A fresh look at “old” financial advice for DeKalb

At a recent budget meeting, DeKalb city manager Anne Marie Gaura (AMG) stated that she references the “EPI reports” frequently in financial planning.

Because the city’s finance advisory committee might likewise like to revisit EPI findings when it (the committee) reconvenes in 2018, I’d like to introduce EPI to our newer readers (and help refresh memories).

EPI stands for Executive Partners, Inc., which is the former name of an organization of financial consultants who, in 2009 and 2013, tried to help DeKalb think more strategically about its finances.

Here’s EPI’s Larry Kujovich in the spring of 2013, talking about DeKalb’s gigantic financial hole.


Continue reading A fresh look at “old” financial advice for DeKalb

Sorry, Mayor Smith. DeKalb’s city attorney works for the city manager, not you

Sometime during the six-hour-long regular city council meeting last Monday, the mayor asserted that the city attorney works for the city council. This is incorrect information, and the real story must be understood NOW to help people understand why the city might have just placed potential litigation with the county on the table.

Exhibit A: DeKalb’s organizational chart (from the proposed fiscal 2018 budget).

If the city attorney worked for city council, he’d show up in a relationship to city council. But he doesn’t. The city attorney is a contractor who — as all contractors do at this point — work for city manager Anne Marie Gaura. And let me tell you, it’s a very close working relationship. Continue reading Sorry, Mayor Smith. DeKalb’s city attorney works for the city manager, not you

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.

Feel free to join City Barbs on Facebook with your two cents.

Handling of DeKalb city manager’s contract renewal is an ugly bit of manipulation — and inconsistent with the ordinance as well

Anne Marie Gaura’s employment agreement with City of DeKalb expires at the end of 2017. That is, it expires unless a resolution presented as a contract “amendment” gets passed by city council on Monday.

They’ve placed the item as a resolution to amend the employment agreement on Monday’s council meeting agenda. But it is not just an amendment to DeKalb’s contract with Anne Marie Gaura. It is a renewal, because the amendment removes the expiration date from the contract.

And removal of the expiration date clearly goes against Chapter 3 of the DeKalb Municipal Code, which says this:

Appointment and Removal. The City Manager shall be appointed by the Mayor and Council voting jointly. The City Manager shall serve and hold office for a term of office specified by virtue of an employment agreement.

If you believe the people of DeKalb deserve an up-or-down vote on a contract renewal that includes the legally mandated term of office, please share your views with council members.

Let’s discuss right-sizing of City of DeKalb’s workforce

Last night during DeKalb’s budget meeting, the city manager said that DeKalb has 235 employees. She contrasted this with 2007, when she said we had 257 employees. Perhaps she meant full-time equivalent employees (FTEs), but the methodology for those calculations have changed. I do not understand them anymore, so am looking at things in a different way.

comparison of 3 yrs of budgeted positions

When the city manager said “2007,” I didn’t know whether she meant fiscal or calendar 2007. FY07, which ended June 30, 2007, was a heady year. Out of more than 1,000 building permits,76 were for residential new construction and 27 for industrial/commercial new construction. Retail sales hit an all-time high. Population nearly reached 47,000 and everyone was sure we’d hit 50,000 by 2010. Enrollment at NIU briefly touched the 25,000 mark. Continue reading Let’s discuss right-sizing of City of DeKalb’s workforce

DeKalb’s growth in personnel expenses

There’s another special city council meeting, specifically a budget meeting, set for this evening. It’s apparently a follow-up of what they discussed last week.

On Thursday, the council held a joint meeting with the finance advisory committee to outline a proposed 5 percent reduction in city department budgets for fiscal 2018. This equates to nine full-time positions and 11 part-time positions being dropped and nearly $20 million being cut.

I watched the joint council-FAC meeting that the newspaper is referring to, and it did not look like there was much cutting of staff happening. With few exceptions, department heads talked about cutting expenses in a one-off manner. For example, they suggested simply not contributing the usual $12,000 to IHSA this year, and cutting non-critical training, and putting off purchases of equipment and software. In other words, the show was pretty much the same juggling act they do every year. Continue reading DeKalb’s growth in personnel expenses

DeKalb, I’ve got your new police officers right here

DeKalb staff are proposing a one-cent rise in the local sales tax in order to meet next fiscal year’s budget beginning January 1, 2018.

They’ll tell you this is about street improvements, but they didn’t care about that last year or the year before, so I believe anything promised for streets is a sweetener to make the proposal more politically palatable.

What’s really going on is that the city has run out of money for streets AND operations now. They’d like to hire three new patrol officers, but they can’t do it because of the structural budget issue, meaning they’ve hired employees beyond what the growth in revenues can accommodate.

So they want $600,000 of the new sales tax to go into the General Fund. That’s how much they’re short for their current ambitions. But what the city council really should do is tell city manager Anne Marie Gaura to cut some people from the departments that come under the umbrella of administrative services. That’s where the most growth in personnel has happened on Gaura’s watch.


Continue reading DeKalb, I’ve got your new police officers right here

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