Hey, District 428: First things first!

The Daily Chronicle reports today that DeKalb School District is considering hiring a Communications Director (translation: PR person).

DeKALB – It’s hard to imagine a multimillion-dollar corporation without a communications director.

But that’s just what the DeKalb School District is, said Northern Illinois University professor of communications Steve Ralston.

On Tuesday, Ralston talked to the school board about creating a communications plan for the district. District officials have said the district wants to provide more information to the public about the school district, and the best way to do it is to hire a person to oversee that on a daily basis. The board has debated hiring an individual or a public relations firm.

So, they want to hire an expert to say nice things about the schools and pay him/her $100,000 per year.

Here’s what the Northern Star had to say about our high school recently:

While racial tension at DeKalb High School has been a hot conversation topic, DHS students find the school’s cleanliness is the real issue.

Last fall, a survey conducted by the Stearnes Group showed students felt the need for more respect for certain groups, including racial and sexual orientation groups. ..Respect problems aside, [DHS principal Lindsey] Hall said the survey showed the high school has a bigger issue.

“The item that came out as the biggest problem is that the school is not clean,” Hall said.

Think about how bad it’s got to be if the teenagers are noticing it–and “not clean” may be an understatement. A DHS student who lives in my neighborhood has told me about mold in the band room and rickety stairs. Seems to me that if they can cough up $100k for more personnel, it should go toward maintenance staff and repairs.

Mr. Speaker Who Do You Think You’re Fooling?

Our 14th District Representative and Speaker of the House, J. Dennis Hastert, must think his constituents are asleep or fools.

On March 14th he accepts a $5,000 campaign contribution from Exxon. Then on April 26th, the Washington Post reported Mr. Hastert was leading the GOP congress in blocking legislation that would have raised the taxes on the oil companies’ huge profits. On April 27th Congress Daily reported that Speaker Hastert was one of the Top Ten recipients of campaign contributions from oil companies. So far in the 2005-2006 election cycle the FEC reports that Hastert has received a total of $92,000 from oil and gas corporations.

Next on April 28th he tried to cover his backroom actions with a public news conference in front of a Washington gas station with plenty of photographers he tried to convince America that the House of Representatives were going to get tough on those gasoline companies and set aside money for alternatives to gasoline. To dispell any doubters he then drove off in a hydrogen powered car, only to stop a few blocks away from the cameras to get out of the hydrogen car and climb into his GMC SUV, according to an AP photograph.

And if we weren’t already feeling insulted enough by his blatant disregard for our intelligence a few days later on May 3rd he held a closed door meeting with the biggest profiteer of them all-Exxon’s CEO Rex Tillerson. Maybe with the next FEC quarterly report we’ll see how big his payoff was from Exxon.

This has to be the year we stop Hastert. Enough is enough.

About that night-light on Route 88

Today’s Chicago Tribune front-paged a story about a Hillside Landfill that is leaking landfill gas (LFG), which is about 50% methane. Methane, you may recall, is one of the so-called greenhouse gases so the EPA generally frowns on its escape from any source other than livestock (and even that’s only true up to a point.) It is flammable and can give you headaches and nausea.

“It’s the worst odor I’ve ever smelled. I’ve smelled dead bodies–I spent a year in Vietnam–and this is worse,” says [Joe] Tamburino, Hillside’s village president. “Once this gets in your home, it gets in your clothes. You can’t open your window to get rid of the odor because it’s worse outside.”

Continue reading About that night-light on Route 88

National Citizen Survey: DeKalb may be a college town.

Yep, DeKalb did another survey last fall, this time the National Citizen Survey administered by the National Research Center at the University of Colorado. About 400 towns, cities and other jurisdictions take the same survey each year, so we not only have ratings given by our own residents but can see how DeKalb stacks up to the other participating communities when it comes to delivering city services and responding to the major issues we face.

What you’ll find here first is a quick overview of the survey methodology as well as a summary of some of the results. (Quotes come from the NCS 2006 Summary Report and/or the Staff Summary prepared for the 2/20/2006 city council workshop unless otherwise noted.) Then I’ll re-visit the DeKalb “identity crisis” issue and the downtown revitalization plan in terms of the Survey results.
Continue reading National Citizen Survey: DeKalb may be a college town.

