DeKalb Public Library and Greed

In a post from January 10, I told you I’d continue trying to get information about the state’s Public Library Construction Grant Program since we knew so few of the institutions that won them.

Part of the reason it has taken so long to get back to you is that I goofed up my chance to fight for the information. Yep, I sure did. Since the Illinois State Library had always responded quite fully and promptly to previous Freedom of Information Act requests, I didn’t bother to make a copy of the request for the list of awardees. This time they denied me the document and I was unable to ask for a review of the decision because under FOIA you must provide a copy of the original FOIA request along with the Request for Review.

The lesson here, of course, is not to trust anybody — not even librarians.

The request for the list was denied on the grounds that they hadn’t released any actual money yet. So, Plan B was to wait a few months for ISL to actually release some money, and then ask where it went. The other day I saw that ISL has awarded $12 million to date, so I dutifully submitted a FOIA request asking about the $12 million.

This time I hit the jackpot. The FOIA officer sent me the complete list of awards.

[table id=76 /]

My first reaction in reading the list was, “Man, DeKalb’s got some pretty bleepety greedy bleepety-bleeps.”

You see, the entire appropriation is $50 million, and Chicago automatically receives 20% per the Public Act that created the grant program. That leaves $40 million for the rest of the applicants to share (total number of applicants was 47) but since home-rule, no-referendum communities Aurora and DeKalb get to gobble up half the remaining grant money between them, most of the others get left in the cold.

Plus, there was no FY2014 appropriation. The program looks like a one-off at this point and in that case the other libraries stay in the cold.

As for why ISL has now given me the full accounting even though they still haven’t released all the money, I don’t know. Because the number of grant winners has risen from 15 to 20, it looks like maybe one or more large awards got redistributed, perhaps due to the inability of some institutions to secure the local funding shares. Maybe ISL knew things were still shaking out.

It’s also possible that the latest “adjustments” look better. I like this hypothesis because, as pointed out in the January post, an email and a Peoria paper suggested that a museum was poised to grab a sizable $5 million slice off a $50 million pie. If a museum were discovered sitting at the library table it might have embarrassed someone.

At any rate I suggest a few tweaks to capital grants that potentially involve large local shares, starting with mandatory referenda regardless of home rule status.