Story of Dixon sparks ideas for preventing fraud and building trust in city government

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

DeKalb’s housing rehab program is seriously underperforming

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

Warmth is important for bridging the morality gap

Recently I brought up at a city council meeting, again, the issue of an overnight warming center. People used to be able to stop in at our city hall to sit and thaw out a bit at night, back when it was PD headquarters and open 24 hours. The new police station is likewise open 24 hours, but the city refuses to name it as a nighttime emergency resource in weather extremes.

At the meeting I related that a friend of mine had discovered a person in a sleeping bag in a downtown doorway during the worst of the cold (so far) this winter. Then I was rebutted. It went something like, “Oh, yeah, that’s probably the guy who refuses to go to Hope Haven.”

Well, for some people, if the choices are to go to Hope Haven or SOL, they are not real choices. (This is absolutely no reflection on Hope Haven, which is the best.) Bad things can happen to vulnerable people in shelters, and nobody should blame them for trying to protect themselves by avoiding the unknown. We took in a young man for a couple weeks right after Christmas one year. It was a couple decades ago, but I remember it well because some of his stories literally raised the hair on the back of my neck. In short, giving shit choices to traumatized people doesn’t sit well with me. Continue reading Warmth is important for bridging the morality gap

City’s water bill issue a symptom of a larger problem

***Updates 2/8: City says no double-billing was involved, so I’ve deleted statements below to the contrary. I do intend to look at 2017 billing cycle dates to confirm the bases for bills from previous months. That the error mostly affects customers on the south side has been confirmed. City remains silent on the plight of customers on fixed incomes, and the criticism of poor communication still stands.***

By now, you’ve received your utility bill (water, sewer, garbage) from City of DeKalb. Does it seem high? If so, chances are the culprit is your water bill. Here’s the explanation:

[O]ne of the mobile meter reading devices was not functioning correctly. The data from the reader did not load the route information to the computer and therefore, that December 2017 reading was not captured. The device was sent for repair and upon return of the device, the route was read again (mid- January 2018). This second read occurred approximately 20 days after the first reading. For this route, this translates to a larger utility bill that is due by February 21, 2018. The next bill, due April 21, 2018, will be smaller by the 20 days that were included on the previous billing. Finance staff at the front counter and answering phone calls will continue to provide this information to the residents.

I have requested more information about the area(s) affected, and what the city proposes to do to accommodate people who will have problems coming up with another $40 or $50 this month that they didn’t expect?

So far, the members of the City Barbs Facebook Group have figured out that DeKalb’s south side is involved in the screwup.

Why does the city even have a website and social media accounts? They do not know how to use them.

A look at the county’s nursing center renovation project, and what it might mean

I have a dark red brick on my mantel that came from the old DeKalb County Home, now known as DeKalb County Nursing and Rehabilition Center (DCNRC). On one side of the brick is a sketch of the Home, on another a short history of the facility in dates and names.

The brick tells me that DCRNC’s previous location on Sycamore Road was demolished in the year 2000, which means it has taken the county more than 15 years to bring to light chronic logistical issues at the “new” place that create congested hallways and risk cold food.

I asked myself, “Why now?” And this is where I landed:

Also planned is an addition to the north of the existing structure, adding 18 single-occupancy rooms. These rooms will be the Medicare rooms, but also help the facility keep up with the times.

Presenting the addition as almost an afterthought to a primary mission of logistical remediation is hilarious to me. It’s actually much more likely that the desire for the addition kicked off the project. Because money. Continue reading A look at the county’s nursing center renovation project, and what it might mean

Ask me how I feel about the Annie Glidden North project when I know how NIU is involved

DeKalb city council had a special meeting on Tuesday to discuss what they’re calling the Annie Glidden North (ANG) “revitalization plan.” ANG is what they call three neighborhoods in the northwest section of the city on either side of Annie Glidden Road.

According to the 100-page memo that accompanied the meeting agenda, DeKalb in 2016 “began a process to solicit proposals for consulting services to develop a strategy for the revitalization of the Annie Glidden North (AGN) neighborhood.” In other words, the city hired another consultant to do another study.

During the meeting, however, city employees objected to members of the public calling the project a study. They’re acting very thin-skinned about members of the public noting that we have stacks and stacks of studies lying dustfully on the shelves, so they’re countering by calling this one a “plan” already instead.

I encourage you not to engage them in the game. They may not have a leg to stand on, and they may produce little when it comes to results, but they can do semantics all day long. Just smile and say, “Po-ta-to, po-tah-to,” and move on to the important stuff. Continue reading Ask me how I feel about the Annie Glidden North project when I know how NIU is involved

Accountable healthcare: a national trend may have just landed in a hospital near you

In July 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Medicare into existence, and handed former President Harry Truman the first Medicare card. There was much celebration.

The next day, the struggle began to keep the program solvent.

It’s not much of an exaggeration, really. Medicare was less than a decade old when, in efforts to contain rapidly escalating costs, Health Maintenance Organizations and managed care were born (1973).

At its most basic, managed care is a model for keeping healthcare costs as low as possible without actually sacrificing human lives to save a buck. Continue reading Accountable healthcare: a national trend may have just landed in a hospital near you

Fighting Over Scraps

The Chronicle posted an article online last night about council’s fight over the proposed annual budget that begins January 1.

The article says that city staff presented a draft budget with 75% cuts in the social services allocations. This is different from the online version available to the public, which shows the line item (account 8307) as $160,000.

It’s a problem that these various drafts never get posted for the public so we can participate in a meaningful way. However, my main point here is that everyone is reduced to fighting over scraps to balance this budget, because the city manager refuses to give up any goodies for herself and her pets. The human services line item has been, at best for several years, at $150,000; that probably wouldn’t cover the compensation the new IT director will get. What’s budgeted for education and professional development (account 8376) is $249,000, an amount that’s more than doubled in two years. Meanwhile, reductions in raises are considered the “last resort.” They deny themselves nothing.

Staff say they are only reducing what’s not “core services.” Maintaining streets is a core service, but expenditures for streets are nil next year in your neighborhood unless you’re lucky enough to live in a TIF district.

As Ald. Jacobson put it:

They did what I expected them to do and proved that they are here to serve themselves, they are here to ensure that the raises are either expected or guaranteed and that they get paid more while the community continues to suffer.

That’s what bureaucrats do. They carve out their territories and feather their nests. Our only hope — always, not just now — is a council that understands its role as a check on their enormous appetites.

The budget is up for final approval December 12.

DeKalb’s Decaying Support of Social Services

**Correction and clarification added 11/30**

In DeKalb’s fiscal year budget for 2008, $214,000 was allocated in the legislative department budget for social services funding. Two years later, the amount was reduced to $150,000, because the city was still experiencing post-Great Recession budget crises.

The funding has never been restored. It’s been at $150,000 ever since, split between about a dozen agencies/programs.

In the proposed FY2017 budget under consideration now, administrators went so far as to zero out this legislative line item altogether. (**correction/clarification added 11/30: it still appears as a line item, though moved to the community development department, and not at the reduced amount discussed Monday.) Council quickly restored the funding Monday evening amid public outcry. However, I doubt that serious discussion of actual policy took place.

We do need to have that discussion. Should city government fund social and supportive services? If so, what’s the plan? Continue reading DeKalb’s Decaying Support of Social Services