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
DeKalb city council had a special meeting on Tuesday to discuss what they’re calling the Annie Glidden North (ANG) “revitalization plan.” ANG is what they call three neighborhoods in the northwest section of the city on either side of Annie Glidden Road.
According to the 100-page memo that accompanied the meeting agenda, DeKalb in 2016 “began a process to solicit proposals for consulting services to develop a strategy for the revitalization of the Annie Glidden North (AGN) neighborhood.” In other words, the city hired another consultant to do another study.
During the meeting, however, city employees objected to members of the public calling the project a study. They’re acting very thin-skinned about members of the public noting that we have stacks and stacks of studies lying dustfully on the shelves, so they’re countering by calling this one a “plan” already instead.
I encourage you not to engage them in the game. They may not have a leg to stand on, and they may produce little when it comes to results, but they can do semantics all day long. Just smile and say, “Po-ta-to, po-tah-to,” and move on to the important stuff. Continue reading Ask me how I feel about the Annie Glidden North project when I know how NIU is involved
DeKalb city manager Anne Marie Gaura has pulled some police and fire department personnel under the umbrella of DeKalb’s Community Development Department, following private consultation with selected persons but no public discussion.
Staff employed in the PD’s Crime Free Housing Bureau, and the FD’s Fire Prevention Lieutenant (FPL), will now report to a Chief Building Official (CBO) in Community Development.
Crime Free has several functions related to code enforcement that is centered around property maintenance and criminal incident reporting and tracking, while the FPL conducts Fire Life Safety License inspections and fire-related reviews of building plans.
It’s a done deal — the city is already advertising for the CBO, for example — and the only reason it appeared on the city’s Committee of the Whole meeting agenda was to fulfill a request to address “Alderman Jacobson’s issue,” as Gaura called it during the meeting. Continue reading Gaura made significant changes to DeKalb’s administrative organization without public discussion
Mayor Jerry Smith has promised us another City of DeKalb Committee of the Whole meeting for hashing out problems with the city’s new Freedom of Information Act policies and procedures that changed without notice in May. While we’re waiting for that opportunity, I’m going to highlight the issues via a partial transcript of Mac McIntyre’s public statement during the June 12 meeting that was dedicated to this topic, and stud it with my two cents here and there. Continue reading DeKalb’s troubles with FOIA, its FOIA officer, and its no-good website
I’ve now viewed DeKalb city council’s Committee of the Whole meeting held last night. The meeting centered around the new online Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Center, and whether city staff members’ changes to FOIA policies and procedures are legal and fair.
Nothing was resolved, so they will take up the topic again in a future meeting. City staff are on the hard-sell path, so they will continue to try to grind down the council until they “win” whatever game they are playing, or until council tells them to knock it off.
Over the next couple weeks, I sincerely hope that council members will talk to the resident requesters whom the FOIA officer essentially called liars last night, and try to ascertain the truth about their experiences. Requesters say staff called them up and told them FOIA requests would no longer be accepted via email. Staff says that never happened. Seems like this could use some follow up.
I hope that Ald. Noreiko, who asked whether the launch of the FOIA Center was publicized and was told by staff that it was announced on social media, will actually visit the social media sites and see for herself whether this is so (and if it’s not, someone needs to be called out. Do we really need to say this?)
And when we meet again, I hope we can get to the crux of the matter: Why exactly is it suddenly unreasonable for people to ask for an email response to a FOIA request?
My answer: It’s not unreasonable. The FOIA officer would just send an email containing the same PDF file as he has uploaded to the website. It doesn’t take much more time, it doesn’t use any more paper, it ensures the requester can access the response, and it’s just good customer service with the potential for building good will.
Indeed, city business routinely involves email, so the refusal to send FOIA responses that way is actually kind of bizarre.
Besides DeKalb’s difficulties in following the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (and basic principles of customer service in the 21st Century) there’s another serious problem: failure of its online “FOIA Center” to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) rules.
Mac McIntyre of DeKalb County Online, who has also written about the misuse of the new FOIA Center, discovered the non-compliance issues on those pages of the city’s website as well. They are similar to previous findings.
In a nutshell, if you have a visual impairment and try to navigate FOIA Center webpages, you’re pretty much screwed.
But at least the city’s new IT director has acknowledged the problem. Last time we broached the subject, the tactic was to deny, deny, deny. Maybe this time it’ll get fixed.
Related: City Barbs: Website accessibility and the fine print
I told you a couple months ago that DeKalb’s problems are remedial, and I really mean it. They do not have the slightest idea how to deliver a good customer experience to the public.
Their latest trick is the new Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) “system.” The press release is here.
The web-based FOIA software system allows users to register for an account, submit FOIA requests, and track progress of FOIA requests from submittal to completion. The system also allows users to browse all FOIA requests previously submitted to the City, along with the published responses and all responsive records.
It actually sounds like a good option, assuming the system works and that a person is both willing and able to create and maintain an account. The trouble is, in real life the city is not treating it as an option, but rather trying to force requesters to use it. They have eliminated information about alternatives from the website. Also, I have talked to two people so far whom city staff have called up and tried to bully into using the “system,” rather than do business their preferred way, which is email.
Bad form, DeKalb. Also wrong strictly from the FOIA standpoint. Continue reading City of DeKalb is misusing its new FOIA toy
In my last post, I explored how Tax Increment Financing (TIF) dollars for FY2016 were budgeted versus actual spending. This time I hope to explain the discrepancies, at least partially.
TIF districts have their own budgets in their own funds that are separate from the city’s general operating fund called the General Fund. DeKalb currently has two active TIF districts/funds, TIF 1 (AKA Central Area TIF) and TIF 2.
To summarize the situation: For FY2016, $1 million was budgeted for street construction/reconstruction in TIF 1. However, in the budget narrative for the half-year budget called FY2016.5, staff reported that they “[f]unded street improvements in the amount of $600,000” in FY2016, and in the annual TIF report to the state for that fiscal year, it was revealed that less than $75,000 was actually spent for street improvements out of that fund. Continue reading This is why you didn’t even know DeKalb failed to spend streets allocations on streets
There are honest people of good faith who belong to the Barb City Action Committee. There really are.
However, it makes good sense to try to tease out the motives for any organized political action, especially one that launched itself out of nowhere and appears to have “shadow” members as well.
Recently I donned my thinking cap, closed my eyes, and envisioned a pack of jackals snarling at each other over the remnants of a carcass. This is the image that occurs whenever I think about TIF projects being pushed for approval by the DeKalb city council as the TIF districts approach expiration.
I think I’m onto something. Continue reading Barb City Action Committee & TIF