The Hooplah in Elmhurst

hooplah buttonsSometimes it helps perspective to check out what other communities are doing. DeKalb’s not the only municipality with code enforcement that sometimes looks inconsistent or arbitrary. I’ve been following such a story in Elmhurst for more than a year.

A documentary about the Elmhurst controversy is titled “Hooplah” and residents have adopted the same name for their activities, which primarily involve support for a hoop house ordinance but also end up contributing to the larger cause of good governance.

A hoop house is a passive-solar sheltering structure that helps a gardener extend a growing season. It functions kind of like a greenhouse, except that it is a temporary structure that does not have a foundation, and uses flexible plastic sheeting over plastic or metal “hoops” instead of rigid walls.

nicoles hoop house

Here are two examples of hoop houses. The one above is gone, because City of Elmhurst made the owners take it down after a couple of months. The one below, also in Elmhurst, has reportedly stayed put continuously for 10 years. What’s the difference: size, anchorage, lot coverage? Nobody knows. Guidelines and requirements don’t exist — not yet anyway.

a neighbors permanent hoop house

Hooplah started when Nicole Virgil and her family decided to take their raised-bed organic gardening to the next level by growing as close to year-round as possible. The plan involved assembling a hoop house in the fall and taking it down in the spring. It is something they assumed was an accessory structure to gardening as is, say, a shed. But then a neighbor complained about it, and City of Elmhurst forced the Virgils to take it down in February 2017. Continue reading The Hooplah in Elmhurst

Prevailing wage verification is up to us

Perhaps you’ve seen the big inflatable rat downtown, or read the article published by the Daily Chronicle that explained the current union protest of John Pappas’ hiring of nonunion painters to finish the Cornerstone development project.

The reporter didn’t say whether he confirmed nonunion hires, though the union seems sure. Legally there’s nothing wrong with hiring nonunion, as long as the developer pays prevailing wage since he is receiving public money for the project.

A rep for the union has told me they are looking into potential prevailing wage issues.

To be clear, if Mr. Pappas is using nonunion labor, it doesn’t automatically mean he is not paying the workers prevailing wage. However, since hiring nonunion is one way to save money, to me it’s a good enough reason to verify the payroll. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, we have three million reasons, the amount of the TIF development incentive, to verify that Mr. Pappas is satisfying the conditions of his contract with City of DeKalb.

Just don’t ask the city to check up on him. Continue reading Prevailing wage verification is up to us

Will DeKalb learn from the departure of Tinez Tacos?

tinez tacos in maltaLast weekend I found out that the owners of the Tinez Tacos food truck have worked out a parking spot in Malta, and will serve from 11am to 7pm weekdays this summer at Hickey’s Corner Store.

If comments at the City Barbs Facebook group are any indication, residents of DeKalb wish them well in their new location. They’ve obviously picked up local goodwill.

City of DeKalb, though, not so much.

If you haven’t been following this story, it’s about the Tinez folks’ mobilizing toward more affordable options, since DeKalb charges monthly license fees that bear no relation to reasonable administrative costs. The city also collects sales taxes — our home-ruled restaurant/bar tax pushes taxes to 10% of a tab — so the ongoing fees are double-dips, too.

The question is whether the city will get a handle on the greed, ineptitude, and/or hostility that this money-grubbing behavior represents. With an improved city council and a pending change of city manager, it’s possible. Unfortunately, staff members so far are busily playing the victim in the story. Continue reading Will DeKalb learn from the departure of Tinez Tacos?

Mayor Smith’s first year

Daily Chronicle offered a recap today of DeKalb Mayor Jerry Smith’s first year as mayor. It’s refreshing to find myself in agreement with much of the assessment of the current situation, though I still have serious concerns.

“I think most citizens are pretty much aligned with what we as a council are trying to do by being the most efficient and frugal government we can,” Smith said. “I hope that nobody looks at my first year and thinks we aren’t responsive.”

In my opinion, we have the most responsive and inclusive city council this town has seen in years.

“I realize there’s still a sector of the community that doesn’t trust what goes on with the City Council, and in some cases that’s fairly and rightfully so,” [First Ward Alderman David] Jacobson said. “But based on the last few years, I believe this group we have now, including Jerry, not only care about the community but are willing to work collaboratively and focus on the issues to make some really positive headway.”

Yep. Overall, that’s how I see it, too.

That was put to the test when the city unexpectedly condemned Lord Stanley’s Bar and Annex, 142 E. Lincoln Highway, and Common Grounds, 150 E. Lincoln Highway, because of structural concerns in April.

