Five reasons to slow down expansion plans for DeKalb’s in-house administrative hearings

There’s city council support for a Committee of the Whole meeting to air issues with the city attorney’s project to expand the types of ordinance violations the city will hear in-house. I think the CoW is going to happen, and I’ll keep you posted.

If so, it’s an excellent development, and shows council’s responsiveness to constituents’ concerns. Perhaps we’ll soon see the end of the pattern of staff’s working on pet projects in secret, then bursting onto the scene in create-a-crisis mode.

Here are five considerations for discussion.

1. The circuit court’s deadline does not have to be our deadline. If the court decides to conduct its ordinance violations process at the courthouse instead of city hall as of July 1, then people will have to travel to Sycamore for a while. If the court changes the day of the week that it conducts the hearings, people will have to change their calendars. These logistical inconveniences are not good enough reasons to risk errors. To get the ordinances right, we need to set our own pace.

2. This is the city manager’s job. It’s the city manager who oversees DeKalb’s administrative hearing procedure, via appointments to the city’s ordinance enforcement division. The new manager should have an opportunity to provide his or her perspective, including an opinion on the scope of the program. We also have no idea so far about the financial consequences of adding permanent staff, not to mention our continually increasing dependence on punishing people to fill budget holes.

3. We must eliminate the appearance of conflicts of interest. Why is the city attorney driving this initiative? It feeds the perception that he is the de facto city manager, and also that he is serving his own interests by expanding his role. This project must not proceed until he is put back, and seen to be put back, into his proper place in the organization.

4. We need to protect ourselves from abuses of power. City staff saw the ambush of Lord Stanley’s, in which much of the actual building code was ignored, as “doing a great job with code enforcement.” My own informal, nonrandom poll taken during the past week tells me that residents and business owners see the circuit court as a needed buffer between them and overstepping city staff. People are especially interested in where the proposal to expand in-house administrative hearings will leave building and property maintenance issues.

5. Let’s show we value good relations with the county. As the largest municipality in DeKalb County, a decision to expand the types of ordinance violations DeKalb adjudicates in-house would surely impact county revenues for the worse. Slowing down the process would give the county time to evaluate and prepare for these impacts. It feels fair.

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