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.
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
I told you a couple months ago that DeKalb’s problems are remedial, and I really mean it. They do not have the slightest idea how to deliver a good customer experience to the public.
Their latest trick is the new Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) “system.” The press release is here.
The web-based FOIA software system allows users to register for an account, submit FOIA requests, and track progress of FOIA requests from submittal to completion. The system also allows users to browse all FOIA requests previously submitted to the City, along with the published responses and all responsive records.
It actually sounds like a good option, assuming the system works and that a person is both willing and able to create and maintain an account. The trouble is, in real life the city is not treating it as an option, but rather trying to force requesters to use it. They have eliminated information about alternatives from the website. Also, I have talked to two people so far whom city staff have called up and tried to bully into using the “system,” rather than do business their preferred way, which is email.
Bad form, DeKalb. Also wrong strictly from the FOIA standpoint. Continue reading City of DeKalb is misusing its new FOIA toy
In my last post, I explored how Tax Increment Financing (TIF) dollars for FY2016 were budgeted versus actual spending. This time I hope to explain the discrepancies, at least partially.
TIF districts have their own budgets in their own funds that are separate from the city’s general operating fund called the General Fund. DeKalb currently has two active TIF districts/funds, TIF 1 (AKA Central Area TIF) and TIF 2.
To summarize the situation: For FY2016, $1 million was budgeted for street construction/reconstruction in TIF 1. However, in the budget narrative for the half-year budget called FY2016.5, staff reported that they “[f]unded street improvements in the amount of $600,000” in FY2016, and in the annual TIF report to the state for that fiscal year, it was revealed that less than $75,000 was actually spent for street improvements out of that fund. Continue reading This is why you didn’t even know DeKalb failed to spend streets allocations on streets
There are honest people of good faith who belong to the Barb City Action Committee. There really are.
However, it makes good sense to try to tease out the motives for any organized political action, especially one that launched itself out of nowhere and appears to have “shadow” members as well.
Recently I donned my thinking cap, closed my eyes, and envisioned a pack of jackals snarling at each other over the remnants of a carcass. This is the image that occurs whenever I think about TIF projects being pushed for approval by the DeKalb city council as the TIF districts approach expiration.
I think I’m onto something. Continue reading Barb City Action Committee & TIF
City of DeKalb’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016, contains a letter to management from the auditors that discusses a “significant deficiency” in DeKalb’s internal accounting controls.
The DeKalb city council is set to discuss the report during its Committee of the Whole meeting January 9 at 5 pm.
Here is how the auditor defines “significant deficiency” in the management letter (my emphasis):
A deficiency in internal control exists when the design or operation of a control does not allow management or employees, in the normal course of performing their assigned functions, to prevent, or detect and correct, misstatements on a timely basis. A material weakness is a deficiency or a combination of deficiencies in internal control, such that there is a reasonable possibility that a material misstatement of the City’s financial statements will not be prevented, or detected and corrected, on a timely basis. A significant deficiency is a deficiency, or combination of deficiencies, in internal control that is less severe than a material weakness, yet important enough to merit attention by those charged with governance.
Continue reading Auditors Identified a “Significant Deficiency” in City of DeKalb’s Internal Accounting Controls
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
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
Fun tidbit has come my way, and by “fun” I mean enormously dispiriting.
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request dated 10/31/2016:
Please provide examples over the past three months (8-1-16 to 10-31-16) of analysis documents produced by anyone holding the title “management analyst” within the city of DeKalb’s employment.
This request is entirely for the public good and in no manner represents a commercial request.
As budget discussions are underway it is critical that this response be returned in a timely manner. The results need not be exhaustive, a few such analyses per designated employee will suffice.
The time scope may be expanded at a later time depending upon the results of this request.
City of DeKalb’s response to this request for information:
No records were found for the time period specified in your request.
The city expects to pass a budget in a few weeks that takes effect January 1, 2017, as well as pass a possibly record-setting property tax levy, and the management analysts haven’t been analyzing a thing.
Last I checked, the so-called analysts make more than $60,000 per year in salary alone, and do clerical work such as responding to FOIA requests.
City of DeKalb’s three-year-plus hiring spree and pensions are not the only budget-busters we have to face. The wage growth for part-timers hired within the past three years, obtained via Freedom of Information Act requests, is another area that appears out of control:
[table id=96 /]
This is a sample of eight part-time “Chapter 3” workers (not including crossing guards, and interns known to me) who came on board in 2013 or later and are still working for the city. I noted in the first column how many people each row applies to, where more than one person shares the same wage growth and approximate hire date.
DeKalb probably has about 50 part-time employees in total.
We used to have a council-approved “step” pay plan wherein “Chapter 3” employees, whose wages are not governed by negotiated labor contracts, would receive a raise of 16.75% following their rookie year of service. That plan was eliminated one year ago, but the numbers are still insane.