Home Rule Repeal Meeting Set

Mark Charvat and Mac McIntyre will host an informational meeting on the Home Rule repeal effort Monday, April 7, 7 a.m. at the Lincoln Inn. They will not, however, buy you breakfast; you’re on your own with that. 🙂 If you are comfortable letting others know whether you will be there or be square, use the comments section for it.

While I’m at it, here’s the link to an article on last night’s meeting with Alds. Keller and Wogen. (And, here’s Mac’s article.) The Northern Star reported on a small but significant portion of a meeting that ran nearly 1-1/2 hours and in which 5 of the 6 civilian attendees spoke. There did not need to be 50 of us for all the cards to be placed on the table. I was grateful for the opportunity to have my say and hope these two and other members of the City Council will continue the regular, informal chats. Ongoing dialogue could get us beyond the demands-and-promises stage—but I’ll save those ideas for another day.

Taxation Open Thread

The other threads are getting kind of long so use this space to discuss Home Rule repeal, District 428 facilities planning, the city budget, etc. What’s new:

  • All of the DeKalb City Council (except Ald. Gorski, who has no e-mail) received a copy of this letter appearing in the Chronicle today.
  • Watch for it: Mark Charvat will soon be announcing the first organizational meeting for supporters of a measure to revoke the city’s Home Rule status
  • Rep. Bob Pritchard is involved in a measure to provide for recall elections of state elected officials; could this be extended to the local level or not, and if so, is it a good idea? Comments, please.
  • 3rd Ward Alderman Victor Wogen has called a meeting for Thursday, April 3, 6 p.m. in the 2nd floor conference room of city hall. He will be joined by Alderman Keller and if the meeting overflows the room they’ll move it to council chambers.
  • (sniff) Is it just spring I smell, or are there other changes in the air?

    How Oak Park Does It

    DeKalb City Council is supposed to set policies and city staff are supposed to carry them out. What actually happens a lot is that the Council and staff end up setting policy together. The boundaries get blurred. For example, sometimes people who visit here from other parts are rather startled at staff’s advocacy of one position over another and their apparent influence. That is a problem. And when it comes to competing interests between city employees and the constituency, that is a HUGE problem. In coping with the current budget crisis, for instance, the possible directions are pretty straightforward: you are either going to raise revenues or you are going to make budget cuts. Perhaps you’ll end up with some combination of the two but there has to be a predominant frame of reference informing your problem-solving approach. Would you ever anticipate that city employees would voluntarily and cheerfully make cuts to their own departments? Of course not. They’ve been in revenue-enhancing persuasion mode ever since the crisis hit and, unfortunately for us, that’s who has Council’s ear. If there’s another explanation for why real cuts haven’t been made in spite of the citizen uproar, please share it!

    The culprit is the lack of a real partnership mechanism between the Council and its constituency for choosing fiscal policy directions, so we lose. Hate to say it, but Alderman Wogen is right when he says we only come in to complain (just not about our enjoying it). He’s right because complaining is really our only option. Look at last Monday: it didn’t matter what Mr. Hickey said; the gas tax was a done deal. Then staff look oh, so reasonable compared to the “complainers” because they’ve been in on the decision-making from the beginning while we get three minutes to make our case just before the vote is taken. By the time we have our say we’re often feeling frustrated, maybe a bit angry. The procedure sets us up to look bad. Continue reading How Oak Park Does It

    City Check Register: Feb ’08

    Kid in a candy store, baby. I love reading the city’s check register. A couple months ago I found out that beaver removal costs $250. Who knew?

    Here are a few highlights from February 2008:

  • The City of DeKalb paid over $1500 for coffee for all departments
  • A check for $370 was issued to the high school’s post-prom committee
  • Hitchcock Design was paid nearly $43,000
  • DeKalb’s firefighters bought 3 shiny new french fry cutters from Cabela’s for a total of $291.54
  • Here is Cabela’s industrial french fry cutter. Sounds pretty cool:

    Made from heavy-duty cast iron, this simple-to-operate manual cutter features a stainless steel trough, sturdy frame and pusher block and a cast-iron handle. Will cut potatoes up to 6″ long. Can be countertop-mounted or vertically mounted on a wall. Capable of producing up to 50 lbs. of fries per hour.

