***Update 3/21/2018: Home rule was rejected by nearly 54% of Rockford voters.***
Let’s start by reviewing what almost happened here a couple months ago. The city manager in DeKalb decided she wanted to raise the sales tax, claiming complete inability to balance a budget without it.
Having the highest sales tax around is not the greatest business move, but despite financial consultants’ adamant warnings against it, city administrators sold it hard. If we hadn’t turned over a couple of staff-compliant electeds in last spring’s elections, the measure likely would have passed.
And your instincts surely tell you that, if DeKalb lost home rule powers and had to go to referendum to invent or raise a tax, it just might discourage bureaucrats and legislators from floating the idea every time they want a new toy.
Home rule in DeKalb can be exhausting.
City of Rockford had home rule at one time, but the residents took it away 35 years ago. Rockford aldermen are now asking voters to give them another chance, by passing ordinances that limit their own powers. Here’s an example:
Among the self-limiting ordinances approved was one that has raised significant concern — that leaders would have the power as a home-rule authority to raise property taxes at will, behind closed doors, or as high as they wish without voter approval. Under the ordinance, taxes cannot exceed the non-home rule limit established under the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law (PTELL).
Far be it from me to tell Rockford residents what to do, but may I point out that ordinances can be repealed. Let’s say voters pass home rule. Probably the current council would abide by them, but what would stop a future council from reversing these actions?
Depending upon its collective capacity for shame, the answer would range from “not much” to “nothing.”
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
Just yesterday, we were comparing the positions of city clerk as practiced in Sycamore and DeKalb.
You can see from that post that Sycamore and DeKalb treat their city clerks very differently, though this was not true in the past.
To continue the comparison: Sycamore’s municipal code follows the applicable Illinois statutes, while DeKalb’s differs from state law in several ways.
To show this, I’m bringing back a table I published in April that describes how DeKalb’s municipal code differs from Illinois statutes in four important ways. DeKalb began deviating from the statutes following the resignation of clerk Steve Kapitan in 2012. Continue reading Illinois Statutes Versus DeKalb Municipal Code in the Matter of the City Clerk
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
In a post from January 10, I told you I’d continue trying to get information about the state’s Public Library Construction Grant Program since we knew so few of the institutions that won them.
Part of the reason it has taken so long to get back to you is that I goofed up my chance to fight for the information. Yep, I sure did. Since the Illinois State Library had always responded quite fully and promptly to previous Freedom of Information Act requests, I didn’t bother to make a copy of the request for the list of awardees. This time they denied me the document and I was unable to ask for a review of the decision because under FOIA you must provide a copy of the original FOIA request along with the Request for Review.
The lesson here, of course, is not to trust anybody — not even librarians. Continue reading DeKalb Public Library and Greed
We return our attention to Bell, California. Administrators and council members there paid themselves exorbitant salaries while cutting city services, overcharging taxes and fees, and creating a major municipal revenue source out of a vehicle impounding program.
This and more was accomplished in a roughly DeKalb-sized town with per capita income of $24,000.
Now, today I was sent a link (thanks!) to an article with this beautiful headline: Bell Council Members Guilty of Multiple Corruption Counts.
Five former council members were found guilty of stealing public money. Two former city administrators are still awaiting trial.
Key factors in the corruption seem to include a lack of oversight — Bell does not have its own newspaper — an aggressive city manager “mastermind,” and Bell’s status as a charter city, which allows its government to ignore state limits on salaries and other spending.
Site news: Posting is sure to remain very light through the rest of March and into April as the write-in campaign for city clerk continues. One way to be notified when I’ve posted is to visit or ask to join the City Barbs Facebook group if you use FB a lot.
First off, I want to follow up on the question of repealing home rule in Mt. Vernon. Voters defeated the challenge, meaning home rule is retained. High profile business backers, a core group of “Vote No” volunteers plus use of social media are credited with the success.
While the Mt. Vernon pro-home rule group won with 57% of the vote, there was a veritable smackdown by 70% of voters of the proposition to make the city clerk’s office in DeKalb an appointed one. It’s difficult not to look at this as a referendum on city administration, and on the performance of city manager Mark Biernacki in particular. Let him laugh at the suggestion that the ballot question was an attempted power grab — that doesn’t make it untrue.
With the retention of an elected city clerk, congenitally optimistic residents like me can hope for a real watchdog in the position.
Lastly, I’d like to note that City Barbs is now seven years old.
Treat this as an open thread if you like. Name yer topic.
Yesterday’s Chicago Tribune: “Towns Borrow, You Pay”.
When the Trib covered the Rosemont story a few weeks ago, it looked at Home Rule but more tangentially. This time, the poster child is Bellwood and Home Rule, which gives municipalities free rein on borrowing and taxation, is front and center:
The vast majority of states — including all of the largest ones — do not offer municipalities such blank checks.
Ken Small of the Florida League of Cities said he would worry if his state had Illinois’ loose rules.
“It is like giving your teenager a credit card,” he said.
In Illinois’ home-rule municipalities, the onus is on voters to decipher the financial ramifications of what their local officials are doing. And even then, residents may only get a say come election time, and only if their local officials face competition on the ballot.
DeKalb residents never really get a say, because in addition to Home Rule it has the council-manager form of government. This means the CEO is the appointed city manager, not the mayor. Not only that, but the city manager has an employment contract with no expiration date on it. And furthermore we’ve been cursed with councils that, for whatever reason, don’t think we can do better.
When last we left our Mt. Vernon heroes, they had just presented a petition to have the question of revoking Home Rule put on the ballot in November.
I was a little alarmed that the Mt. Vernon city council had planned to vet the petition. In DeKalb this would probably constitute the kiss of death, but apparently democracy is still valued in some parts of Illinois.
The ballot wording voters will see is: “Should the people of Mt. Vernon, IL return the power to raise local taxes only by a vote from the people approving said tax, stopping the City Council from raising taxes through their sole power of Home Rule without your vote? If so vote Yes to Revoke Home Rule powers from the City of Mt. Vernon, in the County of Jefferson, State of Illinois, 62864.”
The Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce Past Presidents’ Council is reportedly launching a campaign to educate voters about Home Rule in Mt. Vernon, and what the consequences of repeal would be.
The city council of DeKalb approved first reading last night of an ordinance that would overturn a ban on gambling devices to allow video gaming with payouts.
Also, in a daring use of Home Rule authority, it has decided to consider allowing the machines in an establishment where kids hang out.
Come August 27, probable date of second reading, we may be leaving more cautious communities in the dust! Guess who passed the ordinance below:
WHEREAS, states such as Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina have abandoned experiments with the legalization of video gaming because of regulatory difficulties, corruption, and the high social costs associated with this form of gambling; and
WHEREAS, video gaming is designed to entice people to play longer, faster, and at higher rates of wagering, according to a study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and
WHEREAS, the Mayor…and City Council agree that legalized video gaming would present a variety of adverse impacts on residents…including the potential for corruption, impact on the costs of law enforcement, regulatory difficulties, and high social costs; and
WHEREAS, the legalization of video gaming within the City…is not consistent with the family-oriented values reflected in our community as identified in the City’s Strategic Plan; and
WHEREAS, the overwhelming majority of input received from…citizens calls for prohibiting video gaming in the City…video gaming is prohibited within the corporate limits of the City…
Make the jump to see if you guessed right. Continue reading A Few Words About Video Gambling