Task force a potential bright spot for Annie Glidden North revitalization

It’s no secret that my main concern for the Annie Glidden North revitalization effort is the possibility that City of DeKalb and NIU are preparing to push a secret agenda to the detriment of public input and outcomes.

As I exhaustively outlined for you earlier, email discussions of private planning, from the “DeKalb 2020 Prospectus” to the hiring of a neighborhood design consultant for “West Hillcrest” (a neighborhood designated as part of Annie Glidden North) suggest secret interference is a reasonable concern. They reveal that an actual redevelopment plan for this portion of AGN made it at least as far as a second draft, that it was enabled and supported by NIU staff from the beginning, and that City of DeKalb stated a willingness to “kick in” $18,000 to get it finished.

Anne Marie Gaura, current city manager extraordinaire, was part of West Hillcrest planning. She discussed these matters with then-mayor John Rey, who attended the meetings, and she sent a city planner to them as well.

Now, it is one thing to have preliminary discussions about projects, to take a look at somebody’s draft plan and to comment on it. It is quite another to throw a bunch of financial and personnel resources to assist private interests without getting a public nod first.

On top of this, we know that employees in the city manager’s office practice denial of information, manipulation, and sometimes outright lies to get their way.

You might think, then, that the city council’s approval last Monday of a consultant for the revitalization effort means bad news, as usual, for the voices of us regular folk.

But there is a potential bright spot in the scenario, which is the mayor’s decision to put together an AGN revitalization task force as well.

What I’m thinking of is the success of the Safe/Quality Housing Task Force of 2011-12. At first I’d figured the group would act as a rubber stamp for city staff and provide political cover for an oppressive rental inspection scheme. But in attending the meetings, I soon developed an appreciation for its independent nature and became a fan. The group fought against excesses and helped birth what’s now known as Crime Free Housing, which is now widely viewed as a successful program.

It wasn’t easy. The city manager, for example, secretly hired a consultant to write the ordinances and the task force had to call him out on it. He also excluded the task force from key council meetings, which made it more difficult for them to counter the city narratives.

I would expect similar behavior from this regime, so the final composition of the AGN Task Force will be critically important.

Are you up for it? If so, let your alderman know.