Mayor Smith runs from Freedom of Information right smack into the First Amendment

I went to a special city council meeting last night, where I noted two odd occurrences.

First off, Aaron Stevens attended. Stevens is DeKalb’s Freedom of Information Act officer, but there was nothing on the agenda about FOIA.

The second weird thing was the attentiveness of council members. Gone were the usual tablet-tapping movements and studied indifference as I shared my views during the citizen comment portion of the evening. They were rather intent, if you get what I mean. Expectant, even.

Afterward I was talking in the city hall parking lot with a neighbor who said I should catch the video of Monday’s regular council meeting (August 28) because the mayor called out some of us who have been critical of the FOIA Center and the way it was and is being deployed.

In view of the information from my neighbor, my observations of the odd suddenly made sense to me. I realized that a portion of the room must have anticipated that I would use my public comment time to respond to Mayor Smith’s remarks from Monday. However, I hadn’t attended or watched Monday’s meeting by that point. Not knowing anything about the specifics, I’d stuck to talking about the Streets budget as directed by the meeting agenda.

Today I find that the Daily Chronicle has reported on the Monday remarks, and it occurs to me that some were probably expecting not only my comments on them but also, perhaps, a mayoral smackdown of yours truly. Continue reading Mayor Smith runs from Freedom of Information right smack into the First Amendment

DeKalb Park District did not endorse the Annie Glidden North plan proposal. Here’s why

The DeKalb Park District (DPD) did not endorse City of DeKalb’s Annie Glidden North proposal.

The resolution on the issue, unanimously passed during a special meeting Tuesday night, reads as follows:

NOW BE IT RESOLVED by the Board of Commissioners of the DeKalb Park District, County of DeKalb, and State of Illinois, as follows:

That the DeKalb Park District does in good faith and through its cooperative nature support the City of DeKalb in its deveopment of a plan for the revitalization of the Annie Glidden North neighborhood and will actively participate in the development of the plan for the benefit of the residents of the Park District.

The commissioners support “a” plan that they “will actively participate in.”

DPD had the special meeting to hear the city’s presentation on the plan proposal. It was the only chance they had to hear the proposal before the DeKalb city council considers it next week.

That’s right, City of DeKalb plans to push through the proposal without ever consulting DPD, even though DPD operates four parks within the area designated as Annie Glidden North. Apparently, the city thought DPD would just rubberstamp the proposal.

I honestly can’t wait to read the minutes of this meeting. According to attendees, commissioners did not exactly mince words.

Council members: We love the new you, and we want you to succeed. Please remove Annie Glidden North from the agenda for the time being, and take steps to mend fences with the park district.

And please, take a good hard look at the unforced errors of your city manager.

Video of today’s meeting for 4th and 6th wards

The council members held it at the DeKalb Township building, and about 20 people from the 4th, 5th, and 6th wards attended.

The last time I can remember going to a meeting in my ward was 2005, so this was a pretty big deal to me.

They didn’t disappoint.

I’ve posted it at the City Barbs Facebook Group as well, and I expect most comments, if any, will end up there.

Send an email with the same PDF you put up at the website. Yes, it is that simple.

I’ve now viewed DeKalb city council’s Committee of the Whole meeting held last night. The meeting centered around the new online Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Center, and whether city staff members’ changes to FOIA policies and procedures are legal and fair.

Nothing was resolved, so they will take up the topic again in a future meeting. City staff are on the hard-sell path, so they will continue to try to grind down the council until they “win” whatever game they are playing, or until council tells them to knock it off.

Over the next couple weeks, I sincerely hope that council members will talk to the resident requesters whom the FOIA officer essentially called liars last night, and try to ascertain the truth about their experiences. Requesters say staff called them up and told them FOIA requests would no longer be accepted via email. Staff says that never happened. Seems like this could use some follow up.

I hope that Ald. Noreiko, who asked whether the launch of the FOIA Center was publicized and was told by staff that it was announced on social media, will actually visit the social media sites and see for herself whether this is so (and if it’s not, someone needs to be called out. Do we really need to say this?)

And when we meet again, I hope we can get to the crux of the matter: Why exactly is it suddenly unreasonable for people to ask for an email response to a FOIA request?

My answer: It’s not unreasonable. The FOIA officer would just send an email containing the same PDF file as he has uploaded to the website. It doesn’t take much more time, it doesn’t use any more paper, it ensures the requester can access the response, and it’s just good customer service with the potential for building good will.

Indeed, city business routinely involves email, so the refusal to send FOIA responses that way is actually kind of bizarre.

More Reasons to Put the Brakes on the STEAM Center Project

Several of DeKalb’s city council members balked at making financial or other commitments to the STEAM center project until they have in hand a thorough analysis of its most important source of funding, the soon-to-be-retired Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts.

Even the most worthy projects are subject to resource limitations, so a peek into the municipal wallet and thoughtful prioritization make good sense, and are probably the most important reasons to apply the brakes.

But there are other reasons, too. Here are three of them.

1. It’s not our job. It’s not automatically the duty of the city to pick up the slack on an NIU project, especially one that NIU itself has decided it can’t spare a dime for. Public safety and infrastructure are supposed to be the names of our games, but now the consultant and administrators are broaching consideration of involvement in site selection, governance, even operations. Boundaries, people.

2. The push is premature. This is a top-down pet project headed by city administrators who have clearly done most of the work, and last week’s special meeting was clearly about hard-selling our new electeds into supporting it. But there is no sign of any corresponding surge in public support. No organization has stepped up to pledge financial support for its construction and operation. It’s an entirely backwards process, which bodes ill for fundraising efforts. If STEAM gets approved at this point, we will all get stuck with the bill.

3. The TIF goal is unclear. As proposed, the project tells us little about ROI, which in a TIF district means raising EAV in the district. In fact, at least initially it would do the opposite, by taking another large property off the tax rolls.

I want to note that counil members David Jacobson and Michael Verbic have asked for financial analyses before (Verbic as a Financial Advisory Committee member), and they’ve been completely ignored in the past. The unified insistence on the TIF analysis is a welcome move, and I hope it means this council aims to reclaim its full authority in stewardship. Fingers crossed.

DeKalb City Manager Oversteps Purchasing Authority Again

Recently I came across this City of DeKalb memo circulated via a council meeting agenda in October:

With former Commander Smith’s retirement in June, the City faced an immediate crisis by not having on-call IT personnel who are familiar with the City’s specific computer systems and able to keep them operational at all times. On June 29, 2016, the City Manager entered into an agreement with Mr. Smith to provide IT support services to the City’s public safety computer system. An agreement to retain Mr. Smith until a new IT Director is hired needs to be approved by the City Council in the event the contract exceeds $20,000.

And here’s part of the resolution accompanying the memo:

WHEREAS, the City’s Purchasing Policy states: If any City purchase increases the total over $20,00 for the current fiscal year, the contract must be presented to the City Council for approval; and

WHEREAS, the ratification of said agreement constitutes approval to the exceed the $20,000 staff spending limitation; and…

Sounds like city manager Anne Marie Gaura can spend on anything she wants, as long as the tab comes in under $20,000, right? Sure seems like it sometimes. Continue reading DeKalb City Manager Oversteps Purchasing Authority Again

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?

DeKalb Council Votes for Convenience over Public Safety

If we’re to change anything in DeKalb city government, we need city council members who understand their role as policymakers and as supervisors of the bureaucrats.

Have I ever passed this on to you? During a conversation last spring about the clerk issue, I was told that council members are fellow city employees.

Who told them that? How is it that there are council members who do not understand the difference between elected officers and staff? Continue reading DeKalb Council Votes for Convenience over Public Safety