Chicago-Kent Center for Open Government Requests Legal Review of the DeKalb Public Library Expansion Process

[Update 1 added 2/23/2012 after the jump.]
[Update 2 added 2/24/2010]

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I’ll note additions to this post, if any, at the City Barbs Blog Facebook page as well.

[The following was added 2/23/2012]


To summarize, the allegation in the Chicago-Kent letter is that the City of DeKalb has been violating the Open Meetings Act due to earlier violations of the Illinois Library Act. The Library Act violations appear to me (a non-lawyer) to be presumed in the letter.

Let’s look at the library law part, because to me (a non-lawyer) what the city has done here is kind of breathtaking.

The letter from Chicago-Kent cites the IICLE Special Districts publication (Section 7.04) in arguing that DeKalb Public Library should have obtained city council approval for its expansion plans and funding mechanisms before the land purchase, but City of DeKalb’s justification for claiming exemptions from these requirements likewise cites this source (PDF pp. 177-181):

Accordingly, the IICLE indicates that City approval is required for any capital project of this nature. In better understanding the funding mechanisms that the library board is to use I believe the IICLE’s analysis is incorrect, as it presumes that the authority the library board has under 5/4-7 is inadequate to act, and as it presumes that the provisions of Article 5 of the Local Library Act are mandatory (when, in fact, they indicate that a library board “may” elect to use Article 5, but do not indicate that the library board “shall” use Article 5). Provided that the library board is not using the funding mechanisms provided in Article 5, City approval of the purchase of land or building rehabilitation is not required.

An exemption is thus claimed via an interpretation of the word “may.” Are there any precedents for this interpretation? None were cited in the above linked memo.

However, I’ve been able to find the opposite opinion rendered by the Illinois attorney general in 1998. The AG was asked to determine whether a city treasurer could also serve on the library board of the same city or if this would constitute a violation of the state code prohibiting the holding of two offices in the same municipality. The opinion hinged on a determination of whether a city library is an “office under the municipal government,” which in turn depended upon an analysis of the level of autonomy a city library has. Here’s what it says (PDF p. 7; emphasis added):

Library boards possess the key indicia of special districts. They possess structural form, an official name, perpetual succession and the right to make contracts and to dispose of property. They may sue and be sued independently of the city which creates them. Although library boards do require city approval for some functions, such as borrowing money (75 ILCS 5/5-6 (West 1996)) or the accumulation of funds for the construction or repair of a library building (75 ILCS 5/5-2 (West 1996)), they are nonetheless “relatively autonomous.”

So, the two functions the city is claiming don’t apply to the DeKalb Public Library are precisely the same two functions the AG presented as examples requiring city approval.

[The following was added 2/24/2012]

Additional Info & Readings: DeKalb County Online

It is important to know that this action by Chicago-Kent is just the latest attempt to draw DKPL out into the open when it comes to the library’s plans for expansion of its facilities.

Mac McIntyre of DeKalb County Online has covered DKPL’s meetings and actions on behalf of expansion since at least mid-2010. Here’s a sampling of his articles concerning DKPL’s troubles with the Open Meetings Act and the Local Library Act.

Request for Review — OMA Violations (July 15, 2010). A letter to the Attorney General’s Public Access Counselor recounts alleged violations of the Open Meetings Act (OMA) in DKPL’s pursuit of the DeKalb Clinic property. The PAC dropped its review when the DeKalb County state’s attorney got involved. The outcome: DKPL was made to do over its vote to purchase DeKalb Clinic for $1.8 million.

Closet Chronology: Library Buys the Clinic (September 8, 2010) presents a timeline of DKPL meetings with irregularities such as missing agendas and meeting minutes, and includes e-mail communications between DKPL and City of DeKalb staff, such as this one:

coover e-mail increase levy

Skirting the Law Creates Controversy (November 11, 2010). Instead of backing up and obtaining DeKalb city council approval for accumulating a building fund, the DKPL board — an appointed, volunteer board — passes its own “ordinance” to accrue funds.

Follow the Law or Put the Library Expansion Issue to Referendum (October 27, 2011) explains how piecemeal presentations of the DKPL plans (which are now about expanding its current facility, the DeKalb Clinic purchase having fallen through) and refusal to follow state procedures circumvent the democratic process.

Public Hearing on the Library Expansion (November 11, 2011) examines the “may” vs. “shall” question as well as DKPL’s proposed funding mechanisms.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly News of the Library Expansion (November 16, 2011) discusses the council vote to approve the intergovernmental agreement DKPL views as necessary to the expansion.