Did the DeKalb County Board Violate the Open Meetings Act?

The new state’s attorney for the county is “reviewing” the following incident:

Election of the chairman was listed on the County Board’s public agenda.

Members, wanting to discuss the contentious subject of who should chair the board after a prearranged agreement fell apart during public discussion at the meeting, first suggested going into recess and heading to separate meeting rooms[…]

Schmack advised the board such a move would be in violation of the Open Meetings Act. Then, County Board members suggested standing at ease to allow an ad-hoc committee to meet, which Schmack also advised against. During the roughly 15-minute ordeal in the public portion of the meeting, board members Paul Stoddard, D-DeKalb, and Charles Foster, R-Shabbona, were in off-microphone discussions with each other.

The board eventually voted to stand at ease and divided into two groups to talk about who they wanted to elect.

The Illinois Senate goes “at ease” sometimes. Here’s an example (PDF p. 29).

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Senate, the hour of 9:20 standard Senate time having arrived, the Committee on Assignments will meet immediately in the President’s Anteroom. Will all the members of the Committee on Assignments please report to the President’s Anteroom immediately? The Senate stands at ease. (at ease)

Here’s another example (see 11:48 update). Clearly, members who are “at ease” are waiting around for the official meeting to reconvene. They are not conducting the people’s business.

Keep in mind as well: not all provisions of the Open Meetings Act apply to the bodies of the General Assembly as they do to local units of Illinois government.

I believe a violation of the OMA probably did occur.

Furthermore, the thrashing about for a loophole when their partisan machinations fell apart does not speak well for either party.

Chronicle Editorial Board Hasn’t Lived Here Very Long

Chronicle staff should live in this county for awhile before commenting on certain issues, such as what one can find today in “Our View: Falling home values a trying trend in county“.

When the housing market was healthy and new homes and businesses were built at a healthy clip, the opposite was true. Property values grew faster than the rate of inflation, property tax rates fell, and along with them, the tax cap led to decreases in annual tax property tax bills.

The person who has seen her property taxes rise on a modest home since 1993, some years by HUNDREDS more, is somewhat irritated to hear the Chronicle try to tell her otherwise.

Still, let’s stick to the facts. Here are the property tax rates and levies for the City of DeKalb* for each tax year since 2000:

2000 – 0.50490, $1,892,659
2001 – 0.52989, $2,121,088
2002 – 0.60566, $2,514,566
2003 – 0.59666, $2,600,088
2004 – 0.60000, $2,738,052
2005 – 0.59302, $3,022,165
2006 – 0.59672, $3,400,147
2007 – 0.60000, $3,742,937
2008 – 0.60000, $3,875,130
2009 – 0.65000, $4,185,457
2010 – 0.68990, $4,196,889
2011 – 0.72052, $4,197,062

Rates never fell during this period. Why? Because tax caps don’t apply to Home Rule communities.

Let’s do another one. Continue reading Chronicle Editorial Board Hasn’t Lived Here Very Long

DeKalb’s Daily Chronicle Trashes the Stop the Mega Dump Group

In “Time to Dump Landfill Protests,” the Chronicle lays out reasons for trashing the efforts of the little people.

Reason 1:

There’s nowhere else for the anti-landfill group to turn short of the Illinois Supreme Court, which might decline to hear the case.

Stop the Mega Dump should quit because the Supremes might reject it? WTH?

Reason 2:

It’s understandable that an expansion that would allow the landfill to accept as many as 2,000 tons of trash a day would be unpopular. At some point, however, the community and the company should be allowed to move forward.

Yeah, like maybe after an attempt at a Supreme Court appeal. What’s the rush, Chronicle?

Reason 3:

The impact of the expansion has not been felt. Waste Management has assured residents that a larger landfill will not endanger their health and safety.

Wow, great show of healthy journalistic skepticism.

More importantly, though, the newspaper is in effect trashing STMD’s contention that the process of approving the expansion was so fundamentally flawed, the threats to public health such as hydrogen sulfide emissions, groundwater contamination and vulnerabilities to seismic activity were never seriously examined and considered. Continue reading DeKalb’s Daily Chronicle Trashes the Stop the Mega Dump Group

A Visit to DeKalb County’s New Website

DeKalb County put its new website online this week.

The county says the overhaul was not made in response to the Illinois Policy Institute’s recent grade of D-, but has been in the works for about a year.

DeKalb County has put lots online for quite some time, but finding it or even getting a real sense of what all is there could be a problem. Continue reading A Visit to DeKalb County’s New Website

Winnebago Forest Preserve District Eliminates Public Safety Job

***Update 1:30 p.m.: Their lips say no, but the timing feels like there’s some piling on.***

**Update 9:45 a.m.: Here’s the latest put up by RRStar. I do NOT agree that WCFPD has a credibility problem (stated at the end of the article). Instead, I’d argue that any credibility problem is Randy Olson’s alone at this point and that WCFPD made all the right moves to set right a trust-busting situation that Olson created.**

To summarize: Former Winnebago Forest Preserve District president Randy Olson created and staffed a new public safety job even though the majority of the commission disapproved of his decisions.

Here is what the other commissioners did about it:

It took some time — and for Olson to actually make the hire — for the board to pick up the additional vote it needed to demote him. The fifth commissioner professed herself a good friend of his but busted him anyway. (Olson still serves, just not as president. It will be interesting to see what the voters say if he runs again.)