Growth Summit: The Survey

Last year, the DeKalb City Council decided not to cancel its Dec. 19 workshop meeting for the holidays. Instead, they discussed issues that had arisen with the Keating brouhaha-ha project to decide if they should make changes to industrial development policy.

The motives were the best, but you can see from the minutes that they in fact decided nothing. At one point Mayor Van Buer asked the council not to get bogged down in details, but to think out 20-30 years ahead in order to formulate policy. If another train hadn’t come by, I swear you would have heard crickets chirping. The silence was stunning.

It’s obvious that DeKalb is having trouble with envisioning its future. This is not new, and seems to stem from a lack of strong identity. As I was reviewing Growth Summit material, I came across this tidbit from a Regional Planning Commission Meeting in 2003:

Mr. Nicklas asked if DeKalb had come any closer to being able to define and articulate what they want to look like and how they see themselves. Mr. Rasmussen [DeKalb Community Development Dept., also member of the Planning Commission] noted that the City was still extremely conflicted in this respect, having only recently (within the past 2 years) come to accept itself as a college town. He went on to add that in all his previous experiences, the towns he dealt with had a clear view of who they wanted to be. DeKalb, however, continues to be fragmented in its self-image. Mr. Nicklas asked how DeKalb was addressing the question, noting that he had never seen it addressed in a public venue. Mr. Rasmussen responded that the City had recently hired NIU to conduct a survey of a random group of DeKalb citizens to see if some pattern could be developed. Because this will be handled scientifically, it should shed some light on real feelings about growth and identity.

So this is why the Council approved $7,000 for a citizen survey to supplement the input of the Summit Committee members. But did it yield any useful information? Let’s look.
Continue reading Growth Summit: The Survey

Smoking in DeKalb

I have heard a lot of arguments against smoking bans in general. As an X-smoker I can relate to them in some ways. This even gets more accentuated considering I believe a smaller government is a better government. Where does the government get off telling me where and when I can smoke (or not in this case)? It gets off with the idea for the same reason I can’t spray bug spray in folk’s face. Cigarette smoke has been proven toxic, in lots of ways. It should be restricted in public places. Places such as restaurants and bars. I know, I know… as customers, if we can’t stand the smoke, we can leave the premises and find a place that doesn’t allow smoking. Wait! This works for the customers but what about the workers? Jobs don’t come easy for a lot of folks. I’m sure a lot of the people working in the bars and restaurants would love to work in a non-smoking environment but low and behold, the jobs are scarce!

Now I ask you, do the workers in bars and restaurants not deserve the same protection to their health that you do in your workplace? Have you not noticed that you cannot smoke in your office, store or (as so popular here in DeKalb) your warehouse? This is because there are laws protecting your health in those industries. I think it’s time to extend that same protection to everybody.

Now for all of you who say it will kill the industry. I doubt it will. First, folks will still want to eat and drink. Some may go to other cities where they can smoke, but most will probably just take the path of least resistance.

A second line of thought for those bars that insist on allowing smoking. Have you not noticed private clubs are exempt from the law? I remember Addison Tx. (I think that’s the city) had some silly rule about serving alcohol except to club members. So the restaurants simply became clubs and charge a couple of dollars each year for membership dues. I can see this as a possible solution. Become a private club! Charge dues, make folks fill out a simple membership form and away you go. Of course, we still have that nasty worker situation. If they paid their dues (maybe coerced), but they get paid, are they members or workers?

Food for thought. This is a hard issue with many sides and arguments. I’m interested in hearing some more arguments on both sides. Please don’t spew the stats. We all know the poisons that smoke has and all of the diseases it causes. Lets discuss this on the rational of individual rights, majority rule, politics and other fun angles.


Warehousing, dissecting the arguments for making it DeKalb’s premier industry

I find this whole argument over warehousing quite interesting. From the one side you have those who believe DeKalb can do better than this for its industrial base. For reference, I lean towards this side. There are others who believe that warehousing is the only industry we should seek out.

