Public officials’ ill-advised campaign contributions

We’ve talked about ethics issues and Bill Nicklas before, in the context of his outside employment, which — shamefully — the city council has so far failed to address.

Now we see Mr. Nicklas, DeKalb city manager since the beginning of 2019, has been making political contributions to Illinois Representative Jeff Keicher.


(“Report Received Date” of 9/9/2021 for both itemized contributions reflect dates of amended reports following discovery of an old error.)

Campaign contributions are prohibited by the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) to avoid undermining public confidence in administrators.

Elections. Members share with their fellow citizens the right and responsibility to vote. However, in order not to impair their effectiveness on behalf of the local governments they serve, they shall not participate in political activities to support the candidacy of individuals running for any city, county, special district, school, state or federal offices. Specifically, they shall not endorse candidates, make financial contributions, sign or circulate petitions, or participate in fund-raising activities for individuals seeking or holding elected office.

Tenet 7 Guidelines of the ICMA Code of Ethics

The city manager has said publicly that City of DeKalb does pay dues to Illinois ICMA, which has adopted ICMA Ethics Code in full. Clearly, this is a total waste of money.

For his part, Rep. Keicher evidently knows a good “give and take” when he sees one. He transferred funds from his campaign committee to Cohen Barnes’ mayoral campaign committee. Rep. Tom Demmer did so, too. This is unusual in that state reps who are Republicans normally endorse and contribute to other Republicans. Mayor Barnes ran as an independent, got support from prominent state-level GOP, and the third piece is some DeKalb County Democrats thought they were helping a Democrat in supporting him, judging by a discussion in our Facebook group. That’s quite a con.

Continue reading Public officials’ ill-advised campaign contributions

A case for redistricting DeKalb from scratch

DeKalb’s recipe for seven wards and seven aldermen is not written in stone, and it hasn’t always looked like this. For example, the city used to have at-large aldermen. We can change it again if we assemble the political will.

My aim here is to provoke thoughts about alternatives as DeKalb discusses redistricting work post-Census. The council does not have to accept the current proposal from city management, which perpetuates issues we have with participation and representation.

Argument 1: Voter Engagement

I would support trimming the number of wards. Three of our seven wards experience extremely low nonfederal election turnout, the factors a mixture of high student population, lowered overall population, and continued growth of voter apathy. (In this discussion I’m leaving out issues only the state can fix, such as schedules of local elections.) Here are the total ballots cast in the last local elections taking place in the low-turnout wards:

Ward One (2019): 219

Ward Six (2021): 156

Ward Seven (2019): 45

Mind you, while Ward Seven is the smallest ward currently, it has a population of more than 4,100 people. So we’re looking at 1% turnout, on its face an indictment of the way things are done.

Ballots cast in the other four wards in their last elections ranged from 467 to 914 votes. There are consequences attached to this contrast between lower-turnout wards versus higher-turnout wards. For example, would-be candidates of lower-turnouts will have to get 3-11 voter signatures on their nominating petitions at minimum, while minimums for higher-turnout wards will be 24-46 signatures.* In some wards, then, a would-be candidate could just about call their own household together to get the required signatures, while other candidates have to walk their wards, at least a little, to gather what they need. Why shouldn’t we expect all candidates to have to walk their wards?

An even more important difference between the lower-turnout wards and higher-turnout wards is that the lower-turnouts tend not to have contested races, but the higher-turnouts do — this is a long-term trend and 100% true of the last two city elections. If we want to increase contested races, there has to be some effort put into increasing engaged populations. Fewer wards mean higher populations in each and automatically help serve that goal.

Argument 2: Representation

Reducing the number of wards doesn’t necessarily have to mean eliminating representation. DeKalb could go to a smaller number of wards and add an alderman to each. That way, residents have more than one option for contact person, and voters have the opportunity to eliminate an alderman who is a bozo every two years, a step that can’t hurt morale and might improve it.

Continue reading A case for redistricting DeKalb from scratch

DeKalb Township, that ship has sailed

DeKalb Township has begun posting its meetings on YouTube.

In this video from Wednesday night, the township spends the first 20 minutes of its monthly meeting trying to put new township clerk Andrew Tillotson in his place for exercising his First Amendment rights.

Trustees express concern about how the new township clerk’s public comments might affect the township’s image.

Hilarious. This is the same township that pulled shenanigans to try to keep its supervisor in place even after she moved out of the area. This is the same township that bullied the last township clerk out of office in order to boot a candidate off the April ballot. This is the same township that claims the reason it stopped posting agenda backup material online for the public is because it doesn’t have enough room on the server — a lie.

