Taking away the city clerk’s role in checks and balances

Jumping off my last post and recent discussion of it, I want to share a little more of the context in which I currently attempt to function as city clerk in DeKalb.

This time last year, I signed and sealed some contracts and all plats, ordinances, resolutions, and licenses. Hundreds of documents crossed my desk in my first months as DeKalb city clerk. But beginning last spring, following a decision to move a large portion of license processing from the finance division to the city manager’s office, others began signing licenses without my knowledge. These incidents snowballed after the request for my resignation last July, and with the city council’s October 14 passage of amendments to the clerk’s ordinances, the flow of documents slowed, then dried up altogether before the end of 2019.

Except for meeting minutes, I haven’t signed a thing since mid-December.

Continue reading Taking away the city clerk’s role in checks and balances

As DeKalb city clerk, I feel like a punching bag

***Update: Find discussion and comments in our Facebook group .***

When I read the other day the Daily Chronicle is still calling it a “rift” in describing what’s going on between the city manager’s office and me as city clerk, I realized I have to say more than I have before. It’s no longer a “rift,” if it ever was — that would imply equality of treatment. The relationship is more like I’m a punching bag for the city manager’s office.

To help illustrate, here are two of the latest email exchanges between the city manager and me. (I will also post copies of the actual emails at the end of this post.) Mind you, my emails addressed the city council only. I cc’d the city manager as a courtesy.

My message to the city council, December 6, 2019:

Dear Mayor Smith et al,

As some of you are already aware, in September I agreed to take on the process of preparing for the semi-annual review of executive session meeting minutes approval and release recommendations.

Having begun the process this week, I have discovered errors in the indexes that have resulted in executive session meeting minutes being released to the public that were not approved for release by council.

I have two requests to make to address these issues:

1. To remove, as soon as possible, published executive session meeting minutes from the City’s website until these errors can be corrected.

2. To amend the Council regular meeting agenda for December 9 by adding an executive session to discuss these minutes as provided for in 5 ILCS 120/2(c)(21).

Regards,
Lynn Fazekas | City Clerk

City manager’s reply, December 6, 2019:

Good afternoon,

As tiring and distracting as the City Clerk’s fabrications and thinly-veiled charges against Ruth Scott may be, they are–more importantly—creating the basis for an employee harassment charge which will be substantial and embarrassing to the City at a time when we are within sight of some transformational growth. As your chief administrative officer and development director, I ask that we discuss these unfounded allegations in executive session where the truth can be dispassionately shared, and then get back to what the public has asked us to do.

As an historian and a keen observer of the American political scene since the early 1970s, I have been witness to many national public figures who have sadly appealed to base emotions by plucking some imagined dark thread of corruption and laying it on the shoulders of persons whose dedication is a constant reminder of their own inadequacies. Before January 1, I thought I had seen everything, and I also thought I would never see, on a local level, the conspiratorial thinking that animates the City Clerk. As there seems to be no relief from her presence until the spring of 2021, I trust that we will collectively find ways to hold her to the duties that the Council approved on October 14, and also hold her to what is commonly understood as professional decency and discretion.

In the weeks and months ahead, I hope we can focus on the main thing.

Best,
Bill

Continue reading As DeKalb city clerk, I feel like a punching bag

DeKalb Park District property transfer could use another look

DeKalb Park District (DPD) passed a resolution last summer to convey park property to City of DeKalb for its new city hall. The transfer has since occurred under an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) between the two.

City of DeKalb paid DPD a dollar for the property known as the Nehring building. Possibly illegally by ignoring the Park District Code of the Illinois Compiled Statutes. Definitely unfairly as we bear witness, for example, to DPD’s financial struggles to keep its golf courses open. 

DPD acknowledges it must go to referendum to sell a golf course – there’s the Park District Code for you – but somehow a virtual freebie to the city under IGA is fine? What the two parties did was cite other authorities for the conveyance, the Local Government Property Transfer Act and the Intergovernmental Cooperation Act. Here’s what the Property Transfer Act says:

If such real estate shall be held by the transferor municipality without restriction, the said municipality shall have power to grant or convey such real estate or any portion thereof to the transferee municipality upon such terms as may be agreed upon by the corporate authorities of both municipalities…

“If…without restriction…” So, isn’t the next step to check the statutes that apply to the transferor to see what restrictions it might have? City of DeKalb might not have any restrictions, but the city is not the transferor. DPD is, and Article 10 of the Park District Code has a lot to say about it. Continue reading DeKalb Park District property transfer could use another look

Pardon the interruption…

I’m going to begin this blog post by pointing out that on the City Barbs group we don’t adhere to strict standards of civility. Instead, we try to permit heated moments in which citizens may vent their frustration at public officials. If a citizen is justifiably aggrieved, expressing their anger how they see fit helps to communicate just how abhorrent the situation has become.

