Wogen & the Women’s Center

Last spring, Victor Wogen showed up to the DeKalb Area Women’s Center (DAWC) while university students and others were painting the place. The DAWC building is an old church, and parts of it reach to a third-floor level that the volunteers simply couldn’t reach. Wogen told the DAWC director, Anna Marie Coveny, that he knew where to get hold of a boom truck with which to finish the job and that he’d be back the following weekend. He never returned.

Come summer, and the DeKalb Community Development Department began asking when the paint job would be done. The inspector was referred to Wogen and phoned him. Nothing happened.

A bit over two weeks ago the story reached me. I notified the 3rd Ward Neighbors Helping Neighbors group and others were activated as well. Neighbors Helping Neighbors began planning. That’s when I screwed up. Continue reading Wogen & the Women’s Center

Wogen Watch Gets Results

Third Ward Alderman Victor Wogen came out both on the air and in print today to clear up a few things. The timing was no accident. Wogen had met with and made promises to a regular poster over at the Wogen Watch blog and, indeed, beat an October 5 deadline to follow through on them after they were posted.

I’m not going to go into the content of his message too much, but am glad he declared unambiguously that he is not anti-gay. Some people need to hear this from voices of authoritah at all levels.

Beyond that you must color me unmoved. Wogen asserts, for example, that he does not have any customers for architectural precast “within miles of here” but that is not the same as saying that his employer will not be involved in any downtown facade projects. What will count are his abstentions from any votes that involve his company when and if they come up at Council.

And on that note, let’s hoist a humpday toast to the health of the owner(s) of Wogen Watch.

Additional Reports: Public Access Improvements

The Daily Chronicle today published an article by Benji Feldheim regarding recent complaints over the City Council meeting minutes and subsequent actions by citizens and the city to improve public access to them.

Mr. Feldheim did a good job. The story is accurate and IMO almost annoyingly objective. 😉 My aims here are only to provide a bit more of the back story and a wrap-up of citizens’ actions for whatever use they might be to others who are contemplating similar ventures. Continue reading Additional Reports: Public Access Improvements

Ethics & Downtown Revitalization

All we know for sure is this: DeKalb Mayor Frank Van Buer cast a vote against Gavin Wilson’s candidacy as 5th Ward alderman. The mayor is now found to have close political relationships with Wilson’s opponent in the race and with the man who challenged Wilson’s ballot petition.

Van Buer’s campaign manager, Don Floyd, says that the mayor did disclose, by way of filing electronically with the Illinois State Board of Elections (btw, the irony has not escaped me). He’s got a point. How is it that the opposition party–in this case the Republicans–didn’t dig up that nugget? How did the Daily Chronicle miss it? As for myself, I didn’t blink or think twice at the time, when Van Buer said “We were advised that that was a mandatory.” That’s ’cause I trusted him.

I assume that when Van Buer sought legal advice, it was from the city attorney. Perhaps he should also have visited with the city manager, who is the designated ethics advisor for the city. That way the mayor’s men maybe wouldn’t have to be engaged right now in a flurry of damage control activity because the ethics of the situation called for recusal. Recusal would have saved the day.

At any rate let’s pursue a big-picture hypothesis brought to the fore by Gavin Wilson:

The Mayor and I were not strangers. He had just recently sent me a letter asking me not to write any more letters to the Chronicle, or it would undo all the things he was trying to accomplish, (for instance, removing the only viable parking in the downtown). I did write more, and I know this was not an action that would endear me to him.

Continue reading Ethics & Downtown Revitalization

Conflict of Interest No. 12,498

In the February 24 article, “No Race in DeKalb’s 5th Ward” I decried the Illinois campaign laws that could be used to get a person kicked off the ballot for not much more than forgetting to cross a “t.” In my opinion only out-and-out fraud, such as forgery, should get a person tossed off the ballot.

Wilson blames two-thirds of the local election board, comprised of the mayor, city clerk and the 3rd Ward alderman (who voted in Wilson’s favor) for supporting perfect paperwork over competitive races. He’s got a point but the real culprits here are the cumbersome Illinois candidacy requirements and the shameless way they can be exploited by an experienced opposition, especially an incumbent candidate.

The reason that the local election board made a determination is that Wilson’s nominating petitions did not have to be perfect. The wording of the applicable state statute reads:

The name of no candidate for nomination…shall be printed upon the primary ballot unless a petition for nomination has been filed in his behalf as provided in this Article in substantially the following form: [Emphasis added.]

So there was some discretion involved. The board did not have to vote the way it did. I’ve wondered why Mayor Van Buer, who strikes me as someone who would support the spirit of the law and a true contest, voted against Wilson. Then this week I was tipped off to a stunning (to me, anyway) conflict of interest. Continue reading Conflict of Interest No. 12,498

Council Pre-Watch: Public Access

In 2005 a small group of neighbors fought a certain developer for a number of reasons. Addressing the DeKalb City Council one evening, the developer claimed that he had made no attempt to obtain tax abatements or other financial breaks for his project. One of the neighbors rose to challenge the statement because she knew the developer had requested a waiver of fees from the Sanitary District, and she knew it because the Sanitary District posts its meeting minutes online. What’s more, the neighbor probably accessed the minutes on the weekend or maybe midnight because she has a day job.

This is the face of citizen participation today. If we’re to get involved in government beyond voting–can anyone argue the need?–we require either a whole lot more leisure time or increased ease of access. The case of the smart-growth advocates vs. warehouse mania represents hundreds of hours of research that simply would not have been possible without extreme surfing of the wild, unfettered Internet upon the slick board that is cable modem. What’s more, we’ve placed much of the work here at CityBarbs, which saves duplication of effort and has helped the residents of at least one other city that found itself in a similar situation.