So, relax about your reputation, DeKalb Township. Clerk Tillotson can’t hurt it any more than you already have yourselves.

DeKalb Township Board Meeting, September 8, 2021

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Who gets my vote for mayor and why

Mayor Jerry Smith stood by while other city officials threatened, without cause, the imminent eviction of residents from their homes above Lord Stanley’s.

Mayor Jerry Smith stood by as his city manager heaped insults and threats upon me and defamed me during council meetings.

Mayor Jerry Smith has just endorsed Cohen Barnes for mayor. How is that credible? Mayor Smith has rarely acted in a way that shows he understands the mayor’s role as champion of all the people. Former DeKalb Alderman David Jacobson was the one who showed up at Lord Stanley’s to talk to worried residents. Current DeKalb Alderman Carolyn Morris was the one who defended me against a smear campaign in an illegal closed session that excluded me – and then she defended DeKalb voters by voting to save the clerk’s office from malicious destruction.

Continue reading Who gets my vote for mayor and why

Rockford aldermen promising to control themselves if voters give back home rule

***Update 3/21/2018: Home rule was rejected by nearly 54% of Rockford voters.***

Let’s start by reviewing what almost happened here a couple months ago. The city manager in DeKalb decided she wanted to raise the sales tax, claiming complete inability to balance a budget without it.

Having the highest sales tax around is not the greatest business move, but despite financial consultants’ adamant warnings against it, city administrators sold it hard. If we hadn’t turned over a couple of staff-compliant electeds in last spring’s elections, the measure likely would have passed.

And your instincts surely tell you that, if DeKalb lost home rule powers and had to go to referendum to invent or raise a tax, it just might discourage bureaucrats and legislators from floating the idea every time they want a new toy.

Home rule in DeKalb can be exhausting.

City of Rockford had home rule at one time, but the residents took it away 35 years ago. Rockford aldermen are now asking voters to give them another chance, by passing ordinances that limit their own powers. Here’s an example:

Among the self-limiting ordinances approved was one that has raised significant concern — that leaders would have the power as a home-rule authority to raise property taxes at will, behind closed doors, or as high as they wish without voter approval. Under the ordinance, taxes cannot exceed the non-home rule limit established under the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law (PTELL).

Far be it from me to tell Rockford residents what to do, but may I point out that ordinances can be repealed. Let’s say voters pass home rule. Probably the current council would abide by them, but what would stop a future council from reversing these actions?

Depending upon its collective capacity for shame, the answer would range from “not much” to “nothing.”

What we need in DeKalb is a new political party

Last year I looked into the type of municipal elections we have here in City of DeKalb, and learned that we technically have partisan elections, though we do not actually exercise the right to have parties and primaries.

The idea’s been stuck in the back of my mind ever since. Now I’ve written about it, and placed the post at DeKalb County Online. Hope you’ll give it a look.

Contributions to Mayor Rey’s Campaign

A few weeks ago I argued that City of DeKalb will continue to fail at solving its problems until we elect leaders who understand and value public ethics.

The apparent intertwining of city business with Mayor Rey’s campaign business reinforces my position.

January 9: DeKalb city council approves the hiring of a consultant to help with asset management of city streets and related infrastructure.

February 6: Rey’s campaign committee files a Statement of Organization with the Illinois State Board of Elections. It indicates funds available in the amount of $1,211.80. Reported on the same date is Rey’s contribution of $5,000 to his campaign.

February 15: Rey’s campaign committee reports that John Pappas has contributed $1,000 to Rey’s campaign.

February 26: In response to a question from the audience, Rey announces at a candidates’ forum that his campaign has raised about $10,000 so far.

February 27: Rey’s committee reports that International Union Of Operating Engineers Local 150 has contributed $1,000 to Rey’s campaign. Many operating engineers build roads.

February 27: DeKalb city council approves rezoning for the Cornerstone development at First and Lincoln. The principal developer is John Pappas. The deal will include $3 million in public money for the project.

March 3: Rey’s committee reports that Oakland & Sycamore Road Development LLC has contributed $2,500 to Rey’s campaign. John Pappas is named as agent and manager.

March 15: Daily Chronicle interviews City of DeKalb public works director Tim Holdeman, who describes the department’s development of a pavement management program that may recommend the city spend $5-$9 million per year on its streets.

I’m sure none of this is illegal in Illinois, but it smells of pay-to-play, a game a lot of us don’t like.

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