There have been several arguments for making warehousing our primary industry. The predominant arguments I have heard are, “We need the low end jobs for unskilled workers”, “There are no more manufacturing jobs in the USA, only warehousing”, “Our schools need the funding”, “High tech and other commercial industries bring in workers from the outside who ultimately burden our city and schools”, last but not least, “Any job is a good job and we need the jobs”.

I think we would be wise to analyze these arguments. They all have elements of truth to them. They also ignore important elements of truth.

‘We need the low end jobs for unskilled workers”

It is true, we need jobs for unskilled workers. On the other hand, not all of the residents here are unskilled. The DeKalb population base is blessed with all sorts of skill sets and as a university town, we have a fresh supply workers being produced with skills encompassing many industries. We should consider ways to give the unskilled of the community good marketable skills. Being of a conservative slant, I think programs for this should not only come from the government but also from the business community and social groups as well. Because a person is unskilled, it doesn’t mean they can’t learn a skill. Most people only need to be given the opportunity. I was fortunate that my town, Reading Pa., had a Vo-Tech school where I spent half of each day in High school learning about electronics. There were many fields to choose from, auto mechanics, cosmetology, data processing etc. By the time I graduated from high school I had enough of a skill set to get my first real job as an production technician testing and fixing boards for televisions. It wasn’t much of a skill but I was able to build on it. I’m sure there are plenty of students in the DeKalb High School who, if given a similar opportunity, will be able to become anything they can dream of being.

“There are no more manufacturing jobs in the USA, only warehousing”

The number of manufacturing jobs is ever shrinking in the US as a whole. I’m not sure what the solution to this is, except that we, as a nation, need to fix this. We need to learn new skills and come up with new ideas that we can export to the rest of world for us to keep the standard of living we’ve come used to having. Building our nation up with jobs in an industry that is totally dependent on the US consumer will ultimately kill our towns as well as the nation as a whole. If we do not produce something the rest of the world wants and is willing to pay for, we won’t have any ‘currency’ to pay for all of those cheap imports we demand. This of course spurs an entirely different argument, one which this article is not about. Suffice it to say, we should not put all of our eggs in such a fragile basket.

“Our schools need the funding”

Our schools do need the funding. Warehousing does bring in tax revenues and they do not have many jobs per square foot which keeps the burden on the schools to a minimum. Sadly, from my understanding, the taxes they pay are on the low end of the tax scale. Other industries pay much higher taxes. Warehouses are full of things and have a small number of people moving those things about. Offices have a larger number of people per square foot, and they push very few things around, mostly money and ideas. This naturally means more residents and more kids in our schools. Of course they pay higher taxes to offset this. This flows right into the next argument given.

“High tech and other commercial industries bring in workers from the outside who ultimately burden our city and schools”

Other industries, such as high tech and financial, do bring in workers from outside of the community. So what? We can pretty much expect the population of DeKalb to grow even if we didn’t have one new job to offer. I believe it is estimated that the population of the city is expected to reach 50,000 by 2010 or maybe it was 2015. The time frame is not as important as the estimate of growth. With or without industry, warehousing or otherwise, our population will grow creating additional burdens on our city’s services and our schools. Wake up folks! Look around! New homes are being built left and right. The only reason we had a slow down was because the city council invoked a moratorium on new homes until they could solve how to pay for the additional services that they would need. This is without even attracting many new industries here lately. I don’t think the Walmart and other stores on 23 nor did the Target attract all of these homes. DeKalb is a good place to live! It is now closer to civilization than it ever has been in the past. The population base of Northern Illinois will continue it’s march westward. More people will move into DeKalb! Does it not make sense we should have a good mix of industries in our community so the existing residents as well as these new residents can work and spend their money close to home? Why should I go spend my lunch money in Naperville? Why should I have to spend $200.00 or more each month in gas driving over to DuPage county instead of spending that money here in DeKalb?

“Any job is a good job and we need the jobs”

I’m a firm believer that no job is bad. If you work hard, and do a good job as a fork lift driver, or whatever job it is you have, you can be proud of your work. There is no shame in any work. My contention is is that it is bad for a town to have only one industry. Evidence for this can be seen all over the country. A town thrives until it’s industry leaves or goes bust, then most of the town is unemployed and the town then dies or it takes years for it to recover. DeKalb needs a good mix of industry. We already have a number of warehouses large and small. It is time to look to other industries.

