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

Reasons to allow the city manager’s contract to expire

City council is expected to vote tonight on a resolution to “amend” city manager Anne Marie Gaura’s employment agreement, which currently expires at the end of this year.

My main concern with the vote itself is that it involves the removal of the expiration date from the contract, even though the DeKalb Municipal Code says the city manager “shall serve and hold office for a term of office specified by virtue of an employment agreement.” For this reason alone, I urge a “no” vote on the resolution.

But there are performance issues as well. Here are some of the major ones, in my opinion.

1. Failure to cooperate with, and render assistance to, elected officials. These are responsibilities required by the Municipal Code (3.08(b)). Yet Gaura deprived city clerk Liz Cliffe Peerboom of the basic tools of the job, including a desk and computer. She has also failed to comply with city council members’ requests for financial information, and brazenly ignored a residency requirement in recruiting an IT director.

2. Inability to produce a budget that covers the basics. Gaura has presented budgets that always include new hires to her inner circle at the expense of other needs. Our five-year outlook is so grim that finance advisory committee members have pledged to keep working on the fiscal 2018 budget into fiscal 2018, in order to try to make adjustments that will nudge the trajectory into more solvent territory. DeKalb has also struggled with deficiencies in internal accounting controls during Gaura’s tenure, according to the city’s auditors.

3. Damaged relations with residents, business people, and even another unit of local government. In a series of unforced errors, Gaura has had to walk back actions that took the community by surprise. The unlawful assembly and commercial inspection ordinances, for example, popped up on council agendas without previous community discussion and caused a great deal of dismay and distrust, not to mention the resources wasted in having to go back to the drawing board.

4. Inability or unwillingness to rein in staff. Gaura’s failure to set boundaries with her administrative team has allowed a range of unprofessional behavior, from the city attorney’s inappropriate participation in policy discussions, to the FOIA officer’s calling citizens liars with impunity. Staff do not even pretend at professional objectivity anymore, but rather have become a sales team for pet projects. They engage in hard-sell tactics and sometimes lie to get their way.

We can do better, DeKalb.

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What Kind of Municipal Elections Does City of DeKalb Have?

City of DeKalb candidates for municipal offices in the spring elections are not all using the same ballot petition forms.

For example, of the four mayoral candidates, three of them are filing as “independents” and one of them filed a “nonpartisan” form. A similar pattern has occurred with the aldermanic candidates.

There are differences. “Independent” signals that a municipality has partisan elections, but the independent candidate has decided on the independent label instead of a party label, and the independent can’t “get primaried” like the party animals can. “Nonpartisan” means there’s always just one election, no primaries, and nobody in it has a formal association at all.

Nobody ever “gets primaried” in DeKalb. Does that mean DeKalb has nonpartisan elections? Continue reading What Kind of Municipal Elections Does City of DeKalb Have?

Letter from Clerk Liz Peerboom on the State of the DeKalb City Clerk’s Office: ‘This is Your City. Take it Back’

Here’s a letter to the editor from Liz Peerboom, whose career as a deputy clerk and city clerk in two communities spans nearly 20 years. Currently the clerk for the Village of Maple Park, Peerboom was awarded the title Rookie of the Year by the Municipal Clerks of Illinois in 2011, in part for implementing improvements to meeting protocols, in-person customer service, and website user experiences. She was also lauded as a team player at the village hall.

Peerboom has served in DeKalb city government both as a deputy and as the elected city clerk, and DeKalb is still her home.

Editor:

When the City of DeKalb was founded in 1865, the City Clerk was full time. Of course, at the time, there were fewer residents and the Clerk did everything from the statutory duties to that of water billing clerk, payroll clerk and accountant. They even did birth and death certificates.

Fast forward to 2012, when the City of DeKalb found itself without a Clerk after then City Clerk Steve Kapitan resigned. The reaction of the City Council was to slash the budget for the City Clerk for the next election to $5,000 per year, making it a part-time position. That’s where I came in…

In 2013, I ran as a write in candidate and won the election. When I was sworn in, I was ready to work and bring the City Clerk’s office back to the office it had once been. Even though it was part-time, and I worked another part-time job, I came to meetings in the evening as required and came during the day to attest documents and oversee what I thought was my office. Right away, they moved me into an office with the Deputy City Clerk, and although it was small I made due because I was a team player. Then, when the Clerk’s office was moved down the hall to where it is now, suddenly I did not have a desk, but only a filing cabinet where I kept my recorder (used for closed session meetings) and the City Seal. The City Seal is used to attest documents and is supposed to be under the control of the City Clerk. Continue reading Letter from Clerk Liz Peerboom on the State of the DeKalb City Clerk’s Office: ‘This is Your City. Take it Back’

Petition to Restore the DeKalb City Clerk Now Available Online

If you haven’t had a chance to sign the paper version, here’s another option.

