Power Shifts and Pushback

Let’s cut loose a couple of these agenda items for tonight’s DeKalb council meeting and try to paste them into the big picture.

It is odd that this fiscal year’s budget allows for the hiring of code inspectors into the police department’s Crime Free Housing Bureau instead of mingling them with the rest of the code enforcement people. It also has seemed wrong to members of the DeKalb Area Rental Association, who have been questioning this arrangement from its inception. They’ve finally gotten a couple of aldermen to bring up the question again so these assignments and allocations can be reconsidered.

The Chronicle does a good job with the story if you need something to get you up to speed. Of course the misplacement is major mission creep and strikes a blow against accountability in blurring boundaries between code enforcement and what Crime Free Housing is supposed to accomplish.

Then there’s the new truancy ordinance (see pp. 157-9 of the agenda PDF). Here’s what home-schoolers are reacting to most:

The Chief of Police of the City of DeKalb is and shall hereby be authorized to enter into one or more enforcement agreements with private schools and/or persons engaged in home-schooling, providing for the enforcement of this ordinance on the terms and conditions as outlined above (with such private school / home school supplanting the School District). In the absence of such an agreement, the City may enforce this ordinance based upon the results of any investigation that the City may conduct.

Some are reading the ordinance as threatening to those who don’t register with the city. State Board of Education’s home schooling FAQs (HT J.S.):

4. Am I required to register my home school?

No. In Illinois, registration of home-schooled students is not required. Parents may choose to notify their regional superintendent of education and/or the State Board of their intention to home-school.

There’s also a question of whether such an ordinance constitutes a daytime curfew. The Home School Legal Defense Association describes Illinois as in the midst of a statewide curfew craze, which it says is ineffective against real truants and puts unfair burdens on the home-schooling community — not to mention the questionable Constitutionality of these ordinances.

I am glad DARA and the home-schooling families and groups are involved and questioning these moves.

Now let’s switch gears. Do you recall a few months ago the council’s handing the new police chief the authority to change the towing policy at will? Add this item to the above and you have a trend going, and that trend is a recent tendency to look to the police to handle new responsibilities that are inappropriate for the department.

I have been kicking around ideas about why this might be. First of all, our police department is clearly competent and the new chief of police strikes me as hyper-competent with lots of star power. Have you ever been in a situation where your colleagues are nincompoops, lazy or have so much drama in their lives that they can’t do their jobs? And your boss thinks the solution is to give their work to you, the gleaming over-achiever? That could be at play here.

The second hypothesis is that the police department is so direly in need of growth in funding flow for its ambitious personnel, facilities and equipment plans that it’s actively lobbying to take on additional functions to claim more revenues from fines for its own purposes, even if these functions lie outside the department’s purview.

Or it might simply be that a series of power plays is occurring in the absence of adequate leadership at the top.

None of these possibilities, btw, makes Rudy Espiritu look like the city manager DeKalb needs, nor do they speak particularly well to council oversight so far.

If you have your own ideas, by all means contribute in comments.