How the DeKalb Housing Authority violates the Open Meetings Act

The DeKalb County Housing Authority has not often pinged my radar until now. A few years ago a couple people shared with me their being told by staff that federal rules prohibited bringing their cats with them into public housing unless the animals were declawed; my advice since then is to ask for citation of chapter and verse when it comes to staff “interpreting” house rules.

Much more recently the housing authority’s suffering over inadequate parking at headquarters came to the fore because City of DeKalb decided to fix it by turning a section of North Sixth Street into one-way traffic to squeeze out a few more spaces.

What really makes it difficult to spot the general public interest in the city’s granting of this assistance is the lack of public process to establish the need in the first place, and to explain why the city jumped into a county problem with city resources. I asked the authority to provide me with records of its board’s discussions of the parking issues. There aren’t any. This appears to be 100% the product of back-room conversations until the matter popped up on the council agenda as a possible ordinance. An ordinance has passed, so now we can only guess at better solutions public discussion might have generated.

We don’t have to guess that the housing authority is kind of a mess procedurally, which is sure to attract the notice of this blog, and I discovered recently its sins also include violating the Open Meetings Act (OMA) regularly:

— Through its bylaws, the housing authority has declared itself exempt from the meeting notice requirements of the Act. OMA does not allow exemptions from posting information about upcoming meetings for any public body.

— The authority fails to post its annual meeting on the required annual schedule of meetings and does not post a stand-alone agenda of the annual meeting. Instead, it hides the annual meeting inside a regular meeting agenda, which not only is an OMA violation but also violates its own bylaws that direct the annual meeting be scheduled prior to a regular monthly meeting on the same day.

— Changes in compensation of the executive director are always a surprise. The board goes into closed session to discuss her performance, which is okay under OMA. Returning to open session, the board then votes on raises and bonuses for the exec in the absence of a corresponding open session agenda item, which is not okay.

Whether ignoring the obligations of OMA in conducting its business is a matter of ignorance or arrogance, the appointive authority must bear some responsibility. It’s the president of the DeKalb County Board who, with concurrence of the full board, appoints the housing authority board. Probably the county should consult with the state’s attorney to take inventory of the liabilities the authority may be creating for them and any recourse they may have. Probably a county board member should attend meetings as a liaison and ensure the authority doesn’t bypass the county to solicit special favors from friends in city government. Probably the housing authority’s arrangement with its contracted attorney should be looked at, as he does not appear to be the OMA expert the body needs.

Other pieces to address are appointments and hires. The sloppiness of the housing authority in its treatment of open meetings law has happened on the watch of appointees who have served for a generation — three of them for 20 years or more — so these automatic reappointments obviously are failing us.

Resources

Article III, Sections 1 and 2 below elucidate the OMA issues with the housing authority’s handling of public meetings as described above:

housing-authority-bylaws-abt-meetings

Below, you can see by the meeting minutes that the housing authority board awarded the executive director a 3% raise and a $10,000 bonus…

2021-feb-housing-authority-approves-raise-and-bonus-for-exec

…However, the change in compensation was not an item listed on the agenda. How is the board not aware that NIU lost an OMA lawsuit about the same thing?

2021-feb-housing-authority-agenda-missing-compensation-item

Link: Current board of the DeKalb County Housing Authority

Link: Illinois Housing Authorities Act