Alderman Marquardt is so very tired of you spoiled NIU students

Monday night, DeKalb’s city council members wrestled with proposed parking restrictions in neighorhoods adjacent to campus. Except for Ald. Mike Marquardt, who lost a wrestling match with his tongue.

At a local town hall meeting a few years ago, an audience member who pays attention to such things said the DeKalb-NIU relationship might be a “communiversity” but could fairly be considered a “commuterversity” as well.

Many of the “spoiled” students drive in from other neighborhoods and communities every day to attend NIU.

Many of the “spoiled” students have to go to work before and/or after class.

Many of the “spoiled” students drive because it keeps them safer from assault or worse.

And while I’m at it: These days, some students live in their cars.

Next time that little voice tells you to hold your tongue, Ald. Marquardt, perhaps you should listen, even if you have to bite it.

Police & Fire Pensions are only part of DeKalb’s liability story

The Better Government Association has just rolled out a statewide police and fire pension database. It tracks public safety pensions for every municipality, township, and special district (e.g., fire protection district) that have one or both types of pension funds.

According to this database, DeKalb’s fire pension showed a net liability of $42.7 million and a 39.21% funding ratio “as of 2016.” At the same point in time, the police pension fund had a net liability of $34.4 million and a funding ratio of 48.77%. The combined net liability, then, was a bit over $77 million.

I’ve checked the BGA numbers against the city’s latest annual financial report to make sure they’re in the same ballpark, and they are.

What the BGA database doesn’t tell you about is DeKalb’s other long-term liabilities related to retirees. One is the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF) — yeah, it’s not 100% funded as you might think. The city’s latest reported IMRF net liability is $9.4 million and funding at 83.2%.

Another, as discussed here a few months ago, is the Other Post-Employment Benefits, which is a defined-benefit retiree health insurance plan. OPEB — which our financial consultants have twice urged us to dump in favor of a defined-contribution PEHP plan* — has an unfunded long-term liability of $23.9 million and a funding ratio of 0% because the city doesn’t fund this plan in advance.

Audited numbers for 2017 should come out in May. Meantime, we’re looking at unfunded retirement-related liabilities of $110 million.

*City employees hired since 2011 do participate in a PEHP instead of OPEB.

BONUS: DeKalb’s pension funding ratios as of 1999 (as reported in the fiscal 2004 financial report):

IMRF: 109.49%
Police: 88.52%
Fire: 62.13%

DeKalb’s credibility is suddenly becoming visible to the naked eye

“Folks, we blew it,” said the mayor.

Mayor Jerry Smith recalled his previous State of the City assertion that DeKalb must “acknowledge our shortcomings and our mistakes” last night, when he brought up DeKalb’s violation of the Open Meetings Act of last Friday. “We blew it” is what he told the staff members involved, he said.

Last Friday was Good Friday, a state-recognized holiday in Illinois. The Open Meetings Act prohibits special meetings on legal holidays, but nobody stopped the special meeting until it was almost finished.

The confessions weren’t perfect. Attorney Dean Frieders and interim city manager Patty Hoppenstedt behaved like graceless children. Frieders buried an almost-apology inside of a speech taking three-plus minutes, and he used the “royal we” instead of taking personal responsibility. Hoppenstedt said she took the matter “seriously and personally” but couldn’t resist a smirk.

Still, a public admission of wrongdoing was a breakthrough, as was the city’s complete do-over of the illegal meeting.

I commend the mayor for his handling of the affair.

Here’s video of the meeting, cued up to where the mayor begins his remarks.

Between the departure of a feckless city manager and now this, things are definitely looking up.

We’ll soon see what this council is made of

***Updated 6pm: Check out the city attorney’s “blooper” during last evening’s meeting when he explained why he advised the mayor to adjourn the meeting before council could vote on the matter at hand. I’ve placed a video clip of it at the end of this post, or you could click here for the clip and to comment on Facebook. ***

DeKalb’s city council violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act (OMA) yesterday. It was a violation because the city scheduled a special meeting for Good Friday, which is a legal holiday in this state. Specifically, OMA says this:

Sec. 2.01. All meetings required by this Act to be public shall be held at specified times and places which are convenient and open to the public. No meeting required by this Act to be public shall be held on a legal holiday unless the regular meeting day falls on that holiday.

You can easily find several state departments and offices where Good Friday is not observed, and obviously City of DeKalb doesn’t observe it. Doesn’t matter. If a statute establishes it as a holiday, it’s a legal holiday and you have to watch out for OMA.

And unlike meetings where you could goof up an OMA rule but then save your public body by not taking action (i.e., not actually voting on anything), the legal holiday rule says you can’t even hold the meeting without committing a violation.

I attended yesterday in order to congratulate the council on making a major change in management, to express my understanding of the huge undertaking in finding a new city manager, and to point out that the vacuum created by a city manager’s exit has led to major overspending in the past. Continue reading We’ll soon see what this council is made of

Regarding DeKalb Library’s other loan

Here’s an excerpt from my latest at DeKalb County Online:

Thanks to recent discussion of DeKalb Public Library’s plan to pay back taxpayers for emergency help with its expansion project, much of DeKalb knows about DKPL’s $4.5 million bank loan to keep construction going during Illinois’ budget impasse.

