Daily Chronicle offered a recap today of DeKalb Mayor Jerry Smith’s first year as mayor. It’s refreshing to find myself in agreement with much of the assessment of the current situation, though I still have serious concerns.
“I think most citizens are pretty much aligned with what we as a council are trying to do by being the most efficient and frugal government we can,” Smith said. “I hope that nobody looks at my first year and thinks we aren’t responsive.”
In my opinion, we have the most responsive and inclusive city council this town has seen in years.
“I realize there’s still a sector of the community that doesn’t trust what goes on with the City Council, and in some cases that’s fairly and rightfully so,” [First Ward Alderman David] Jacobson said. “But based on the last few years, I believe this group we have now, including Jerry, not only care about the community but are willing to work collaboratively and focus on the issues to make some really positive headway.”
Yep. Overall, that’s how I see it, too.
That was put to the test when the city unexpectedly condemned Lord Stanley’s Bar and Annex, 142 E. Lincoln Highway, and Common Grounds, 150 E. Lincoln Highway, because of structural concerns in April.
Smith took responsibility for the actions that were taken and admitted that the situation was handled “very, very poorly.”
Here’s where they lose me. Continue reading Mayor Smith’s first year
City of DeKalb and the Daily Chronicle are still batting around the food truck issue, which is about whether DeKalb’s regulations and fees are reasonable.
Well, you tell me. Sycamore charges a fee to cover the cost of the initial background check plus $50 per year for the license. DeKalb requires a background check fee, a $25 application fee, and a $50 per month license fee — and that’s not all.
A separate application and license shall be required for each person who is more than a 20% owner of the enterprise operating the food or beverage vending vehicle, for each person driving or operating the food or beverage vending vehicle within the corporate limits of the City, and for each person working in or vending from the food or beverage vending vehicle within the corporate limits of the City.
DeKalb should just ban food trucks here. It would be a whole lot simpler, and more honest, than cranking up the fees and red tape to drive them to our neighboring city.
Not everybody treats food trucks the way DeKalb treats food trucks. Some communities embrace them. Here’s what I found in 10 minutes for 2018.
May 5: Food truck rally in Yorkville.
May 6: Food truck festival in Aurora.
May 19: Food truck rally in Streator.
May 29: Food truck rally in Urbana.
June 9: Food truck festival in Peoria.
Alton, Chicago, Oswego, Romeoville, and Woodstock will all hold celebrations specific to food trucks this year. Not to mention other events, such as school fundraisers and craft beer festivals, that routinely welcome them.
Last night I went to the Egyptian Theatre to watch “All the Queen’s Horses,” the documentary of Rita Crundwell’s embezzlement of more than $53 million from City of Dixon when she was treasurer-comptroller there.
I won’t spoil the film, because even a person who followed Crundwell’s arrest and the aftermath quite closely is bound to find a couple of surprises. If you haven’t seen it, you deserve an equal opportunity to scrape your jaw off the floor once or twice. 🙂
Let’s explore, instead, the general lack of curiosity, assertiveness or persistence, when red flags pop up, to get questions answered to one’s satisfaction.
Why do so many people ignore questionable activities? A lot of it’s the expected consequences. If you reported potentially illegal behavior at your workplace, would your employer give lip service but ignore the problem, address the party involved, or plot retaliation for you? I’ll bet you don’t have to think much about it to answer. Chances are you’ve interacted enough with the culture there to know already. Continue reading Story of Dixon sparks ideas for preventing fraud and building trust in city government
It’s a story that won’t die. That’s because DeKalb handled condemnations of Lord Stanley’s and Stanley’s Annex poorly, but officials still won’t admit to errors except to say they should have treated the residents of the upstairs apartments better (i.e., the city should not have threatened them with imminent eviction).
This week the Daily Chronicle has examined the city attorney’s role in the matter. The city maintains that his role is strictly advisory. This is not consistent with what we’ve observed, as exemplified by an email shared with you last week, in which the city attorney appeared to be leading the process.
So today’s theme is consistency and lack of it. Continue reading Lord Stanley’s, FOIA requests, and questions of consistency
Last night, City of DeKalb held a public hearing and approved an annual budget for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG). CDBD is a federal program administered by HUD that helps ensure viable communities, particularly in the area of decent and affordable housing for low- to moderate-income residents.