Well done, #wcfpd!

Lots of Good FOIA and OMA Action in Winnebago Forest Preserve District

*Update 10:45 p.m.: Olson is out as district president! The story is here. But that’s not all! Find bonus Chuck Sweeney here with free shipping!*

The Rockford Register Star used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain e-mails to and from Winnebago Forest Preserve district president Randy Olson that trace the process of creating a job for a person he evidently likes very much.

Randy Olson plotted for months to give Roscoe cop Theresa Rawaillot a well-paid forest preserve police job, a trail of emails shows.

And when his plans hit roadblocks along the way, he ultimately decided to change the way forest preserves are policed.

The job creation efforts involved bulldozing the district’s executive director as well as ignoring the majority of its board of commissioners.

It may even have violated the Open Meetings Act, and thanks to a complaint made by an concerned citizen, the Attorney General is planning to investigate the allegation.

President Olson remains unrepentant.

Olson has said that commissioners have focused too much on the process to bring Rawaillot on board, which distracts from the goal: to save the district money and improve police presence in the preserves.

At least four of the commissioners do not agree that the ends justify the means, and I’ll bet they hate getting stuck with a police officer who thinks this is OK, too.

Home Rule and the Real Estate Transfer Tax

**Updated July 31 at end of post.**

Believe it or not, there’s at least one limit to Illinois Home Rule! Here’s a post from the blog of the Illinois Association of Realtors:

I was discussing a transaction in the home rule community of West Frankfort. “My client was surprised to learn at closing she had to pay a fee of 1 percent of the sale price to the city—which meant $1,200 out of her pocket,” the REALTOR® said.

Surprised by the transfer tax, I began researching the history of the real estate transfer tax. The Village of West Frankfort passed a referendum in 2006 making it a home rule community. In 2008, citing their home rule status, the council passed an ordinance creating a transfer fee on the transfer of leases surrounding the city-owned lake. Illinois Association of REALTORS® (IAR) Legal Counsel found that under state law before they implement a transfer tax, the question must be put on the ballot for referendum for voters to decide.

The IAR reportedly wrote a letter to the City of West Frankfort explaining this and now awaits a reply.

I’m pretty sure that if the tax were legal without a referendum, the City of DeKalb would be collecting it already. Continue reading Home Rule and the Real Estate Transfer Tax

Farmers & Traders State Bank in Shabbona Has Closed

[Updated with Deposit Insurance Fund info @ 1:40 p.m.]

…and one of its former officers is a DeKalb County official.

From an FDIC release yesterday:

Farmers and Traders State Bank, Shabbona, Illinois, was closed today by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, which appointed the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) as receiver. To protect the depositors, the FDIC entered into a purchase and assumption agreement with First State Bank, Mendota, Illinois, to assume all of the deposits of Farmers and Traders State Bank.

The two branches of Farmers and Traders State Bank will reopen on Saturday as branches of First State Bank. Depositors of Farmers and Traders State Bank will automatically become depositors of First State Bank. Deposits will continue to be insured by the FDIC, so there is no need for customers to change their banking relationship in order to retain their deposit insurance coverage up to applicable limits.

The FDIC estimates that the cost to the Deposit Insurance Fund (DIF) will be $8.9 million. Compared to other alternatives, First State Bank’s acquisition was the least costly resolution for the FDIC’s DIF.

You heard it here (and perhaps only here) that FTSB accepted a consent order from FDIC last summer in response to charges of “unsafe or unsound banking practices and violations of law, rule, or regulation related to its Compliance Management System alleged to have been committed by the Bank.”

Yes, the Chronicle published from the same release this morning, but what they missed — and what I missed before — was Mark Todd. The Mark Todd who was appointed last year and has been serving as DeKalb County treasurer is the same Mark Todd who left his position as vice-president of Farmers and Traders State Bank just a few months before the bank got into trouble with regulators.

And the same Mark Todd is now running for a term as county treasurer, and so far is running unopposed. Terrific.

Public Corruption Might Possibly Exist in DeKalb County, and if It Does, the State’s Attorney is On It

Back when I first worked in developmental disabilities (DD) adult services, it was very well known that abuse and neglect of persons with disabilities occurred only in Chicago and just couldn’t, and didn’t, ever happen in DeKalb County.

But of course abuse and neglect actually can happen anywhere; and when we finally got around to admitting it, we began doing something about it WHEN, not IF, it occurred.

Same deal with public corruption. “We’re not Chicago” is not going to cut it anymore. State’s Attorney Clay Campbell must sense this, because he has begun a “proactive” anti-corruption initiative. It has arrived conveniently close to the date of the primary elections and he is trying to play both sides, but for the moment I care little about this because Campbell, with one presentation, has pulled the topic into mainstream public discourse.

Lots more at DeKalb County Online.

Total Property Tax Rates in DeKalb County, City

Here are some property tax numbers expressed as dollars per $100 of assessed valuation. The DeKalb County averages come from this state site, the city’s from my own tax bills.

[table id=40 /]

Other 2009 Property Tax Rate Averages
Statewide — 6.43
Cook County — 5.89
Collar Counties — 6.47
Rest of State — 7.71

Highest: Alexander County — 11.38
Lowest: DuPage County — 5.58

[Added 10/19] Aggregate Property Tax Rate, 2009, City of Sycamore — 7.78