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

City Clerk Violates Open Meetings Act

[UPDATE 7/16: The June 11 council meeting minutes are posted at the city site as of today, exactly three weeks late and two days after this letter appeared in the Chronicle. Under Item L, Citizen Comments: “Ms. Frances Loubere, 826 North 7th Street, DeKalb, spoke regarding the results of the recent 3rd Ward election.” (Of course, as in the May 29 citizens comments it was more than that. Ms. Loubere was also asking Wogen to clarify his positions and denounce the tactics of his backers.) Under Item M, Reports: “Ald. Wogen responded to comments made by Ms. Frances Loubere. He noted he would like to get past the issue, move on and do a good job for the 3rd Ward, and hopefully all can move forward together.” (Where’s the part where he said he was as pro-gay as Steve Kapitan?)]

[UPDATE 7/15: The June 11 council meeting minutes still have not been posted at the city’s website. I understand from Wogen Watch that requests for investigations have been made at the state’s attorney’s and attorney general’s offices.]

A snippet of the Illinois Open Meetings Act, regarding the taking and posting of meeting minutes:

(5 ILCS 120/2.06) (from Ch. 102, par. 42.06)
Sec. 2.06. Minutes.
(b) The minutes of meetings open to the public shall be available for public inspection within 7 days of the approval of such minutes by the public body. Beginning July 1, 2006, at the time it complies with the other requirements of this subsection, a public body that has a website that the full‑time staff of the public body maintains shall post the minutes of a regular meeting of its governing body open to the public on the public body’s website within 7 days of the approval of the minutes by the public body. Beginning July 1, 2006, any minutes of meetings open to the public posted on the public body’s website shall remain posted on the website for at least 60 days after their initial posting.

The minutes of the June 11 Committee-of-the-Whole and Regular City Council meetings were approved during the June 25 Regular meeting. As of today, these minutes are still not posted at the city’s website. This isn’t the first time, either.

Council Meeting 6/25: Orr Farm Annexation

The public did not participate in the public hearings last night.

There were three of them, of most general interest probably concerning the annexation of the Orr Farm to Park 88. One of the most puzzling of proponents’ assertions is that the development of this property will alleviate flooding in the nearby, long-suffering east-side neighborhood called Dodge.

Since commercial and industrial development of farmland has only rarely improved bad drainage situations, this needs to be explained. It would help if there were any decent maps available, but apparently not even aldermen have access to much. And they expect the citizenry to speak knowledgably in public on this issue?

That’s not to say that people aren’t talking outside of the meetings. After the Council adjourned, a resident of the aforementioned area detailed the flooding of the Wurlitzer pond that sometimes results in sewage backups and floating logs (as in the wooden kind, but still). I believe this gentleman intends to take his story to the Sanitary District but it’s too bad he did not speak to the city as well; it’s not the Sanitary District that puts in the buildings and pavement.

If blogging were my day job, I’d also be talking here about the Daley Group lobbying contract and the meeting-minutes controversy, both of which have more discussion going on outside of Council chambers than inside–by the regular joes, anyway. Those topics will have to wait a bit unless someone wants to start something in the comments.

Chronicle coverage here.

Do You Hear What I Hear?

It seems that City Clerk Donna Johnson has a problem hearing Mr. Wogen’s name anytime a citizen says it.

If you watch the City Council meetings and then read Ms. Johnson’s minutes of those meetings you may wonder if you were in the same room. Or at least when it comes to the public comments portion of the meeting.

Let me give a couple of examples. If you have been following the council meetings in person or by cable, you know that on May 14th Mr. Herb Rubin spoke about Mr. Wogen’s lying to the public. When the minutes came out the City Clerk (You recall the one hugging Mr. Wogen on election night after his big 13 vote victory. As shown on the front page of the Daily Chronicle.) chose to summarize Mr. Rubin’s comments this way:

“He had an issue with one newly-elected Alderman, who he said failed to tell the truth. He added trust is needed for government to function.”

I don’t know about you but I think if I were Mr. Simpson or Mr. Keller, the other two “newly-elected aldermen,” I’d be pretty upset that it is now public record that one of the three does not value the public’s trust. Continue reading Do You Hear What I Hear?

Council Watch

When I first began attending city meetings, one of the things that struck me most was the “tip of the iceberg” quality of the media coverage. Daily Chronicle reporting of the June 11 regular City Council meeting, for example, was concerned with only one agenda item, that of improving the facades of downtown buildings. There was nothing in the article regarding Alderman Donna Gorski’s expression of disappointment with the quality of the materials provided by the Park 88 people in the matter of the Orr Farm annexation, nor mentioned was her suggestion to extend the public hearing on the annexation through the next meeting (which the council did) when it became apparent that too many people were taken by surprise.

Something else you’ve missed, if you only read the newspaper, is that the heat on Alderman “Slick Vic” Wogen has not let up. At least one person, and as many as three, have aired their disgust and distrust of Wogen at every council meeting since he was installed in office last month.

My distrust lies just as much with the city clerk’s office and a few city employees at this point. This is partly a repercussion from the smear mailer, as it is now apparent that the city clerk does not mind violating privacy rules when it will put her friends in office; it also has to do with a scene I witnessed at the May 14 regular council meeting. Continue reading Council Watch