The general public did not participate in the public hearing. We rarely do. The CDBG budget is treated as routine and unremarkable, even when it’s not.
And this year it’s definitely not. Continue reading DeKalb’s housing rehab program is seriously underperforming
Emails obtained by a member of the City Barbs Facebook Group indicate City of DeKalb worked the Lord Stanley’s and Stanley’s Annex condemnations of April 6 in a decidedly business-unfriendly manner, and then blamed social media for frightening residential tenants with impending forcible eviction.
As indicated in last weekend’s post, the city failed to follow proper procedure in condemning the Stanleys, particularly as concerns notice of code violations.* DeKalb did eventually give the building owners written notices, but not until Monday, April 9, which was the same day as the original deadline for making repairs and avoiding permanent condemnations and evictions. Continue reading City emails reveal tactics in the condemnation of Lord Stanley’s
***Update 4/17/2017: The Daily Chronicle published a related letter to the editor: “Social media uproar warranted regarding condemnation.” Thanks, DC.***
City of DeKalb is in spin cycle over actions taken to condemn Lord Stanley’s and Lord Stanley’s Annex earlier this month, defending its actions during the last council meeting and now on a blog hilariously called “Just the Facts.”
Item One: City is currently presenting the inspections that led to condemnation as routine fire-life safety inspections. Yet an April 7 newspaper story quotes the city attorney as saying condemnation was the culmination of months of work.
Also, the chief building official (CBO) accompanied the fire-life safety inspector on these inspections. This is anything but routine. Indeed, the CBO — the one person empowered to condemn buildings and declare structural emergencies — was hired on the argument that he would send out inspectors who are the most appropriate yet cost effective personnel for each job. He chose himself. Why?
And why the inconsistency over the stated level of involvement pre-condemnation? It’s actually weirder to think they went from zero to condemnation instead of advancing through the usual process of escalation. Continue reading Cutting through DeKalb’s spin on the condemnation of Lord Stanley’s
Monday night, DeKalb’s city council members wrestled with proposed parking restrictions in neighorhoods adjacent to campus. Except for Ald. Mike Marquardt, who lost a wrestling match with his tongue.
At a local town hall meeting a few years ago, an audience member who pays attention to such things said the DeKalb-NIU relationship might be a “communiversity” but could fairly be considered a “commuterversity” as well.
Many of the “spoiled” students drive in from other neighborhoods and communities every day to attend NIU.
Many of the “spoiled” students have to go to work before and/or after class.
Many of the “spoiled” students drive because it keeps them safer from assault or worse.
And while I’m at it: These days, some students live in their cars.
Next time that little voice tells you to hold your tongue, Ald. Marquardt, perhaps you should listen, even if you have to bite it.
The Better Government Association has just rolled out a statewide police and fire pension database. It tracks public safety pensions for every municipality, township, and special district (e.g., fire protection district) that have one or both types of pension funds.
According to this database, DeKalb’s fire pension showed a net liability of $42.7 million and a 39.21% funding ratio “as of 2016.” At the same point in time, the police pension fund had a net liability of $34.4 million and a funding ratio of 48.77%. The combined net liability, then, was a bit over $77 million.
I’ve checked the BGA numbers against the city’s latest annual financial report to make sure they’re in the same ballpark, and they are.
What the BGA database doesn’t tell you about is DeKalb’s other long-term liabilities related to retirees. One is the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF) — yeah, it’s not 100% funded as you might think. The city’s latest reported IMRF net liability is $9.4 million and funding at 83.2%.
Another, as discussed here a few months ago, is the Other Post-Employment Benefits, which is a defined-benefit retiree health insurance plan. OPEB — which our financial consultants have twice urged us to dump in favor of a defined-contribution PEHP plan* — has an unfunded long-term liability of $23.9 million and a funding ratio of 0% because the city doesn’t fund this plan in advance.
Audited numbers for 2017 should come out in May. Meantime, we’re looking at unfunded retirement-related liabilities of $110 million.
*City employees hired since 2011 do participate in a PEHP instead of OPEB.
BONUS: DeKalb’s pension funding ratios as of 1999 (as reported in the fiscal 2004 financial report):