Where the city’s interest in Annie Glidden North comes from

***Update 8/12*** Added city manager Anne Marie Gaura and fixed clarity issues ~yinn]

As our city council prepares to discuss a revitalization plan proposal for the Annie Glidden North (AGN) section of DeKalb, we should be aware of the possibility of a “done deal” already worked out by NIU and private interests, promoted by city staff who are ready to sell it hard. As I’ve already explained:

Emails obtained from NIU via Freedom of Information Act requests reveal that in spring of 2014, then-NIU vice president Bill Nicklas met at Campus Cinema with Chuck Hanlon, principal urban planner with Wills Burke Kelsey Associates, and arranged for Hanlon to create “a proposal for us that looks at the commercial strip along Hillcrest and Blackhawk, as well as a wider area in all directions to envision a different neighborhood.”

A hypothesis that the city has already secretly bought into a plan certainly fits with its top-down approach in the matter so far, and would help explain the exclusion of DeKalb Park District and other interested public bodies from discussions of the proposal.

Anyway, there are a lot more of these emails. Coming mostly from the account of then-NIU vice president Bill Nicklas, they trace growing involvement of Nicklas and other public officials in private redevelopment and city rezoning issues from late 2012 through much of 2014.

This business involved “Neighborhood 3” of the three neighborhoods identified collectively as Annie Glidden North (AGN), so our purpose is to look not only at how city players have operated generally, but also at how events in the past might be driving today’s behavior.

Heads up: This post is longer than most, and I’ve placed an album on Facebook containing about two dozen of the emails in a timeline that contains even more details. It’s kind of a project to read all of it, is what I’m saying. Continue reading Where the city’s interest in Annie Glidden North comes from

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.

Gaura made significant changes to DeKalb’s administrative organization without public discussion

DeKalb city manager Anne Marie Gaura has pulled some police and fire department personnel under the umbrella of DeKalb’s Community Development Department, following private consultation with selected persons but no public discussion.

Staff employed in the PD’s Crime Free Housing Bureau, and the FD’s Fire Prevention Lieutenant (FPL), will now report to a Chief Building Official (CBO) in Community Development.

Crime Free has several functions related to code enforcement that is centered around property maintenance and criminal incident reporting and tracking, while the FPL conducts Fire Life Safety License inspections and fire-related reviews of building plans.

It’s a done deal — the city is already advertising for the CBO, for example — and the only reason it appeared on the city’s Committee of the Whole meeting agenda was to fulfill a request to address “Alderman Jacobson’s issue,” as Gaura called it during the meeting. Continue reading Gaura made significant changes to DeKalb’s administrative organization without public discussion

Pie is for Bureaucrats, Not Streets People

A friend of mine asked a couple weeks ago whether there is some way to calculate how much growth there’s been of bureaucrats in city government. Like many locals, I know that the DeKalb city manager has been generally allowed to spin off new departments and hire new administrators without restraint, but we’re somewhat lacking in numbers.

The main question: Just how top-heavy has the city become?

My approach was to look at departments funded by the General Fund — and divisions of these departments, where applicable — with a view toward defining what makes each particular department/division primarily about administration, versus frontline public safety, versus none of the above.

The details of the methodology are placed at the end of this post.

Going back far enough that I could fully appreciate what Mayor Rey and Manager Gaura have wrought, I found that expenses in the General Fund (GF) have grown by $6 million since FY2013.* Roughly $4 million of it has gone to the public safety category of police and fire personnel ($2.65 and $1.33 million, respectively) and $2 million towards administrative functions in GF departments.

To break it down further, of the $2 million for admin, a bit more than $300,000 has gone into the administrative divisions of police and fire, and the rest of it to the city manager’s office and the creation/expansion of the HR, IT, and Community Development departments.

They’re getting more in terms of GF dollars, but so is almost everybody. Are the admins actually getting a larger slice of the pie than they used to? Yes. The administrative piece from FY2011 through FY2014 averaged 21.5% of the admin-public safety total, but now its share exceeds 26%.

Public Works gets no pie, particularly not its Streets Division, which has had virtually the same budget since the personnel reduction and organization of FY2011.
Continue reading Pie is for Bureaucrats, Not Streets People

This Election, Let’s Discuss Remedial Action for DeKalb

The Chronicle has published a letter to the editor that caught my eye. It’s about local candidates and their positions on the issues.

The words that they use may change, but the rhetoric is the same.

The writer goes on to list the same old, same old: DeKalb-NIU relations, easing of the tax burden, and jobs/business climate. He wants to hear specific ideas.

While I largely agree that some city candidates are hard to pin down, I believe the real issues in DeKalb are more fundamental, and require remediation before we can progress.

Here’s an example from Sunday. I attended the DARA forum for DeKalb mayoral candidates. One of the candidates took the position, in what struck me as a somewhat scolding tone, that residents should not share grievances unless they have the solutions already worked out. Apparently this person has already adopted city hall culture where citizens are separated into friends who have their attention, and whiners who don’t. Continue reading This Election, Let’s Discuss Remedial Action for DeKalb

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

DeKalb City Manager Ignored a Policy She Didn’t Like

Remember this from October?

This week, city staff asked the city council to waive the residency requirement for the IT director candidate that they like. It was presented as super-urgent, and council went along.

The problem with this (besides their ongoing preference for carpetbaggers, I mean) is that it goes against a policy set by council that identified the IT director as an emergency response position. That is, this person has been categorized by council as needing to be close to hand in case of emergency.

Council should have insisted that the policy be followed, at least until the matter could be revisited for deliberation at a public meeting. Instead, the city manager’s convenience was prioritized over a public safety consideration.

Were you perhaps puzzled about how the top IT candidate got so far in the interview process when residency was an issue for him? I’ve got yer answer lying in my email inbox. Out of five ads placed for the IT director, there are zero mentions of the residency requirement.

DeKalb Tried to Hide Settlement Agreement with Former Community Development Director

Last year, City of DeKalb got caught violating the Illinois Open Meetings Act (OMA) in approving a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice.

There were actually two violations, but the one we are concerned with here is DeKalb city council’s failure to take its final vote on the matter in a public session of city council.

Because it looks they’ve done it again. Continue reading DeKalb Tried to Hide Settlement Agreement with Former Community Development Director

DeKalb City Manager’s Office Tried to Keep ‘STEAM Team’ Under Wraps

City staff are proposing to spend $400,000 in 2017 for a STEAM learning center — and that’s just for the architectural service called “building analysis.” The city is already spending $75,000 on a consulting firm, and council has been spending time in closed sessions to discuss the purchase or lease of property. This is an expensive undertaking, ripe for abuse, and should be done only under the watchful eye of the public.

But obtaining information can be difficult, what with our city hall existing now in a perpetually locked-down position, and today I want to share an example. In April 2016, the Request for Proposal for the consultant referred to decisions made by the “stakeholder project team.” In early September, a posting on the city’s website about a survey taken of the community also mentions the “project team.” Do you get the idea that there’s some sort of committee at work? Me too. However, when we ask about the actual makeup of this “STEAM Team,” staff in the city manager’s office deny us.

Here’s how the attempts to get this information have played out so far. Continue reading DeKalb City Manager’s Office Tried to Keep ‘STEAM Team’ Under Wraps