DeKalb city council voted to allow me to participate remotely in order to exclude you

As DeKalb’s city clerk, I’ve been participating in council meetings via teleconferencing since April. Then, during the July 13 committee-of-the-whole meeting, the city council, somewhat bizarrely, took a vote to allow me to teleconference. This post will explain why.

Here’s the clip of part of the mayor’s introduction to the topic. (The first 4-1/2 minutes of the audio were lost and not recovered.)

The money quote:

Accordingly, if a majority of the council allows for the city clerk to attend this meeting, and our following city council meeting, by means other than physical presence, then it may do so without also having to provide the same accommodations to the general public.

So, how did this all start? After looking at the July 13 council meeting agendas, I saw the city was intending to remove remote participation from the general public as an option. Here’s my email to the mayor about it:

city-clerk-remote-participation-email

The city then went right to work to prove me wrong. I think they spent half a day coming up with a reason to offer me the “courtesy” of the Zoom application while barring the public from same. The mayor rushed a vote through council on an item that wasn’t on the agenda — does council even know what it voted for? The vote itself was another subversion of the clerk’s independence of office, an abuse of home rule power, and — since home rule does not supersede the Open Meetings Act — it was a violation of OMA as well.

The one thing they got right, the one teensy bright spot in the latest fiasco, is the acknowledgement that council, not the city manager’s office, has the final say in how to conduct its meetings.

If council wants Zoom for all, Zoom for all must happen.

Let’s get that on the agenda for July 27.

Charging the Water Fund for salaries in other departments is a masterpiece of nontransparency

*Note: “Departments” as used in this article should be read as shorthand for “departments, divisions, and offices.”*

Take a look at this budget from DeKalb’s Finance Division:

FY2020-Finance-adopted-budget

Seems pretty straightforward, right? Well, it’s not. It does not show all the wages the Finance employees get paid. This is a budget that accounts only for the wages coming from the General Fund (the city’s chief operating fund). Finance staff also get paid portions of their wages from the Water Fund.

Total full- and part-time wages this year for Finance people are projected to come to $157,000 more than this Finance budget shows. Likewise, the Water Fund provides part of the compensation for the city manager’s office, Building & Code, HR, IT — even the city council.

Continue reading Charging the Water Fund for salaries in other departments is a masterpiece of nontransparency

TIF forensic assessment tells us how DeKalb operates

The promised forensic audit report (now being called a forensic assessment for some reason) of City of DeKalb’s tax increment financing funds has been released by the DeKalb County State’s Attorney’s Office.

The report details miscalculations, missing documents, and other failures of due diligence occurring across the 10-year period examined.

Much of the fireworks over TIF began when members of the Joint Review Board that oversees it, particularly our school district, began questioning the size of transfers from TIF funds to the General Fund, the city’s chief operating fund, to cover administrative costs.

The report includes the document below, which accounts for 2018’s originally intended $791,744 transfer amount. You can decide for yourself whether all these people were “administering” TIF. DeKalb ultimately settled on $160,000 in transfers for 2018, and for this year has budgeted $15,000, so apparently even the city no longer thinks so.

tif-transfer-to-GF-fy18-2

The good news is the transfers began shrinking in the sunshine. The bad news is the assessment tells you just about everything you need to know about how DeKalb operates, always. If you look at the dates of missing invoices and proofs of service, for example, you see that it’s not just one or two years where missing documents are a problem; it’s spread across the entire 10-year scope of the assessment. It’s true today, too — I can confirm from my “look behind” information requests that documentation related to licensing comes up missing with some regularity.

What the TIF transfers did were to enable the city to retain more staff than it otherwise could have. In the fiscal 2008 budget the transfers came to $350,000 and the stated goal was to reduce them to zero by 2013. This didn’t happen because the Great Recession happened. In 2010, the city was in a hole and the TIF transfers topped $1 million. In target year 2013, transfers helped fuel a nascent hiring spree that ended with another hole in 2018.

The transfers are virtually down to nothing now, but there’s still a chart similar to the TIF transfer chart and it’s also for deciding how much of employees’ wages should come from another city fund — the Water Fund. The assistant city manager recently confirmed for me that about $370,000 is charged to Water to pay employees who work in other city departments/divisions/offices.

More later.

Taking away the city clerk’s role in checks and balances

Jumping off my last post and recent discussion of it, I want to share a little more of the context in which I currently attempt to function as city clerk in DeKalb.

This time last year, I signed and sealed some contracts and all plats, ordinances, resolutions, and licenses. Hundreds of documents crossed my desk in my first months as DeKalb city clerk. But beginning last spring, following a decision to move a large portion of license processing from the finance division to the city manager’s office, others began signing licenses without my knowledge. These incidents snowballed after the request for my resignation last July, and with the city council’s October 14 passage of amendments to the clerk’s ordinances, the flow of documents slowed, then dried up altogether before the end of 2019.

Except for meeting minutes, I haven’t signed a thing since mid-December.

Continue reading Taking away the city clerk’s role in checks and balances

As DeKalb city clerk, I feel like a punching bag

***Update: Find discussion and comments in our Facebook group .***

When I read the other day the Daily Chronicle is still calling it a “rift” in describing what’s going on between the city manager’s office and me as city clerk, I realized I have to say more than I have before. It’s no longer a “rift,” if it ever was — that would imply equality of treatment. The relationship is more like I’m a punching bag for the city manager’s office.

To help illustrate, here are two of the latest email exchanges between the city manager and me. (I will also post copies of the actual emails at the end of this post.) Mind you, my emails addressed the city council only. I cc’d the city manager as a courtesy.

