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

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’

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

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

What’s the Deal with DeKalb’s Legal Assistant?

DeKalb used to have in-house legal counsel, but now has contracts with individuals and firms to supply legal services.

One of the legal service providers is Dean Frieders of Frieders Law, LLC, who supposedly works for DeKalb three days per week.* Frieders is required by his contract with the city to supply all of his own staff for the $208,000 per year that we pay him. If any employee of City of DeKalb were to work for Frieders in any capacity, it would constitute a violation of that city contract.

Trouble is, DeKalb still employs a full-time legal assistant, and it looks like she works for Frieders. I say this because her actual job description requires her to assist legal counsel as well as the city manager. Continue reading What’s the Deal with DeKalb’s Legal Assistant?

DeKalb Voters Think City Clerk is an Elected Office. DeKalb’s Ordinances Say Otherwise

We know from our recent examination of the doctrine of incompatible offices that compromising the loyalty of an elected officer is prohibited. A person holding elected office cannot hold any other role — as employee, appointee, or a second elected office — that could reasonably be expected to conflict, or even appear to conflict, with the first elected office. A person occupying elected office has one loyalty, and that’s to the electorate. Nobody else is the elected person’s boss.

In DeKalb government, this is true of city council members and the city clerk. Both are elected positions and nobody should buy the story that any of these elected officers are also employees of the municipality, for to do so invites perversion of the original intent of an elected office.

As we saw in the post about incompatible offices, however, DeKalb holds itself to no such standard, but instead chooses to create confusion by pretending that the city clerk’s position comprises a dual role, that of officer and employee at the same time.

Moreover, some of the offenses committed against the doctrine of incompatible offices are way worse than the confusion sown verbally by city staff. For reasons we will examine at a later date, the corporate authority (city council) of DeKalb has in recent years approved ordinances in line with an appointed clerk instead of an elected one. In a very real way, the corporate authority has usurped the statutory powers placed with the elected city clerk and vested them in the city manager. Continue reading DeKalb Voters Think City Clerk is an Elected Office. DeKalb’s Ordinances Say Otherwise

City of DeKalb and Its Incompatible Offices

DeKalb isn’t particularly good at observing boundaries. One example is that DeKalb’s contracted attorney is allowed to sit with the city council during planning sessions as an assistant in setting strategic priorities. In other words, a contractor gets to step out of his assigned role to provide unfettered input into public policy that the public itself never gets to enjoy.

But while the attorney’s extra privileges are plenty objectionable from an ethics standpoint, the most egregious errors in failing to maintain separation of roles have arguably come about in DeKalb’s dealings with the city clerk’s office beginning in 2012, when clerk Steve Kapitan was forced to resign. Here’s what city staff said about it at the time (my emphases):

[City manager Mark] Biernacki explained that because of Kapitan’s unique situation as both an elected official and city employee, certain confidentiality rights are in place.

The city, as the former employer of Mr. Kapitan, has certain obligations to keep his personal records confidential,” said city attorney Dean Frieders…

City of DeKalb again combined the roles of city employee and city clerk when Diane Wright was appointed in Kapitan’s place later that year, yet also kept her administrative job with the city (again, my emphasis):

With recent changes in City Hall staffing, a proposal has been developed to provide more efficient use of City personnel to perform administrative functions for the City, by utilizing the currently serving Acting City Clerk in a dual role as City Clerk and Executive Secretary.

These moves are problematic specifically because citizens of DeKalb have voted twice in the past 10 years to retain their municipal clerk as an elected position. While certainly “unique” and possibly even “efficient,” these elected official-city employee hybrids are not allowed under Illinois law. Elected officers are intended to serve only one master, and that’s the electorate. Continue reading City of DeKalb and Its Incompatible Offices

College Town Partners is All About TIF

Yes, “is.” Emails obtained by Michael and Misty Haji-Sheikh of Preserve Our Neighborhoods show that even though collaborators ultimately rejected formal incorporation of College Town Partners in May 2014, the intention remained to suck sweet, sweet tax dollars out of City of DeKalb via Tax Increment Financing (not even getting into NIU and use of the NIU Foundation, though we definitely should at some point). There is no reason to believe the schemes were dropped, especially now that the mastermind has wormed his way onto the NIU Board of Trustees.

Yes, “schemes.” How else to describe the dreams of a local banker (and longtime Sanitary District trustee, by the way) to transform a college-adjacent neighborhood and get DeKalb to pay for the project. He apparently is so persuasive that the other officials involved, including our mayor and city manager, went along with him for months though their status absolutely precluded participation as partners in a private entity intent on spending public money over which they exert control. It was a gargantuan conflict of interest; we should find ourselves shaken by the apparent ignorance or disregard of their duties to the public while they spent oodles of staff time and other resources to bring them to the brink of a formal agreement without council’s prior authorization.

Indeed, we’ve not heard a peep of public discourse that hasn’t been tied to citizens’ dogged pursuit of information.

Click here to read the email indicating that College Town Partners might have been buried, but not outright killed. If the Shodeen people ever get their hotel and apartments approved, look for CTP to dig up the undead baby, give it a costume change and present it as the inevitable and desirable retail counterpart to Shodeen’s residential development.

Related post: Tim Struthers Gave DeKalb’s Mayor Talking Points When the College Town Partners Story Broke