Not many know about the bank loan of $3 million, but maybe you should. Here’s why:

  • DKPL originally took out the loan in 2013 for a term of two years, but still owes more than $1 million on it.
  • Revenues and payments on this loan have not been accounted for in library budgets.
  • Votes to renew the loan are not documented in meeting minutes, which may violate the library’s own bylaws as well as the Open Meetings Act.
  • The whole thing is here, and if you’re interested in talking about it, try the Facebook group.

    DeKalb playing favorites with the bandit in the castle

    Cohen Barnes owns a building in downtown DeKalb under the name “The Bandit’s Castle, LLC.”

    So he’s a bandit who bought a castle. Is this like the tv shows where the psychos leave little clues of their crimes? The imagination runs wild.

    The thing with bandits is that, by definition, they belong to gangs. This is more or less what we saw last night, with City of DeKalb enabling Mr. Barnes to return to council to grab more TIF money since his rehab job on the Castle, for which he obtained a development incentive of $400,000 last spring, has hit a snag.

    What’s the snag? Nobody anticipated that a 100-year-old building could have water damage and asbestos. No inspection was done, and no money for contingencies was set aside. It’s municipal malpractice, is what it is.

    But due diligence doesn’t matter, because the city checkbook is simply always open for Mr. Barnes.

    Many thanks go out to Aldermen David Jacobson and Mike Verbic, who voted against the double dipping. (Alderman Pat Fagan recused himself.)

    Y’all folks in the Third, Fifth, and Seventh wards have a year to find replacements.

    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.”

    Noreiko worries about frozen pipes, just not yours

    I’m still digesting the DeKalb city council’s goal-setting session from earlier this week.

    The alderman from the Fifth Ward, Kate Noreiko, was pushing to build a new DeKalb Municipal Building instead of renovating the one we have. She says she thinks it’s unsafe, though she provided no foundation for this belief.

    Part of Noreiko’s argument was that, if the pipes there freeze and burst, what would city workers do?

    Hold that thought for a moment. I want to introduce another goal council members talked about evening, which was emergency operations planning. During that discussion, Noreiko wanted to address active shooter situations.

    My mind went back to frozen pipes, because we don’t have SWAT teams for that.

    Last month, 30,000 Com Ed customers in Kane, Will, and Kendall counties lost power during one of the days of extreme cold we had. Fortunately, the outage lasted only two hours. Continue reading Noreiko worries about frozen pipes, just not yours

    DeKalb can become “business friendly” when this city manager is gone

    DeKalb city council had another goal-setting session Tuesday evening.

    It was a good session, as was last month’s, but at one point I had to laugh, and it was during the perennial make-DeKalb-more-business-friendly discussion.

    I dearly wish more council members truly understood that friendliness is impossible under city manager Anne Marie Gaura. Unless you are one of a favored few, you run into a culture that not only disregards the basic tenets of good service, but systematically finds ways to make the going harder.

    Alderman David Jacobson tried to explain this again Tuesday. He talked about “the hoops you have to jump through, and the games you have to play” as a local business owner.

    Likewise, I’ve become an expert in the travails of the general public, and the latest example involves council’s establishment of a state-mandated “TIF interested parties registry” for the proposed new downtown TIF district. The TIF Redevelopment Act only requires that the city adopt “reasonable registration rules,” which this crew took as an opportunity to create something decidedly unfriendlier than what came before. Continue reading DeKalb can become “business friendly” when this city manager is gone

    Here’s the difference in agenda rules between regular and special public meetings

    During a recent Annie Glidden North task force subcommittee meeting, I alleged Open Meetings Act (OMA) violations. I want to explain why.

    What I objected to was the subcommittee’s addition of discussion items to the agenda of a special meeting. During regular meetings, a public body can talk about anything it wants, but that same body must stick to the published agenda when it has a special meeting.

    It’s easier to understand if you unhook “notice” from “agenda.” Maybe you’ve heard of the rule of publishing meeting notices and agendas 48 hours in advance? The “notice” part actually differs between regular and special meetings. While you might also see meeting specifics on a regular agenda (makes sense) the notice that counts under OMA is the schedule published at the beginning of the fiscal or calendar year; the 48-hour notice applies to the agenda only. A special meeting, on the other hand, requires that the body publish 48 hours in advance the notice of the meeting and the agenda together.

    Adding discussion items to a regular agenda is allowed due to the abundance of notice for regular meetings. At least hypothetically, anyone interested has enough time to arrange to attend any or all regular meetings.

    The agenda rule for special meetings is tighter — no additions allowed — due to the short notice.

    So back to the subcommittee meetings. These are special meetings so far, but last week at least one committee added items to its agenda. Whoever is the boss of these committees (the mayor, I hope) could decide to give them flexibility of agenda by setting up a regular meeting schedule, but until then they must stick to their agendas.

    Also, could somebody please train the city staff. There were three staff members attending the meeting I observed, and none of them had a clue. Continue reading Here’s the difference in agenda rules between regular and special public meetings