest in Annie Glidden North comes from
The DeKalb Park District (DPD) did not endorse City of DeKalb’s Annie Glidden North proposal.
The resolution on the issue, unanimously passed during a special meeting Tuesday night, reads as follows:
NOW BE IT RESOLVED by the Board of Commissioners of the DeKalb Park District, County of DeKalb, and State of Illinois, as follows:
That the DeKalb Park District does in good faith and through its cooperative nature support the City of DeKalb in its deveopment of a plan for the revitalization of the Annie Glidden North neighborhood and will actively participate in the development of the plan for the benefit of the residents of the Park District.
The commissioners support “a” plan that they “will actively participate in.”
DPD had the special meeting to hear the city’s presentation on the plan proposal. It was the only chance they had to hear the proposal before the DeKalb city council considers it next week.
That’s right, City of DeKalb plans to push through the proposal without ever consulting DPD, even though DPD operates four parks within the area designated as Annie Glidden North. Apparently, the city thought DPD would just rubberstamp the proposal.
I honestly can’t wait to read the minutes of this meeting. According to attendees, commissioners did not exactly mince words.
Council members: We love the new you, and we want you to succeed. Please remove Annie Glidden North from the agenda for the time being, and take steps to mend fences with the park district.
And please, take a good hard look at the unforced errors of your city manager.