I believe the real argument for warehousing is…

In my opinion, the real reason for making warehousing the industry of choice for DeKalb is plain laziness. Face it, thanks to our location, the people in charge of finding new industry for our city and county can just sit on their hands and wait for the next logistics center to come. These people would have to create a marketing plan and find creative ways to espouse the virtues of DeKalb and it’s surrounding areas if they want to get other industries into DeKalb. Why work when you don’t have to? Why spend the time searching and coming up with ideas for attracting other industries when the logistic industry just comes calling without little or no effort? Being a lazy person my self, I can relate to this. Being a person who does not settle for mediocrity, I just don’t understand how we let ourselves fall into the trap. The trap these people lay with their half truths and underestimations of DeKalb and its residents! If half of the energy was spent on marketing DeKalb to other industries as spent on justifying why warehouses are the only good solution for DeKalb, we would already have all sorts of industry in town.

To sum this up. DeKalb is a great town. The fact that we are growing and it is estimated that this growth will only increase is the evidence for this. We have a good population base and have a broad skill set. We should capitalize on this and work to find ways to attract various forms of industry, High Tech, financial etc, not just the ones that come easy for us. We all need to work at this! This is not the time for DeKalb, let alone any town in the US, to sit back and just let come what may. We should look back to what made our country great, creativity, innovation and hard work, and apply these to building the DeKalb our children will be proud to call home. The DeKalb where we, our children and our children’s children will have jobs. The DeKalb which will help keep America strong for the next century to come.

Road Impact Fees & Accountability

This is the second of two guest blog articles this week by Mac McIntyre. The most involved of the Smart Growth-DeKalb participants–affectionately tagged (by me) as the Internet Research Commandos–discovered McIntyre’s work last fall when we began attending city meetings and researching logistics issues. We’ve been reading his “Rants & Raves” column at DeKalb County Online ever since.

My question: Will you elaborate on your objections to the road impact fee, & tell me what you believe should happen instead?

My main objection to all impact fees is the devastating effect they have had on affordable workforce housing. The Chicago Metropolis 2020 report, coordinated by the Suburban Mayors Caucus, reports that impact fees are the single largest obstacle in the way of affordable housing.
Continue reading Road Impact Fees & Accountability

Roots of Warehouse Mania

This week a special treat: guest blogger Mac McIntyre, editor of DeKalb County Online magazine. This is the first of two articles of his that will appear here. Mr. McIntyre represents the DeKalb County Building & Development Association and has followed local growth issues for years. During an e-mail discussion of the push to build warehouses on spec to market to prospective tenants, he had this to say about where we got the idea that we should pursue logistics:

Short history story: Shortly after the DCEDC (Roger Hopkin’s group) was formed the DeKalb County Board and NIU paid a national research firm, PHH Farnus, to do an assessment to determine what kind of industrial/commercial development was needed and could be supported in the county. In September of 1989 the results of that study was released to the public. It identified warehousing/logistics as the target industry for DeKalb County on the following basis: 1) DeKalb County has a low unemployment rate, historically, because such a high percentage of our residents are employed by the government. That puts the county at a disadvantage in attracting other types of industries who would need large numbers of employees. 2) Warehousing/logistics jobs generally pay better than food processing and retail jobs so the influx of logistics jobs would create opportunity for increased wages for some of our low-middle income residents without creating a strain on the workforce required by our existing employers. 3) Large warehouses cost a lot of money to build thereby creating a large property tax base to help the schools without creating a burden of too many additional students. And 4) logistics does not use a lot of water or sewer.
Continue reading Roots of Warehouse Mania

City Council Workshop Tonight

The aldermen resisted the temptation to cancel tonight’s meeting & instead will further discuss warehousing and other growth issues.

A Chronicle editorial today says that they should first figure out what went wrong last week that prompted Rockefeller to cancel their monster project.

It’s not a bad idea, I guess, except what do you do? Call them up? They already said they quit us because of the costs associated with the infrastructure improvements. Why not take them at their word? We just aren’t ready for a project of this scope and they eventually realized it would be their dime spent on getting us there.
Continue reading City Council Workshop Tonight