My message to the city council, December 6, 2019:

Dear Mayor Smith et al,

As some of you are already aware, in September I agreed to take on the process of preparing for the semi-annual review of executive session meeting minutes approval and release recommendations.

Having begun the process this week, I have discovered errors in the indexes that have resulted in executive session meeting minutes being released to the public that were not approved for release by council.

I have two requests to make to address these issues:

1. To remove, as soon as possible, published executive session meeting minutes from the City’s website until these errors can be corrected.

2. To amend the Council regular meeting agenda for December 9 by adding an executive session to discuss these minutes as provided for in 5 ILCS 120/2(c)(21).

Regards,
Lynn Fazekas | City Clerk

City manager’s reply, December 6, 2019:

Good afternoon,

As tiring and distracting as the City Clerk’s fabrications and thinly-veiled charges against Ruth Scott may be, they are–more importantly—creating the basis for an employee harassment charge which will be substantial and embarrassing to the City at a time when we are within sight of some transformational growth. As your chief administrative officer and development director, I ask that we discuss these unfounded allegations in executive session where the truth can be dispassionately shared, and then get back to what the public has asked us to do.

As an historian and a keen observer of the American political scene since the early 1970s, I have been witness to many national public figures who have sadly appealed to base emotions by plucking some imagined dark thread of corruption and laying it on the shoulders of persons whose dedication is a constant reminder of their own inadequacies. Before January 1, I thought I had seen everything, and I also thought I would never see, on a local level, the conspiratorial thinking that animates the City Clerk. As there seems to be no relief from her presence until the spring of 2021, I trust that we will collectively find ways to hold her to the duties that the Council approved on October 14, and also hold her to what is commonly understood as professional decency and discretion.

In the weeks and months ahead, I hope we can focus on the main thing.

Best,
Bill

Continue reading As DeKalb city clerk, I feel like a punching bag

DeKalb Park District property transfer could use another look

DeKalb Park District (DPD) passed a resolution last summer to convey park property to City of DeKalb for its new city hall. The transfer has since occurred under an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) between the two.

City of DeKalb paid DPD a dollar for the property known as the Nehring building. Possibly illegally by ignoring the Park District Code of the Illinois Compiled Statutes. Definitely unfairly as we bear witness, for example, to DPD’s financial struggles to keep its golf courses open. 

DPD acknowledges it must go to referendum to sell a golf course – there’s the Park District Code for you – but somehow a virtual freebie to the city under IGA is fine? What the two parties did was cite other authorities for the conveyance, the Local Government Property Transfer Act and the Intergovernmental Cooperation Act. Here’s what the Property Transfer Act says:

If such real estate shall be held by the transferor municipality without restriction, the said municipality shall have power to grant or convey such real estate or any portion thereof to the transferee municipality upon such terms as may be agreed upon by the corporate authorities of both municipalities…

“If…without restriction…” So, isn’t the next step to check the statutes that apply to the transferor to see what restrictions it might have? City of DeKalb might not have any restrictions, but the city is not the transferor. DPD is, and Article 10 of the Park District Code has a lot to say about it. Continue reading DeKalb Park District property transfer could use another look

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

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

DeKalb Administrators Don’t Think it’s Their Job to Enforce the Electrical Aggregation Contract the City Signed

If you participate in the City of DeKalb’s electrical aggregation program — and about 5,800 electric customers in DeKalb do — your rates should have dropped as of July 1, but they didn’t.

There are two disturbing elements of this story. One is that resident Mark Charvat began making inquiries about the rate change in early July, but nothing was done for two months. The second is that City of DeKalb, which negotiated and signed the contract with Homefield Energy two years ago, is not taking responsibility for the screw-up.

[DeKalb Public Works Director Tim Holdeman] said although the agreement was negotiated by the city on behalf of local customers, in the end it was an agreement between a company and its customers and there wasn’t an effective way for city officials to police it.

Um, no. Guffaw, even. City of DeKalb signed the contract, so we’re talking basic due diligence. Somebody should have put this on their calendar and followed up, or gotten a clue from Mr. Charvat. Why didn’t City of DeKalb post an announcement on its website, and/or send out a press release? It would have cost next to nothing to publish the good news about a rate drop.

We’ve got more details at the City Barbs Facebook Group because that’s where the story first broke when others dragged their feet. See here, here, and here.

If you are confused about why some people’s electricity is not supplied by ComEd, here’s an article I did a few years ago on electrical aggregation deals: Municipal Electrical Aggregation & You.

The Mayoral Vote is the Problem When You Have Odd Aldermen

This happened on Monday.

DeKalb’s council is made up of seven aldermen chosen by ward and a mayor. Aldermen seemed interested Monday in establishing a rule that would call for at least four aldermen to be in favor of a measure before it could pass.

On most questions brought before council, a simple majority vote is all that’s needed, and the mayor doesn’t (or at least isn’t supposed to) vote. Council already needs to have four in most situations.

What this potential proposal would do is impose the requirement of a super-majority vote on council if even one alderman is absent. And in the scenario of the non-voting mayor and four aldermen, unanimous votes would be required to get anything done. And for what good reason?

This is, in short, not smart. It’s a bad solution for a non-existent problem. It rarely happens that even two council members are absent for any council meeting. What’s more, one situation where we might anticipate the absence of several council members would be a special meeting to deal with an emergency. To be shackled with a super-majority or unanimous vote requirement could have awful implications when time is of the essence for decision-making.

No, as long as the quorum of five is met for conducting the city’s business, leave the voting rules for aldermen alone.

That being said, there is a structural problem with DeKalb’s voting rules. Continue reading The Mayoral Vote is the Problem When You Have Odd Aldermen