City emails reveal tactics in the condemnation of Lord Stanley’s

Emails obtained by a member of the City Barbs Facebook Group indicate City of DeKalb worked the Lord Stanley’s and Stanley’s Annex condemnations of April 6 in a decidedly business-unfriendly manner, and then blamed social media for frightening residential tenants with impending forcible eviction.

As indicated in last weekend’s post, the city failed to follow proper procedure in condemning the Stanleys, particularly as concerns notice of code violations.* DeKalb did eventually give the building owners written notices, but not until Monday, April 9, which was the same day as the original deadline for making repairs and avoiding permanent condemnations and evictions. Continue reading City emails reveal tactics in the condemnation of Lord Stanley’s

Cutting through DeKalb’s spin on the condemnation of Lord Stanley’s

***Update 4/17/2017: The Daily Chronicle published a related letter to the editor: “Social media uproar warranted regarding condemnation.” Thanks, DC.***

City of DeKalb is in spin cycle over actions taken to condemn Lord Stanley’s and Lord Stanley’s Annex earlier this month, defending its actions during the last council meeting and now on a blog hilariously called “Just the Facts.”

Item One: City is currently presenting the inspections that led to condemnation as routine fire-life safety inspections. Yet an April 7 newspaper story quotes the city attorney as saying condemnation was the culmination of months of work.

Also, the chief building official (CBO) accompanied the fire-life safety inspector on these inspections. This is anything but routine. Indeed, the CBO — the one person empowered to condemn buildings and declare structural emergencies — was hired on the argument that he would send out inspectors who are the most appropriate yet cost effective personnel for each job. He chose himself. Why?

And why the inconsistency over the stated level of involvement pre-condemnation? It’s actually weirder to think they went from zero to condemnation instead of advancing through the usual process of escalation. Continue reading Cutting through DeKalb’s spin on the condemnation of Lord Stanley’s

DeKalb can become “business friendly” when this city manager is gone

DeKalb city council had another goal-setting session Tuesday evening.

It was a good session, as was last month’s, but at one point I had to laugh, and it was during the perennial make-DeKalb-more-business-friendly discussion.

I dearly wish more council members truly understood that friendliness is impossible under city manager Anne Marie Gaura. Unless you are one of a favored few, you run into a culture that not only disregards the basic tenets of good service, but systematically finds ways to make the going harder.

Alderman David Jacobson tried to explain this again Tuesday. He talked about “the hoops you have to jump through, and the games you have to play” as a local business owner.

Likewise, I’ve become an expert in the travails of the general public, and the latest example involves council’s establishment of a state-mandated “TIF interested parties registry” for the proposed new downtown TIF district. The TIF Redevelopment Act only requires that the city adopt “reasonable registration rules,” which this crew took as an opportunity to create something decidedly unfriendlier than what came before. Continue reading DeKalb can become “business friendly” when this city manager is gone

Mayor Jerry Smith is mischaracterizing my comments

At the end of the August 28 city council meeting, DeKalb mayor Jerry Smith pushed back against public criticism of staff members, threatening to cut comments off with his gavel if he feels “personal attacks are being made.”

There are three of us who have used the forum of public meetings to criticize the city’s website, the rollout of the “FOIA Center,” and most especially the actions of FOIA officer Aaron Stevens (all of which we can prove, by the way). There’s no doubt the mayor was talking about us while he swung his gavel in the air. Continue reading Mayor Jerry Smith is mischaracterizing my comments

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

Ask me how I feel about the Annie Glidden North project when I know how NIU is involved

DeKalb city council had a special meeting on Tuesday to discuss what they’re calling the Annie Glidden North (ANG) “revitalization plan.” ANG is what they call three neighborhoods in the northwest section of the city on either side of Annie Glidden Road.

According to the 100-page memo that accompanied the meeting agenda, DeKalb in 2016 “began a process to solicit proposals for consulting services to develop a strategy for the revitalization of the Annie Glidden North (AGN) neighborhood.” In other words, the city hired another consultant to do another study.

During the meeting, however, city employees objected to members of the public calling the project a study. They’re acting very thin-skinned about members of the public noting that we have stacks and stacks of studies lying dustfully on the shelves, so they’re countering by calling this one a “plan” already instead.

I encourage you not to engage them in the game. They may not have a leg to stand on, and they may produce little when it comes to results, but they can do semantics all day long. Just smile and say, “Po-ta-to, po-tah-to,” and move on to the important stuff. Continue reading Ask me how I feel about the Annie Glidden North project when I know how NIU is involved

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

DeKalb’s troubles with FOIA, its FOIA officer, and its no-good website

Mayor Jerry Smith has promised us another City of DeKalb Committee of the Whole meeting for hashing out problems with the city’s new Freedom of Information Act policies and procedures that changed without notice in May. While we’re waiting for that opportunity, I’m going to highlight the issues via a partial transcript of Mac McIntyre’s public statement during the June 12 meeting that was dedicated to this topic, and stud it with my two cents here and there. Continue reading DeKalb’s troubles with FOIA, its FOIA officer, and its no-good website

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.

The other problem with DeKalb’s new “FOIA Center”

Besides DeKalb’s difficulties in following the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (and basic principles of customer service in the 21st Century) there’s another serious problem: failure of its online “FOIA Center” to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) rules.

Mac McIntyre of DeKalb County Online, who has also written about the misuse of the new FOIA Center, discovered the non-compliance issues on those pages of the city’s website as well. They are similar to previous findings.

In a nutshell, if you have a visual impairment and try to navigate FOIA Center webpages, you’re pretty much screwed.

But at least the city’s new IT director has acknowledged the problem. Last time we broached the subject, the tactic was to deny, deny, deny. Maybe this time it’ll get fixed.

Related: City Barbs: Website accessibility and the fine print