Smith took responsibility for the actions that were taken and admitted that the situation was handled “very, very poorly.”

Here’s where they lose me. Continue reading Mayor Smith’s first year

Sycamore food trucks are lucky trucks

City of DeKalb and the Daily Chronicle are still batting around the food truck issue, which is about whether DeKalb’s regulations and fees are reasonable.

Well, you tell me. Sycamore charges a fee to cover the cost of the initial background check plus $50 per year for the license. DeKalb requires a background check fee, a $25 application fee, and a $50 per month license fee — and that’s not all.

A separate application and license shall be required for each person who is more than a 20% owner of the enterprise operating the food or beverage vending vehicle, for each person driving or operating the food or beverage vending vehicle within the corporate limits of the City, and for each person working in or vending from the food or beverage vending vehicle within the corporate limits of the City.

DeKalb should just ban food trucks here. It would be a whole lot simpler, and more honest, than cranking up the fees and red tape to drive them to our neighboring city.

Food Truck Roundup

Not everybody treats food trucks the way DeKalb treats food trucks. Some communities embrace them. Here’s what I found in 10 minutes for 2018.

May 5: Food truck rally in Yorkville.

May 6: Food truck festival in Aurora.

May 19: Food truck rally in Streator.

May 29: Food truck rally in Urbana.

June 9: Food truck festival in Peoria.

Alton, Chicago, Oswego, Romeoville, and Woodstock will all hold celebrations specific to food trucks this year. Not to mention other events, such as school fundraisers and craft beer festivals, that routinely welcome them.

Story of Dixon sparks ideas for preventing fraud and building trust in city government

Last night I went to the Egyptian Theatre to watch “All the Queen’s Horses,” the documentary of Rita Crundwell’s embezzlement of more than $53 million from City of Dixon when she was treasurer-comptroller there.

I won’t spoil the film, because even a person who followed Crundwell’s arrest and the aftermath quite closely is bound to find a couple of surprises. If you haven’t seen it, you deserve an equal opportunity to scrape your jaw off the floor once or twice. 🙂

Let’s explore, instead, the general lack of curiosity, assertiveness or persistence, when red flags pop up, to get questions answered to one’s satisfaction.

Why do so many people ignore questionable activities? A lot of it’s the expected consequences. If you reported potentially illegal behavior at your workplace, would your employer give lip service but ignore the problem, address the party involved, or plot retaliation for you? I’ll bet you don’t have to think much about it to answer. Chances are you’ve interacted enough with the culture there to know already. Continue reading Story of Dixon sparks ideas for preventing fraud and building trust in city government

Lord Stanley’s, FOIA requests, and questions of consistency

It’s a story that won’t die. That’s because DeKalb handled condemnations of Lord Stanley’s and Stanley’s Annex poorly, but officials still won’t admit to errors except to say they should have treated the residents of the upstairs apartments better (i.e., the city should not have threatened them with imminent eviction).

This week the Daily Chronicle has examined the city attorney’s role in the matter. The city maintains that his role is strictly advisory. This is not consistent with what we’ve observed, as exemplified by an email shared with you last week, in which the city attorney appeared to be leading the process.

So today’s theme is consistency and lack of it. Continue reading Lord Stanley’s, FOIA requests, and questions of consistency

DeKalb’s housing rehab program is seriously underperforming

Last night, City of DeKalb held a public hearing and approved an annual budget for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG). CDBD is a federal program administered by HUD that helps ensure viable communities, particularly in the area of decent and affordable housing for low- to moderate-income residents.

The general public did not participate in the public hearing. We rarely do. The CDBG budget is treated as routine and unremarkable, even when it’s not.

And this year it’s definitely not. Continue reading DeKalb’s housing rehab program is seriously underperforming

City emails reveal tactics in the condemnation of Lord Stanley’s

Emails obtained by a member of the City Barbs Facebook Group indicate City of DeKalb worked the Lord Stanley’s and Stanley’s Annex condemnations of April 6 in a decidedly business-unfriendly manner, and then blamed social media for frightening residential tenants with impending forcible eviction.

As indicated in last weekend’s post, the city failed to follow proper procedure in condemning the Stanleys, particularly as concerns notice of code violations.* DeKalb did eventually give the building owners written notices, but not until Monday, April 9, which was the same day as the original deadline for making repairs and avoiding permanent condemnations and evictions. Continue reading City emails reveal tactics in the condemnation of Lord Stanley’s