    In truth, I have a hard time begrudging the firefighters anything and don’t mean to be petty, but if I were having a budget crisis I’d find a way to make do with a cutting board and sharp knife.

    The Start of a Revolt

    Yesterday I noticed that Mac has a poll up for the moment at his site asking, “Should home rule be repealed in DeKalb?” Then I read this:

    On Monday, the DeKalb City Council passed a proposal that amounts to a huge increase in taxes – an increase in the sales tax paired with a new gas tax. With the exception of Alderman David Baker (who voted against the sales tax increase on its first reading March 10 and was not present at Monday’s meeting), the city council seems to lack concern for the burden taxpayers have to deal with in this town.

    I took the time to contact council members Kris Povlsen, Donna Gorski, Victor Wogen and Ron Naylor and asked them to consider other options (cigarette taxes, liquor taxes, higher hotel taxes), but no, they just forced through the sales tax increase and new gas tax at record speed without any real consideration of these alternatives…What happened to the old days when there was a lengthy public comment period before tax increases were passed? I asked Wogen why he and the other council members ignored the opinions of residents who spoke before the council, and he replied in writing, “The only people that show up to council meetings are the ones that like to complain.”

    Revoking home rule, as was successfully done in Rockford, would force this “tax and spend” city council to come to the voters to approve tax increases. Voters, this is the first of many taxes still to come (property tax, electricity tax and another tax to fund the new police station).

    It’s hard work right now, not to get all snarky on the City since it kind of pushes my buttons to hear that I am motivated to attend Council meetings only because I’m an inveterate whiner or just want to get on TV (which actually was said to my face once at City Hall, though neither by alderman nor mayor). But I will contain myself, as certainly Mr. Wogen is in a class almost by himself when it comes to disrespecting the voters. No, what I want to address is the fact that this Council is on the wrong track and they must stop listening to the staff for a moment and really hear the taxpayers, who are working themselves into a revolutionary frame of mind. Next up: open letter to the Council. Continue reading The Start of a Revolt

    City Watch: Budget Input Solicited

    Here’s a welcome bit of news from last night’s City Council meeting: Council seems disposed to open up the FY 2009 budget process more to public input. Watch for details in the coming month. Also, Herb Rubin reminded us that the city used to enjoy the counsel of a Financial Advisory Board. Perhaps we should consider reviving it in these difficult times.

    We also discovered that the heretofore mysterious Rainy Day Fund is being wiped out as we type. After Mac McIntyre pointed out that it is, indeed, raining, and prevailed upon Council to utilize the fund for purposes of economic stimulation, Assistant City Manager Rudy Espiritu explained that about $2 million of the $3.6 million pot is plugging up gaping holes in the 2007 and 2008 budgets.

    Um, what?! Could someone please explain to me what all the agonies over potential layoffs and the resulting retirements were about, then? What was saved by those measures, exactly?

    Additionally, Alderman Simpson declared that DeKalb’s reserves are smaller than what other communities of comparable size have.

    You know, in the first place I became upset about the budget crisis because it’s been clear for more than a year to persons in non-vegetative conditions that the housing market was traveling to a scary place and that the “jobless recovery” was not much of a recovery at all, based as it was on debt and speculation and investment in death. Is it too much to ask that the guys getting the big bucks to do the planning get a little proactive? Secondly, if there’s all this hoo-ha over the budget crisis and all this so-called action that still comes down to depending on our reserves, it seems to me that none of the tough decisions have been made. And the news about the reserves makes me feel…plundered.

    Guess we’ll see what happens with FY 2009.

    [Update: Budget workshop meetings open to resident input will be May 19, 20 & 21 at 5:30 p.m.]

