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:

DECLARING INTENT TO PROVIDE FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE FOR DEVELOPMENT OF PROPERTY LOCATED ON LOT 11 OF PARK 88.

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.

Wogen, Neighbors & the Women’s Center

This is to update the post of October 29 concerning Victor Wogen, the Neighbors Helping Neighbors group (NHN) and the DeKalb Area Women’s Center (DAWC).

Victor Wogen did indeed obtain use of a lift for the DAWC paint job after all. (We had a chuckle over the lift belonging to Irving Construction. Made us wonder about somebody’s golf pass too. But I digress.) Volunteers associated with NHN and others who had heard about the project showed up. Most of the day was spent on the north side of the building replacing siding, priming and painting. Since only two people could use the lift at one time, others worked at raking and pulling weeds from the garden.

I do not know the particulars on any work after Saturday, but did want to help get the word out about ongoing plans:

  • NHN has decided not to confine its membership or its neighborliness necessarily to the 3rd Ward;
  • they will work on indoor projects at DAWC one Saturday per month during the winter; and
  • the group currently is organizing help for a family beset with catastrophic medical bills to provide a Christmas for their young children.
  • As always, click on the NHN link on the right to vist the group and to make further inquiries.

    We send our best wishes for tomorrow’s Finnish Culture Day concert at DAWC.

    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