PETITION TO RESTORE THE OFFICE OF DEKALB CITY CLERK | Online Petition

You are welcome to stop by at the Facebook Group, too. We have an event coming up Sunday.

To communicate privately, email us at info@fixtheclerk.org

Hit the “city clerk restoration” tag for posts about this action.

Illinois Statutes Versus DeKalb Municipal Code in the Matter of the City Clerk

Just yesterday, we were comparing the positions of city clerk as practiced in Sycamore and DeKalb.

You can see from that post that Sycamore and DeKalb treat their city clerks very differently, though this was not true in the past.

To continue the comparison: Sycamore’s municipal code follows the applicable Illinois statutes, while DeKalb’s differs from state law in several ways.

To show this, I’m bringing back a table I published in April that describes how DeKalb’s municipal code differs from Illinois statutes in four important ways. DeKalb began deviating from the statutes following the resignation of clerk Steve Kapitan in 2012. Continue reading Illinois Statutes Versus DeKalb Municipal Code in the Matter of the City Clerk

Sycamore Versus DeKalb: Comparison of City Clerks

Once upon a time, City of Sycamore and City of DeKalb had duly elected, full-time city clerks. Sycamore still has one. DeKalb’s, however, was destroyed in 2013. Low compensation and transfer of powers to the city manager’s office have deprived us of elected clerks and clerk candidates ever since.

Whatever the city thought it was doing when it allowed this state of affairs, the reality is that DeKalb residents may soon be facing their third election in which zero candidates for clerk appear on the ballot. Continue reading Sycamore Versus DeKalb: Comparison of City Clerks

No, Daily Chronicle. The DeKalb City Clerk has Not Received a Raise

The compensation ordinance that will apply to our next city clerk has NOT received final approval. So there is no, or at least not yet, a “hefty raise” for the clerk as claimed by the newspaper today. It was only first reading. They only reveal this fact in the final sentence of the article.

The issue is scheduled to come back before the City Council for final consideration Oct. 24.

Until then, all compensation numbers are placeholders, and a lot could conceivably happen between now and then.

The mayor’s compensation is $22,500 and is not expected to change. The clerk’s compensation is $5,000. The proposed rise in compensation for the clerk is only up to $8,000.

What SHOULD happen is that council members, at the very least, take a look at how the office of the mayor and the office of the city clerk are the same. The mayor’s position is an elected, citywide, officially part-time position with statutory powers. The city clerk is an elected, citywide, officially part-time position with statutory powers. They have to get the same number of signatures to get on the ballot. They go to the same meetings and they sign the same documents. Continue reading No, Daily Chronicle. The DeKalb City Clerk has Not Received a Raise

Council on Track to Deprive Us of Another Election

On Monday, the city council discussed the compensation ordinance that will go into effect upon installation of the city’s elected officers in May. This was just the first reading. Passage is expected during the regular council meeting on October 25.

Council at this point is on track to continue to deprive us of another election for city clerk. This body plans to pay the next mayor $22,500 per year, the next clerk $8,000.

Members seem intent on keeping the clerk a part-time position, based on a vague notion of protecting themselves from “liability,” which we know does not exist because the city has never gotten into trouble for violations of open meetings and open records laws before or after they ruined the office of the clerk.

No, the reality is that the liability works the other way. You see, while council has lots of leeway when it comes to assigning duties and setting compensation, any ordinance that passes must be reasonable. And we know that DeKalb ordinances having to do with the clerk are demonstrably unreasonable because they’ve interfered with elections of the clerk. Continue reading Council on Track to Deprive Us of Another Election

DeKalb Council Will Discuss Compensation of Elected Officials Tonight

No closer than 180 days before newly-elected city officials take office next May, the city council must, per state law, set compensation for them via ordinances. This could happen tonight, at the next regular meeting, or possibly in early November if all else fails.

Compensation is set now in order to help eliminate the conflict of interest that would be created by a council’s setting its own pay, or that of a clerk they like personally. It’s supposed to be about the jobs, not the personalities involved. Continue reading DeKalb Council Will Discuss Compensation of Elected Officials Tonight