Documents continue to suggest housing authority’s pattern of partiality toward its IT vendor

In June, the DeKalb Park District approved a contract with Sundog IT, the company owned by DeKalb’s mayor, Cohen Barnes. We opposed the deal for reasons of conflicts of interests, but the district did run a request for proposal (RFP) bidding process and the buck did stop with the park district board, as one would expect.

Housing Authority of the County of DeKalb, Illinois (HACD) has a similar arrangement with Sundog IT for services. However, there is no evidence among documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act that an RFP process was followed or that the housing authority board voted on the deal.

Question: Why did the park district run an RFP selection process for IT services but HACD did not?

Answer: HACD probably should have done an RFP.

Continue reading Documents continue to suggest housing authority’s pattern of partiality toward its IT vendor

Housing authority helped Cohen Barnes with marketing his company

Besides giving Cohen Barnes of Sundog IT frontrunner status on contracts, including providing him information about his competition, staff at Housing Authority of County of DeKalb (HACD) used their resources to assist him in crafting a testimonial with their name on it.

emails-cohen-asks-viv-for-testimonial

Notice the HACD operations director cc’d the executive director in granting the favor. This is not one rogue staff member. We can therefore regard granting favors to private companies without public discussion as an institutional issue.

The testimonial appeared on Sundog IT’s website until recently, around the time Mayor Barnes became DeKalb Park District’s chief information officer and City of DeKalb found a way to add parking spaces on North Sixth to benefit HACD despite HACD’s not having discussed or documented one iota of need as far as we can see.

I do not blame Cohen Barnes for soliciting marketing help for his company before he became mayor. But he has shown with his recent behavior in park district and housing authority matters that he either cannot or will not make the shift to public ethics that his oath of office requires.

As for HACD, it is funded with federal dollars and I can’t believe HUD would approve of this use of it.

The avaricious romance of the local housing authority & our mayor

***UPDATE 8/21/2021: I’ve come across the rest of the conversation in my giant pile o’ emails and added the new pdf below the first one. In this batch, the operations director shares information about Sundog’s competition and says, “So, please update your quote. I now, officially have 3 bids or contacts so I can move forward with Sundogit replacing/updating our servers.”***

The following is an email conversation between the operations director of the Housing Authority of the County of DeKalb, Illinois (HACD) and Cohen Barnes of Sundog IT (Barnes), who is now mayor of the City of DeKalb. HACD was gathering price quotes for replacement of a failing server at the time.

Barnes: Does this help you with having a competitive quote? If so, what are the next steps for moving forward?

HACD: Thank you so very much Cohen. I also have Impact Networking, LLC…They supposedly also work out of Rockford and now support Ogle County HA — which is a smaller HA. They are coming in next Wednesday to talk servers. Hopefully, I can get a quote out of him ASAP (and yes, I will share that info with you)[.] Once I receive that quote — I will add it to my comparison spreadsheet — run it by the grand pooba (aka Shelly) — I am guessing she will want to give the board a little more in depth facts and figures (they already know our server has to go). And then we will give you the go to order.

Barnes: Let me know when we are closer and I will refresh our quote.

— Email string obtained from HACD under Illinois Freedom of Information Act

One of the basic rules HACD must follow as a government body in buying goods and services is the way they conduct procurement should “maximize competition and competitive pricing among contracts and decrease the Agency’s procurement costs.”

It is difficult to see how HACD can accomplish any increase in competition when it plays favorites, as illustrated by its relationship with Cohen Barnes and Sundog IT in which Sundog is the presumed winner even before all the quotes come in.

Continue reading The avaricious romance of the local housing authority & our mayor

How the DeKalb Housing Authority violates the Open Meetings Act

The DeKalb County Housing Authority has not often pinged my radar until now. A few years ago a couple people shared with me their being told by staff that federal rules prohibited bringing their cats with them into public housing unless the animals were declawed; my advice since then is to ask for citation of chapter and verse when it comes to staff “interpreting” house rules.

Much more recently the housing authority’s suffering over inadequate parking at headquarters came to the fore because City of DeKalb decided to fix it by turning a section of North Sixth Street into one-way traffic to squeeze out a few more spaces.

What really makes it difficult to spot the general public interest in the city’s granting of this assistance is the lack of public process to establish the need in the first place, and to explain why the city jumped into a county problem with city resources. I asked the authority to provide me with records of its board’s discussions of the parking issues. There aren’t any. This appears to be 100% the product of back-room conversations until the matter popped up on the council agenda as a possible ordinance. An ordinance has passed, so now we can only guess at better solutions public discussion might have generated.

