DeKalb city manager Anne Marie Gaura has pulled some police and fire department personnel under the umbrella of DeKalb’s Community Development Department, following private consultation with selected persons but no public discussion.
Staff employed in the PD’s Crime Free Housing Bureau, and the FD’s Fire Prevention Lieutenant (FPL), will now report to a Chief Building Official (CBO) in Community Development.
Crime Free has several functions related to code enforcement that is centered around property maintenance and criminal incident reporting and tracking, while the FPL conducts Fire Life Safety License inspections and fire-related reviews of building plans.
It’s a done deal — the city is already advertising for the CBO, for example — and the only reason it appeared on the city’s Committee of the Whole meeting agenda was to fulfill a request to address “Alderman Jacobson’s issue,” as Gaura called it during the meeting.
David Jacobson, council member for DeKalb’s First Ward (and presumably not a person consulted by Gaura) described “what an arduous process it was” to negotiate the proposal of the city’s first rental inspection program and the formation of the Crime Free Housing Bureau, including “hundreds and hundreds of volunteer hours” put in by members of the Housing Task Force. Said Jacobson:
[T]here’s an intricate web of things we built. It wasn’t by accident. We built them through the fire department, through commercial inspection, for that reason. We built Crime Free through the police department for that reason. They weren’t accidental coincidences, and how the whole program, and how the patchwork of inspections came together. So, again, do I think that it does probably fall under community development? Yes. Do I think that there are efficiencies there? Probably. But without having that discussion…and effectively changing what all of that input and time and effort that was a public process to something completely different [and] without it, I feel we did inappropriately.
Both Jacobson and DeKalb Area Rental Association board member Will Heinisch expressed concern that crime incident tracking, landlord registration, and landlord education should remain components of the program, but whether these services will remain intact is not at all clear. While Gaura indicated she would make no changes, her assertion was contradicted during the same meeting by Jo Ellen Charlton, Director of Community Development (my emphases):
Once we decided that community development might be the right place to house the new program, we determined that it could functionally be more efficient, and could also capitalize on opportunities to change discussions from code enforcement to community enhancement and economic development.
Gaura is authorized to reassign and reclassify staff, but decisions to centralize operations across departments, create programs, and change functions of existing programs likely rise to the level of making policy changes. Policy comes under the purview of the city council, not the city manager’s office, and requires public discussion and action.
This is also not the first time that Gaura’s avoidance of public input has created problems. In the fall of 2014, staff presented to council a sweeping commercial inspection ordinance that so angered and alarmed members of the local business community that more than 50 of them swiftly organized against the proposal. A 2016 ordinance introduced to address “unlawful assemblies” received a similar reception. And another, more recent decision made without public notice or input, that of discontinuing direct email delivery of Freedom of Information Act requests and responses, is likewise generating controversy.