    City Budget: Mayor & Council

    City of DeKalb FY 2008 Budget

    Legislative Department, Mayor and Council Program

    Part time & temporary—-$67,000
    Health Insurance———–63,737
    Life Insurance——————-798
    Worker’s Comp——————-152
    Printed Materials—————-300
    Office & Library Supply———100
    Freight & Postage———————0
    Human & Social Services—214,000
    Telephone System————-5,000
    Legal Services NEC————2,500
    Legal Expenses———————–0
    Mrkting, Ads, Pub Notices–5,000
    Dues & Subscriptions——–17,000
    Training, Ed, Prof Dev——–8,000

    On the current city tax hike proposals, the Chronicle quoted 1st Ward Alderman Bertrand Simpson thusly:

    No one is getting fat off of this,” Simpson said. “We are least likely to take advantage of you. When we look at the mirror we see you, because we are you. We just happen to be the people responding to this crisis.”

    I find Alderman Simpson delightfully crotchety and blunt but I disagree with him a lot and this is one of those times. For example, I do not know anyone working part-time who gets health and life insurance benefits. It’s rare, isn’t it?

    Furthermore I disagree with having a “dues and publications” allocation because these expenses can be deducted from one’s personal income tax. The entire amount set aside for “dues and publications” for the year is $38,000.

    And when a city is in dire financial straits, I’m sorry but the human/social services allocation must be slashed, as should anything not directly related to the primary functions of city government. Continue reading City Budget: Mayor & Council

    Aldermen Weigh in on Referendum. Ooops.

    It’s a function of ethics (and law) that public servants should strive to keep political activity and government business separate. That’s why only strictly informational meetings on the school referendum could be held in the schools and more partisan efforts had to happen on private property, for example.

    A couple of the aldermen goofed during ward reports Monday. It is OK to encourage people to vote on an issue but not to nudge a vote toward yea or nay, leastaways not while one is conducting public business in a municipal building.

    I waited a day for the webcast to go up at the city site for easy linking but, wouldn’t you know it, the video cuts out just before the ward reports. You’ll have to catch one of the rebroadcasts on Channel 14 if you want to see it for yourself.

    City Website Update

    City staff promised a few months ago that progress would be made to public access in a number of ways by January 2008. I just checked out the Council CoW meeting agenda for the 14th, and voila’:

    CONSIDERATION OF THE CITY OF DEKALB’S WEBSITE ENHANCEMENT UPDATE. Back in August, staff gave a presentation on expanded access to City Council meetings and minutes thorough the City’s website. These enhancements included offering DVDs of City Council meetings at the Public Library, providing webcasts of council meetings on the City’s website, having the full agenda packet available online, and making e-payments and direct debit available for water bills. This memorandum provides an update on these projects and other initiatives we are undertaking.

    The procedures for providing the DVDs to the public library and for making utility e-payments are already in place. This must mean the webcasts and agenda packets are on the way soon–and what’s this about other initiatives? Interesting.

    Tip o’ the hat to the city for the timely follow-up.

    I Need a Tax Abatement

    I try not to gripe about logistics (the lowest of low-hanging industrial fruits for a city on Route 88) as long as they stay in the designated warehousing “district” of Park 88. I make no such effort when it comes to the give-aways, especially coming on the heels of the hideous maneater called “Tax Assessment 2007,” another school referendum on the way and a recession looming.

    DeKalb City Council Resolution 07-98:


    The City Council passed this on Monday. It means that they are going to “play ball” by supplying tax abatements and fee waivers to a company that probably chose us months ago but that we don’t even get to know the name of yet.

    Ah, for the day that someone says: “Fee waivers? Doesn’t that mean we’d need to raise fees for the residents? I don’t think so.”

    Or: “If you care about our schools, you’ll pay your full freight from Day One.”

    It’s tough to keep up morale. Some days, seems we cling to our middle-class dreams by the ravaged edges of our fingernails.