TIF oversight in DeKalb is a joke. Recently I asked to see several years’ worth of minutes of Joint Review Board meetings, which apparently are as perfunctory as can be since there is no substance to the minutes, much less evidence of real oversight. How could there be? They only meet once a year. Then there’s ReNew DeKalb, whose mission often seems to be to spend taxpayers’ money without the bothersome commitment to transparency* that public bodies are held to.
The Redevelopment Commission oversees the city’s two tax increment financing districts, which collect tax revenue within their districts and use the revenue for a variety of infrastructure projects. The Redevelopment Commission meets the 2nd Thursday of each month.
Check it out. The Redevelopment Commission has its own page on the City of Valparaiso** website, complete with links to agendas, meeting minutes and financial reports, even members’ names and contact information. Why can’t we do this?
ReNew functions like a city committee and should therefore be subject to provisions requiring adherence to the Open Meetings Act and the Freedom of Information Act. In fact they technically are subject to such provisions. The first problem is that ReNew ignores them. The second is that — precisely because ReNew’s status as a private organization puts it into a gray area — DeKalb doesn’t bother to enforce them. And they won’t unless the media bring it into the court of public opinion or some goo-goo files suit in the Circuit Court.
Long term, however, the real solution for effective oversight of TIF decisions is to put the responsibility for them onto a real city committee that meets regularly and for which the rules about open records and open meetings are clear. ReNew could occupy one seat at the table of a City of DeKalb Redevelopment Commission but otherwise act as privately as it likes with private money only.
The DeKalb Redevelopment Commission…A gal can dream, can’t she?
*Here’s an update on the case of the ReNew meeting minutes. After exhausting the FOIA appeals process with the City of DeKalb, I was invited to send all documentation to the Attorney General’s Public Access Counselor for an opinion on the value of seeking judicial review in the case. I expect it’ll be another couple of weeks before I hear.
**Why Valpo? I lived there nearly 20 years before moving to DeKalb so it’s a natural for comparison. The city also has a Town & Gown Committee, a Volunteer Bureau and an Ethics Commission backed up by a real ethics ordinance.