My Views on Home Rule

Since it appears the issue of Home Rule could easily be revived in DeKalb, I’m going to indulge myself by setting straight my position on it.

For those of you who don’t know: I ran for mayor of DeKalb in 2009, and from all indications was generally known to oppose Home Rule.

This belief was wrong.

Although I did do a little work to help get the question of retaining Home Rule on the ballot, it was because I thought the residents of DeKalb deserved to vote on the issue, not because I thought it should be repealed.

And although I was livid at the city’s lies about the impacts of repealing the city’s Home Rule status (e.g., that the city would lose sales tax revenues), I actually remained publicly neutral until very late in the campaign (observations of its flaws notwithstanding).

Because I had never stopped researching the issue, I eventually discovered that repealing Home Rule would result in a crippling amount of red tape for a police department that was already understaffed.

(Yes, it was incredibly ironic that the city chose to lie about a horrible something that would happen if Home Rule were repealed, when they actually had a legitimate argument to use!)

There was a candidates’ night event, I believe mid-March 2009. By that time the question, “Shall the City of DeKalb continue to be a Home Rule City?” had been kicked off the ballot and lay dead in the water. A couple people at the meet-and-greet portion of the evening, who understand that the Home Rule question could be placed on the ballot by council’s simply passing a resolution, asked for my personal views and I shared that I had become convinced we shouldn’t repeal. Nothing has changed since.

This should not be construed that I would fight the question’s being put on the ballot. I maintain to this day, and always will, that if Home Rule itself is an issue with the voters, then the voters should decide.

Still, we have plenty of time to think about what it is that we are objecting to, and whether there is another, less drastic remedy.

Most anti-Home Rule folks seem to be upset at City of DeKalb taxation, borrowing and purchasing policies. Me too. However, I see our problem as more of a people one than a systemic one, and suggest that our first order of business should be replacing our city manager with one who is well qualified in public administration and in ethics. Nobody’s seen fit to exert real pressure on our city council to do this, but it seems a logical step, the benefits gained with little mess.

If that’s not enough, we might also consider that our form of government is incompatible with Home Rule. The one Illinois county with Home Rule, Cook, is allowed to operate as such only because its CEO is an elected person. Why should that be different for municipalities? Our option here is to replace the Council-Manager form of government with Strong Mayor, which would put the person running the show squarely in the buck-stops-here position.

To summarize: I personally feel that at least two other steps should be tried before we work to repeal Home Rule, yet support all good faith efforts to bring these issues to the voters.