I find myself in this quasi-media role as a political forum moderator and blogger with a dilemma about what to do when a public official begins to write abrasive posts in response to constituents. You can ordinarily expect them to act professionally. However, serving in office can be a thankless job, especially in high conflict communities where listening to every lamentation and ill-informed opinion can be grating on one’s patience, and occasionally there are instances when they lose their temper. I have wondered if perhaps those who volunteer to do it deserve a little clemency every once in a while.

On Monday, February 11th, the City Council discussed an ordinance to amend the rules for public comment. Those who regularly participate know that there is public participation at the beginning for speaking about anything that is not on the agenda, and then there’s also discussion reserved before each agenda item. This has often led to members of the public waiting hours through long meetings before having any opportunity to speak to their item of interest. The ordinance presented would move all public comment to the beginning except for people who “have a unique standing relative to a given item.” The trade-off to this is that if someone wanted to speak to an item on the agenda and also some other matter not germane to anything on the agenda, it would diminish the total time they would be afforded.

Now, I want to draw attention to Alderman Fagan’s remarks.

Continue reading Pardon the interruption…

State of the Blog

Hello there.

I’m one of the new mods/writers for the City Barbs Blog selected to fill in for Lynn Fazekas after she took the office of City Clerk. While some readers already know me, I thought it would be best to introduce myself.

So, firstly, I’m an NIU alum who majored in computer science. Yes, sadly I didn’t major in journalism. But if it makes you feel any better, I once pursued an associate degree in philosophy before I realized that it wasn’t going to make me money any time soon. On the plus side, there is likely to be data in posts of mine if you’re into that sort of thing. I’ve written several letters to the editor and attended/watched some city council meetings in the past. Lynn would tell you she picked me because of my commitment to the truth, but I’m doing this because I’m easily bribed with food (just kidding, sorta). What else? I’m an Air Force veteran where I worked in metrology; I have interests in the 1st Amendment, OMA, FOIA, local history, and education; and I used to catch plagiarism in computer programming courses for a living when I worked as a teaching assistant, so I can pay quite a bit attention to detail.

Continue reading State of the Blog

Clerking and blogging

On Monday, unlikely as it may sound, DeKalb city council might vote to appoint me to the office of city clerk.

No matter how it turns out, the fact remains that Mayor Jerry Smith has placed under consideration a person who can be a vocal critic of this administration. That takes a bit of nerve. I was trying to think of the last mayor who might have done something similar, and came up with Mayor Frank Van Buer, who appointed the redoubtable Mac McIntyre to the city’s Finance Advisory Committee 10 years ago. Let’s give due respect, because this type of inclusion doesn’t happen every day.

What would happen with the blog? Contrary to current rumors, giving up the blog is not a condition of the clerk appointment — at least not overtly. The actual question was, “How do you reconcile the clerk’s position with the blog?” and my answer was, “I don’t.”

Whatever success I’ve enjoyed as a blogger has depended in large part upon people’s not being afraid to talk to me. My assumption is that effectiveness as the city clerk involves the same level of trust.

If appointed, then, City Barbs blog would go into other hands or on hiatus, and a trusted group of moderators would manage the Facebook group.

But maybe there would be clerkblog.

DeKalb’s financial forecast through 2023

You need to know what that hole is, even if you can’t solve it right now. ~Larry Kujovich, Executive Partners, Inc., addressing the DeKalb city council on strategic planning (2013).

Last week, DeKalb’s finance department shared an operating budget forecast through 2023 with the finance advisory committee. Having obtained a copy, I’ve created a graphic to show operating fund (General Fund) highlights.*

Continue reading DeKalb’s financial forecast through 2023

Five reasons to slow down expansion plans for DeKalb’s in-house administrative hearings

There’s city council support for a Committee of the Whole meeting to air issues with the city attorney’s project to expand the types of ordinance violations the city will hear in-house. I think the CoW is going to happen, and I’ll keep you posted.

If so, it’s an excellent development, and shows council’s responsiveness to constituents’ concerns. Perhaps we’ll soon see the end of the pattern of staff’s working on pet projects in secret, then bursting onto the scene in create-a-crisis mode.

Here are five considerations for discussion.

1. The circuit court’s deadline does not have to be our deadline. If the court decides to conduct its ordinance violations process at the courthouse instead of city hall as of July 1, then people will have to travel to Sycamore for a while. If the court changes the day of the week that it conducts the hearings, people will have to change their calendars. These logistical inconveniences are not good enough reasons to risk errors. To get the ordinances right, we need to set our own pace.

2. This is the city manager’s job. It’s the city manager who oversees DeKalb’s administrative hearing procedure, via appointments to the city’s ordinance enforcement division. The new manager should have an opportunity to provide his or her perspective, including an opinion on the scope of the program. We also have no idea so far about the financial consequences of adding permanent staff, not to mention our continually increasing dependence on punishing people to fill budget holes.

3. We must eliminate the appearance of conflicts of interest. Why is the city attorney driving this initiative? It feeds the perception that he is the de facto city manager, and also that he is serving his own interests by expanding his role. This project must not proceed until he is put back, and seen to be put back, into his proper place in the organization. Continue reading Five reasons to slow down expansion plans for DeKalb’s in-house administrative hearings