Open letter to NIU’s Board of Trustees regarding Dr. Baker’s severance package

***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

Ask me how I feel about the Annie Glidden North project when I know how NIU is involved

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

Here are statutory provisions applicable to severance of an NIU president

…and I’m not altogether sure all of them were followed.

Chapter 110 of the Illinois Compiled Statutes (ILCS) is the Chapter that governs higher education. You can see how it is organized here, that it has general provisions and then provisions specific to the Board of Higher Education, each public university, community colleges, and student assistance.

110 ILCS 685 applies to Northern Illinois University, and most of NIU Law is contained in Article 30, as in 110 ILCS 685/30.

The section that applies to severance is Section 30-195, all of which comes from Public Act 99-0694, which passed the Illinois General Assembly July 29, 2016, and became effective January 1, 2017. In other words, this is very likely the Act that was passed in response to extreme misbehavior at College of DuPage. Continue reading Here are statutory provisions applicable to severance of an NIU president

Comment on the announced departure of NIU President Doug Baker

The departure of NIU President Doug Baker is not simply a response to an OEIG report of mismanagement. In my opinion, it’s also the product of citizens’ efforts that began in May 2014 when someone anonymously mailed the College Town Partners agreement to a founder of a group of concerned DeKalb residents called Preserve Our Neighborhoods.

For three years, participants have submitted complaints to the state, and Freedom of Information Act requests to local public bodies. They’ve talked to neighbors, synthesized thousands of payment records and emails, attended and spoken at town halls and Board of Trustees meetings, worked to get articles published, wrote letters, and more.

Of course the OEIG report is indispensible. It shows the world Baker’s so-called “ethically inspired leadership” for the cynical b.s. that it always has been, ensures the dirt doesn’t get shoved under the rug, possibly opens the door to criminal investigations, and gives hope for better leadership at NIU.

But never underestimate the power of citizen-driven drip, drip, drip. I salute you, who played a part in this saga, and hope you enjoy the vindication.

“If half of life is showing up, the other half is endurance.” ~yinn

NIU Faculty Senate Discusses President Baker’s Performance

The NIU Faculty Senate is examining actions taken by NIU President Doug Baker. A vote of no confidence in his leadership appears possible.

Michael J. Haji-Sheikh of NIU’s Department of Electrical Engineering has collected emails regarding the hiring of contractors and affiliate employees of NIU from the beginning of Baker’s tenure. He compiled the most pertinent into a summary of events, and presented it to the Senate this week. Find the summary and supporting documentation here. Among the issues that Haji-Sheikh says are being investigated, or that should be investigated, are the following:

  • Contractors billed NIU for activities outside the scope of normal university business, such as meeting with the owners of the University Village apartment complex.

  • NIU Foundation accounts were used to pay employees and consultants, which bypassed the usual NIU accounts for these types of payments.

  • The full NIU Board of Trustees apparently did not know about, and therefore did not provide oversight for, projects such as development of a private corporation called College Town Partners, and a “super university” plan.

  • A no-bid consulting contract was written for $19,999, which is one cent under the threshold for requiring an open bid — and the billing for the work ultimately exceeded the threshold amount.

  • Continue reading NIU Faculty Senate Discusses President Baker’s Performance

    NIU’s Meddling in City Business: University Village

    You may recall that Security Properties, a real estate investment and development company in Seattle, fought hard for much of last year to get approval for zoning changes for DeKalb’s University Village apartment complex. Security wanted to buy and rehabilitate UV, but first had to meet its government lenders’ conditions, and those requirements included action by our city council.

    The company actually arrived in DeKalb much earlier, and one of its tactics in 2014 was to approach Bill Nicklas, at the time a Northern Illinois University VP, to ask him to send a letter of support to City of DeKalb. Some of this conversation played out over email. Here’s a highlight:

    Given DeKalb’s code requirements regarding legal nonconforming uses, our permanent lender (HUD) and allocating agency directing low income housing tax credits and trust funds to the project (Illinois Housing Development Authority) are not willing to consider applications for funding with zoning as-is. As a result, we will be making an application to DeKalb for a Planned Development that would allow the site to exist in its’ [sic] current state as a conforming use.

    Given your background with the city, I thought it would be worthwhile to get your thoughts on this process and how we can best navigate the proposal to a successful ending. Also, we would very much appreciate a letter from you supporting the transaction that we can include with our submission. I’m happy to forward a draft support letter if that is helpful.

    So, a private developer is asking for help from a unit of state government in greasing the wheels on a deal with local government. Think about that. Continue reading NIU’s Meddling in City Business: University Village

    Walters Knew His Employment with NIU was Problematic from the Start

    You’ll recall that Ron Walters was a consultant hired by NIU President Doug Baker to help plan and launch his Bold Futures initiative. Walters acted like an independent contractor and got paid like one (e.g., getting reimbursed for his commute to/from work) but Baker had actually hired him as an NIU “affiliate” employee. This is one reason why the Illinois Auditor General is investigating NIU.

    The latest that citizen watchdogs can bring to light is an email from Walters to a friend in July 2013. The weird punctuation and misspelling are his.