Continue reading How the DeKalb Housing Authority violates the Open Meetings Act

Five reasons to slow down expansion plans for DeKalb’s in-house administrative hearings

There’s city council support for a Committee of the Whole meeting to air issues with the city attorney’s project to expand the types of ordinance violations the city will hear in-house. I think the CoW is going to happen, and I’ll keep you posted.

If so, it’s an excellent development, and shows council’s responsiveness to constituents’ concerns. Perhaps we’ll soon see the end of the pattern of staff’s working on pet projects in secret, then bursting onto the scene in create-a-crisis mode.

Here are five considerations for discussion.

1. The circuit court’s deadline does not have to be our deadline. If the court decides to conduct its ordinance violations process at the courthouse instead of city hall as of July 1, then people will have to travel to Sycamore for a while. If the court changes the day of the week that it conducts the hearings, people will have to change their calendars. These logistical inconveniences are not good enough reasons to risk errors. To get the ordinances right, we need to set our own pace.

2. This is the city manager’s job. It’s the city manager who oversees DeKalb’s administrative hearing procedure, via appointments to the city’s ordinance enforcement division. The new manager should have an opportunity to provide his or her perspective, including an opinion on the scope of the program. We also have no idea so far about the financial consequences of adding permanent staff, not to mention our continually increasing dependence on punishing people to fill budget holes.

3. We must eliminate the appearance of conflicts of interest. Why is the city attorney driving this initiative? It feeds the perception that he is the de facto city manager, and also that he is serving his own interests by expanding his role. This project must not proceed until he is put back, and seen to be put back, into his proper place in the organization. Continue reading Five reasons to slow down expansion plans for DeKalb’s in-house administrative hearings

County support of Frieders’ initiative?

So as we were saying the other day, DeKalb city attorney Dean Frieders made a pitch for in-house adjudication of local ordinance violations via administrative hearings.

To be clear, DeKalb already does administrative hearings, but it’s limited to violations related to the administrative towing ordinance, parking citations, and city-issued licenses. So what we’re talking about is an expansion in what DeKalb would handle itself, as opposed to using the circuit court process.

Frieders said the chief circuit court judge and state’s attorney support the changes. I’m sure that’s true and it’s fine. These officials get to run their offices the way they see fit. But county board members contacted by citizens since the presentation, including members of the Law and Justice Committee, hadn’t heard of it. They should have, because budgeting. Continue reading County support of Frieders’ initiative?

The hidden agenda item

At the end of last week’s council meeting in DeKalb, city attorney Dean Frieders presented an argument for in-house adjudication of ordinance violations. Currently, DeKalb conducts administrative hearings on very minor ordinance violations at city hall once a week as an administrative branch of the circuit court. Frieders’ plan would detach DeKalb from the county-level judiciary, and DeKalb would handle more types of ordinance violations than it does now.

This would be major, right? You could reasonably expect the changes to affect ordinances, staffing and budget, with impacts to individuals and businesses. Yet the item did not appear on the agenda for the meeting, because Frieders made the pitch during the part of the meeting listed as “Reports – Communications” (“Reports”).

“Reports” does not individually specify what to expect, because nobody knows. It’s essentially a “Good of the Order” that involves non-actionable items such as announcements, updates and general comments on the conduct of city business.

Doing it this way also provides no opportunity for public comment.

So what you wouldn’t expect is use of “Reports” to introduce a major initiative as if it were a routine progress report on a course of action already publicly approved. Yet that appears to be what happened. I’ve talked to at least a half-dozen fellow city watchers and nobody remembers any public discussion of in-house adjudication. It’s also not on any city agenda posted this year that I can find.

Where this item actually belonged, then, was “New Business,” with its own subject line and its own explanatory memo stuffed into the backup packet. People actually do skim city agendas to find and research items of importance, and in this case they couldn’t because it wasn’t there.

I have no firm idea why they did it this way, but transparency it ain’t. Continue reading The hidden agenda item

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

Cindy and Ed Must Be Part of Voters’ Conversations about County Tax Referendum

***Note: This was originally published in June 2016. I am posting an updated version today, since the referendum ended up on the April 4, 2017 ballot instead of last November’s.***

The DeKalb County Health Department is trying to persuade our county board to place a referendum on the November election ballot to begin levying a property tax specifically for health services.

If this referendum does appear on the ballot, the most pressing questions for voters must include evaluation of needs, and of DeKalb County’s stewardship of our money.

Turns out, I have an example related to the latter for you to consider. Let me introduce you to Cindy and Ed. Continue reading Cindy and Ed Must Be Part of Voters’ Conversations about County Tax Referendum

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