Chronicle Crossed Off of You-Know-What List

For today, anyway. [wink]

DeKalb City Council members are considering revising financial policy after it was disclosed that 3rd Ward Alderman Victor Wogen’s company was awarded six contracts totaling $52,000 in 2008. Currently there are no restrictions or requirements for disclosure on city officials winning contracts for public projects. The city is considering creating a more transparent process.

Rochelle follows similar guidelines as DeKalb when it comes to spending authority. Expenditures under $20,000 – such as those awarded to Wogen’s company – can be approved by the city manager without city council action.

But Rochelle’s city manager purposefully discloses aldermanic business ties with the city to other officeholders to avoid an appearance of conflict of interest.

“Part of my responsibility is to make sure they’re aware of it,” [Rochelle City Manager Ken] Alberts said.

Well done, Chronicle.

Update 9:40 a.m.: Links to the latest at DeKalb County Online, Wogen Watch and Northern Star.

Corn Fest Gives Back

GuideStar is great for researching charities and, if they pass muster, donating to them on-site. It’s a gathering place for data on other nonprofit organizations, too — apparently for any that file IRS Form 990, which is marked “Open to Public Inspection.”

One I looked over recently is DeKalb Corn Fest, Inc., a group that continually gets a bad rap. There are several reasons for this — totally my personal opinion, based on observation — starting with the mistaken but widespread notion that Corn Fest is a city committee spending taxpayers’ money. Tied to that is the expense of participating as a vendor. Then there’s the perception of a takeover by the unpopular ReNew DeKalb, as well as an old buildup of resentment over one or two former members who reputedly had what I call “bulldozer” personalities.

At any rate, if you’ve ever wondered where the money goes, you can register with GuideStar and read three years’ worth of DCF 990s. Check out the administrative expenses and the grants made to local charitable organizations, which is part of its mission. It may change how you think about the Corn Fest group.

P.E.T. Does It. Why Won’t ReNew?

Last week I submitted a FOIA request to the City of DeKalb to review meeting minutes from the Preservation of the Egyptian Theater (P.E.T.) organization. Today I stopped by the Municipal Building to pick up two years’ worth, which translated to minutes of 17 meetings. Such accessibility is made possible by a provision of P.E.T.’s contract with the City of DeKalb (p. 242):

F. SUBMISSION OF ANNUAL BUDGET, AUDITOR’S REPORT & MEETING MINUTES: P.E.T. shall submit a copy of their most recent annual budget, Auditor’s Report, and copies of any board meeting minutes of any meeting where the receipt or use of City funding is discussed or acted upon, within thirty days of the approval of such documents.

P.E.T. hereby certifies it shall comply with the Open Meetings Act when the receipt or use of City funding is discussed or acted upon.

You may recall that I also submitted a FOIA request for ReNew DeKalb meeting minutes from the past two years because ReNew has the same clause in its contract with the City, and when doesn’t ReNew talk about use of City money? –but, even after an appeal, they are not forthcoming.

Some follow the rules while others flout them.

Thanks, P.E.T., for choosing the former.

City Clerk Implementing New FOIA Standards Now

The new Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) legislation has an effective date of January 2010, but DeKalb’s Office of the City Clerk will not not wait until then to begin implementing policy and procedural changes in fulfilling FOIA requests.

In fact, at least two changes — that of charging for copies of documents only after the first 50 pages, and charging .15 per page copied — have already been made by the office on an informal basis, according to Steve Kapitan, who has been working as Clerk for about three months. The old practice was to begin charging for copies after the first 15 pages, he said.

“Now that the law has been signed I will be changing the policy formally, including making a change on the FOIA forms in the office and on the web site,” said Kapitan, who also stated an intention to calculate and charge the exact cost of copying. Continue reading City Clerk Implementing New FOIA Standards Now

Almost-Live Blog for Council Meeting

Alderman Teresinski has been reporting on happenings in his ward and did so again tonight. What a novel and refreshing use of Agenda Item L, Reports & Communications. He gets points for that.

I was disappointed that my own alderman, Mr. Gallagher, had nothing to say about last week’s Economic Development Committee meeting since almost half of it was about the deterioration of South 4th Street. IMO he is too much the Re:New DeKalb cheerleader and not hooked enough into his own ward. A ward committee would be just the ticket, don’t you think?

Three months after it is issued, the EPI report finally makes an agenda! Having meetings devoted to its recommendations is a good start, though trying to pretend that public input has been valued in the past is bogus. “Squeaky wheel.” “Only complainers come to meetings.” But I am open to a new start. Put an EPI forum on the city’s website and you can color me impressed. Continue reading Almost-Live Blog for Council Meeting

DAWC Update

This is a bit late but I was just reading the latest DeKalb Area Women’s Center newsletter and suddenly couldn’t stand not letting you know what happened with DAWC. I’m late because some of the group involved in helping clear the fallen chimney bricks off the roof and out of the garden are quite reluctant to have any sort of deal made of them. OK, so I just won’t name names of the neighbors who dedicated several hours of a beautiful Saturday to the job of making DAWC safer and more attractive. Hats off to these modest folks in whom the spirit of community resides.

[UPDATE 9/20: I am so glad now to have received permission from Ivan Krpan to mention his involvement in the project, because 1) without his amazing machine the roof could not have been cleared, and 2) we should recognize people’s following through on their promises wherever we can. Woot! Woot!]

A Shout Out for Transparency

Perhaps as soon as next month, College of DuPage will begin posting employees’ salaries:

Depending on whom you ask, that is either the epitome of open government or the end of privacy and safety.

“This does not make us transparent,” COD Trustee Kathy Wessel said, adding the proposal was “vindictive” and served no “practical purpose.”

On the other end of the spectrum at Monday night’s board of trustees meeting was the newest member, Kory Atkinson, who advocated posting all salaries.

“As a recipient of public funds, there is a certain amount of compromise for privacy,” Atkinson said.

The issue arose when Elmhurst resident Adam Andrzejewski asked the board to release all employees’ salaries on behalf of the organization he formed, ForTheGoodOfIllinois. Org. He said it’s his mission to push for greater transparency by public agencies.

Salaries, he said, are about 70 percent of COD’s budget, which is why taxpayers have a right to see them.

We’ve written about and Mr. Andrzejewski before (here and here). He’s one who’s had great things to say about the City of DeKalb’s publishing its check register.

Again, here’s the link to the Daily Herald story in case you want to join me in leaving a comment there.

Honor Roll: DeKalb Police

Whew, good thing I added that “Honor Roll” category the other day:

DeKalb Police Chief Bill Feithen informed staff at the Daily Chronicle this week about the arrest of a DeKalb Police officer and subsequent disciplinary actions taken. The officer was charged with driving under the influence Aug. 10 by Illinois State Police officers, who were called to a two-vehicle accident when responding DeKalb Police officers found an off-duty officer was involved with the accident. Police departments cannot investigate their own officers, which is why the state police were called in. The willingness to be open about affairs within a department says a great deal about the DeKalb Police Department’s commitment to the community, even if it draws criticism.

Criticism?! For what, failing to hire teetotalers? Please. They followed the book even when it was one of their own, then were completely open about it. All city departments should operate this way.