    I was well received, although Doug has already gotten some flack for hiring his buddy right off the bat to come in under some lucrative consulting contract that wasn’t put out for bid. Has been warned that -this is Illinois politics – and it will come out under someone’s freedom of information act request within a few weeks. That hasn’t stopped him from bringing me in and cutting me lose, but he does have to be a bit cautious. So I’ve brought your name up and think it could happen a little further down the road, but he doesn’t have an appetite for bringing on another at this early point.

    Walters also commented that the whole of NIU’s operations had to be “turned upside down and rebuilt.”

    While you absorb this, I’ll head to the City Barbs Facebook Group to post the full email.

    ***Update***: Here’s a shortcut to the email, and one to the group posting.

    College Town Partners is All About TIF

    Yes, “is.” Emails obtained by Michael and Misty Haji-Sheikh of Preserve Our Neighborhoods show that even though collaborators ultimately rejected formal incorporation of College Town Partners in May 2014, the intention remained to suck sweet, sweet tax dollars out of City of DeKalb via Tax Increment Financing (not even getting into NIU and use of the NIU Foundation, though we definitely should at some point). There is no reason to believe the schemes were dropped, especially now that the mastermind has wormed his way onto the NIU Board of Trustees.

    Yes, “schemes.” How else to describe the dreams of a local banker (and longtime Sanitary District trustee, by the way) to transform a college-adjacent neighborhood and get DeKalb to pay for the project. He apparently is so persuasive that the other officials involved, including our mayor and city manager, went along with him for months though their status absolutely precluded participation as partners in a private entity intent on spending public money over which they exert control. It was a gargantuan conflict of interest; we should find ourselves shaken by the apparent ignorance or disregard of their duties to the public while they spent oodles of staff time and other resources to bring them to the brink of a formal agreement without council’s prior authorization.

    Indeed, we’ve not heard a peep of public discourse that hasn’t been tied to citizens’ dogged pursuit of information.

    Click here to read the email indicating that College Town Partners might have been buried, but not outright killed. If the Shodeen people ever get their hotel and apartments approved, look for CTP to dig up the undead baby, give it a costume change and present it as the inevitable and desirable retail counterpart to Shodeen’s residential development.

    Related post: Tim Struthers Gave DeKalb’s Mayor Talking Points When the College Town Partners Story Broke

    Tim Struthers Gave DeKalb’s Mayor Talking Points When the College Town Partners Story Broke

    If you haven’t heard, banker Tim Struthers has been appointed by Governor Rauner to the NIU Board of Trustees, pending approval by the Illinois Senate. Trouble is, there’s compelling evidence of major conflicts of interest in his appointment, which the Edgar County Watchdogs have outlined admirably.

    Struthers presently serves on the DeKalb County Sanitary District, The NIU Foundation Board, and holds over five million dollars of NIU money on a daily basis in his bank. If the past informs the future, we should look closely at an incident in recent history where Mr. Struthers leveraged his banks [sic] relationship with NIU, the City of DeKalb, and the NIU Foundation.

    The Watchdogs are speaking, of course, of the College Town Partners public-private partnership deal for redevelopment involving NIU, City of DeKalb, two banks and a developer.

    Representatives of Struthers’ bank drafted the partnership documents, which included a memorandum of understanding and a 50-page operating agreement that were secret until leaked to members of a neighborhood group following a May 2014 meeting of the parties.

    To look at the agreements it’s obvious they were unworkable. For example, there is no way DeKalb’s city manager could legally have managed a private partnership operating in the same city and using DeKalb taxpayers’ money; a confidentiality clause was also problematic. As I wrote at the time, “Whoever developed [these agreements]…possesses no grasp of the ‘public’ part of public projects.”

    Emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act indicate that a press release distributed by Preserve Our Neighborhoods on May 27, 2014, resulted in a local radio station contacting Mayor John Rey about the partnership. Rey in turn contacted Struthers and NIU officials to discuss the matter. Struthers responded in detail.

    By the way, Michael and Misty Haji-Sheikh of Preserve Our Neighborhoods have spent the past year and a half requesting, fighting for, and sifting through emails, calendars and other records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, and whether or not the College Town Partners signed something is still anything but clear.

    Mayor Rey’s Acceptance of NIU’s Gift of a Trip

    Mayor Rey accepted the gift of a trip worth more than $1,000 in September 2013, according to Northern Illinois University records recently obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

    Rey and NIU President Doug Baker traveled to Moscow, Idaho, to foster better “town-gown” relations and to take in a football game between NIU and the University of Idaho.

    NIU paid for the mayor’s plane tickets and reimbursed him for his hotel stay. See the documentation here.

    State of Illinois rules allow for some exceptions to its gift ban, such as travel expenses incurred “to discuss State business” and for “intergovernmental gifts” and these exceptions have no specified monetary limits. DeKalb has adopted state rules in their entirety into its Municipal Code, so it doesn’t appear any were broken.

    However, that should not preclude the public from making judgments about Rey’s judgment, the size of the gift (which, after all, involves public funds) and its implications for town and gown.

    And Illinois law does allow local governments to pass ethics ordinances that are more restrictive than what’s on the state books.