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Far be it from me to tell Rockford residents what to do, but may I point out that ordinances can be repealed.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

This Election, Let’s Discuss Remedial Action for DeKalb

The Chronicle has published a letter to the editor that caught my eye. It’s about local candidates and their positions on the issues.

The words that they use may change, but the rhetoric is the same.

The writer goes on to list the same old, same old: DeKalb-NIU relations, easing of the tax burden, and jobs/business climate. He wants to hear specific ideas.

While I largely agree that some city candidates are hard to pin down, I believe the real issues in DeKalb are more fundamental, and require remediation before we can progress.

Here’s an example from Sunday. I attended the DARA forum for DeKalb mayoral candidates. One of the candidates took the position, in what struck me as a somewhat scolding tone, that residents should not share grievances unless they have the solutions already worked out. Apparently this person has already adopted city hall culture where citizens are separated into friends who have their attention, and whiners who don’t. Continue reading This Election, Let’s Discuss Remedial Action for DeKalb

Barb City Action Committee & TIF

There are honest people of good faith who belong to the Barb City Action Committee. There really are.

However, it makes good sense to try to tease out the motives for any organized political action, especially one that launched itself out of nowhere and appears to have “shadow” members as well.

Recently I donned my thinking cap, closed my eyes, and envisioned a pack of jackals snarling at each other over the remnants of a carcass. This is the image that occurs whenever I think about TIF projects being pushed for approval by the DeKalb city council as the TIF districts approach expiration.

I think I’m onto something. Continue reading Barb City Action Committee & TIF

DeKalb Candidates’ Websites

Here are the websites I’ve collected so far for the candidates running for City of DeKalb offices and District 428 school board positions. Election Day is April 4 (not counting all of your early voting opportunities).

DeKalb Mayor:

Michael Embrey: Embrey for Mayor

Misty Haji-Sheikh: Citizens for Misty

Jerry Smith: Jerry for DeKalb

DeKalb City Council

Michael “Max” Maxwell, 6th Ward: Max for 6th

Mike Verbic, 6th Ward: Verbic for DeKalb

District 428 Board

Scott Campbell: Fix 428

Valeria Pena-Hernandez: Unify 428

Not a Trained Seal

It has come to my attention that I am being misrepresented as playing a role in a local political campaign.

I am not working for any candidate. No one has solicited my support. As of today, nobody’s even asked for my vote.

Don’t get me wrong. Every once in a while, a bright light manages to penetrate the slimy murk that comprises DeKalb politics. I’ve supported candidates in the past (and surely will again) and I reserve the right to endorse people at any time.

But so far, I’ve done neither.