It could be that on Monday, the City of DeKalb will demonstrate its willingness to join us in the pool. Continue reading Council Pre-Watch: Public Access

Shut Up

The Setup

For nearly all of the past 20 years, my day job has been about providing services for adults with developmental, physical, intellectual and/or mental disabilities. One of the challenges is to keep vulnerable people safe. We sometimes fail. Abuse and neglect sometimes occur no matter how good the service agency is, so what counts is how it deals with these incidents when (not if) they happen.

Too often, the response from the higher-ups is a reflexive instinct to cover it up. Top management sets the tone.

I was still quite green when first encountering an incident of abuse at a group home. A young woman returned from a holiday visit with family and complained that her legs hurt. When we checked them we found huge, deep purple bruises that had been inflicted, she said, with steel-toed boots. I began phoning supervisors to tell them that we were taking her to the emergency room. My immediate supervisor was ready to take action, but the boss of my boss expressed reservations.

“Are you sure we need to do that?” he asked. “That’ll open up a can of worms.”

Thus began my second, parallel career as a can opener.

Those who open the cans of worms–the watchdogs, the squeaky wheels, the whistleblowers and other truth tellers–know that this can be not only a thankless job but also one of the most exhausting. It takes a lot of time to find the truth, deliver the truth, and re-deliver until the correct response emerges; and every step of the way, arrayed against the “openers” are defenders of status quo, self-interested nest-feathering fiefdom-builders, hacks who just don’t want to be bothered and other practitioners of the art of Shut Up. Continue reading Shut Up

Donna Johnson & the Liquor Commission

Part of Donna Johnson’s job as city clerk also includes the role of deputy liquor commissioner. It was in this capacity that Johnson was put on the defensive in early 2005, when “the city” made the decision to allow a tavern to pay a fine for getting caught serving a minor without the requisite public notice and hearing. The Daily Chronicle asked how a settlement could be reached when no charges were filed, and noted that the then-mayor, who also was the liquor commissioner, did not sign the settlement.

This occurred during an election campaign and challenger Frank Van Buer, who would himself become mayor a couple months later, wrote a stinging letter to the editor condemning “back-room deals.”

Johnson rebutted with her own letter. She defended the practice as standard operating procedure and a money-saving measure for taxpayers, even though the municipal code (at the time, at least) did not allow bar owners to waive hearings. Also:

In the matter of the Twin Tavern violation referred to in Mr. Van Buer’s letter, I happen to know that violation occurred because of a mistake made by an employee. It was not because of poor management. This establishment had a record of 40 years with no violations.

This is simply not true, unless the record somehow got erased.

Council Watch 7/16/07

Last night was the meeting rescheduled from the rained-out 9th. Alderman Wogen was absent. Those present were sharp and on the job. Alderman Gorski is working to ensure that the annexed Orr Farm/Park 88 lot that faces Route 38 will have traffic access to 38 only if it retains a retail/commercial zoning, but will have to make due with only Peace Road access if it becomes industrial. Alderman Naylor asked about a Special Service Area designation for the annexation involving the Target store expansion. Alderman Keller was the only “nay” vote on an omnibus resolution to fund local public agencies, definitely swimming against the $$ flow.

What was most interesting to me, however, was the council-clerk-staff dynamic that one might well call “circling the wagons,” apparently in response to pressure on city clerk Donna Johnson from several individuals in regards to late, poorly summarized (and perhaps politicized) meeting minutes; pressure in the form of phone calls, e-mails, a meeting with the mayor and a letter to the editor. Alderman Gorski found an opportunity last night to thank Johnson for her rapid online posting of new and amended ordinances. Frances Loubere’s complaints about the minutes and council’s lack of response to unresolved campaign problems were met with frozen silence. Ward reports consisted of compliments from aldermen to city clerk and staff–I swear I expected them to blow kisses to each other.

Near the end of the meeting Johnson spoke, mostly to make clear that she will not be writing any rebuttal letters to the editor nor taking any other step to correct or apologize for her failures to the public she is supposed to serve. Instead, she invited anyone with questions about her job to arrange to visit her there. Yup, we are supposed to follow her into her comfort zone to be charmed or bullied into silence, or to take time out of our days to witness firsthand why it is she can’t/won’t meet deadlines, write proper summaries or guide her department into the 21st Century.

Council Pre-Watch 7/11/07

This week’s council meetings have been rescheduled for next week after Monday’s rain-out, which turned streets south of Rt. 38, from Second to Seventh, into rivers. (I myself am the sudden owner of lakefront property, which happens whenever there’s a “100-year-flood,” or about every four years.)

I noticed this item in the city manager’s notes for the regular council meeting:

ORDINANCE ESTABLISHING A SPECIAL SERVICE AREA NUMBER TWELVE (DEKALB BUSINESS CENTER PLANNED DEVELOPMENT) IN THE CITY OF DEKALB, ILLINOIS AND PROVIDING FOR A PUBLIC HEARING AND OTHER PROCEDURES IN CONNECTION THEREWITH. A Public Hearing needs to be held in order to consider establishing a Special Service Area for the property located at the northeast corner of the intersection of Gurler Road and Illinois Route 23, commonly known as DeKalb Business Center. This property was annexed into the City on December 11, 2006. The Annexation Agreement provided for the creation of an Owners Association, which will be responsible for maintenance of the common areas and storm water retention areas. The Special Service Area would only be activated in the event that the Owners Association fails to provide the required maintenance. Continue reading Council Pre-Watch 7/11/07