Put Mayor Barnes’ financial interests front and center in the eminent domain discussions


Mayor Cohen Barnes owns two parcels of property in downtown DeKalb as Bandits Castle, LLC. One of them should occupy the center of attention as the city council contemplates authorizing the condemnation and acquisition of the building owned by D-N-J Properties at 128-140 South Second Street via eminent domain proceedings.

During Monday evening’s council meeting, Mayor Barnes “refuted” a Daily Chronicle article that said he owns multiple buildings in downtown DeKalb. The article has been properly corrected to reflect his ownership of one building. Left unmentioned is a building-less second parcel located behind his place of business that lies adjacent to the eastern boundary of the property the city is pushing to eminently dominate.

Mayor Barnes is obligated by state law to recuse himself from the council deliberation and vote on the matter because of his general financial interest as an owner of property in the TIF district. But the location of the second parcel — lying next in line to sell to the city for parking — creates a direct and personal financial interest that should have triggered clarification of the ownership from the start.

Ironically, any member of DeKalb’s Planning & Zoning Commission (PZC) with a direct personal financial interest in a proposal coming before the Commission is obligated under city code not only to recuse, but before recusing to:

  • Disclose the direct personal financial interest.
  • Indicate any personal financial benefit that could result from a decision of the Commission.

While the mayor has made a big deal of recusing during council meetings (his “refutation” statements notwithstanding) he’s not yet publicly disclosed the direct financial interest nor the potential benefit to him arising from the eminent domain vote. Absurdly, city code simply doesn’t ordain the same conduct for elected representatives as it does for PZC commissioners. He should disclose anyway. It would help the aldermen gauge how much of this agenda is being driven by the mayor’s dreams for his personal business. It would help prevent/dispel the public perception that he’s keeping a secret.

Lastly, Planning & Zoning commission members also are prohibited from using confidential information acquired during the course of their duties to further personal financial interests. This would apply to mayor and council if we’re concerned about what they’re doing in (or in this case with) closed sessions, a worthy discussion to have on its own at some point.

Meantime, shouldn’t we agree to hold our elected representatives to ethical standards at least as high as PZC follows?