Now We’re Getting Somewhere

Turns out, City of DeKalb’s press release this week about hiring outside help has a backstory, and the Daily Chronicle has unearthed it..

New DeKalb City Manager Anne Marie Gaura wants the city to hire an outside financial expert after staff recently broke rules for making purchases in excess of $20,000.

First, the council approved the changes to city hall that included moving the finance office to the first floor and upgrading security. When city staff sought council approval, $14,000 in work had been completed, but the project was slated to cost $36,000. During their last meeting, aldermen approved a $22,864 expenditure for fitness equipment at the police station that had already been purchased using administrative tow funds.

“This just goes to the long history of the organization,” Gaura said. “It wasn’t anything intentional, but it indicated to me we need to improve our purchasing policies.”

Wow, dig it. The new city manager is saying it’s not OK to come to council for authorization to exceed the $20,000 spending authority after the fact. Think about what that might mean for fiscal discipline and accountability in DeKalb if the city manager is a stickler for the rules.

Chronicle on the Proposed New TIF Districts

The Daily Chronicle has come out against the proposed Sycamore Road TIF District, pointing to Mayor Rey’s recent comment that two developers are interested in one of the properties even with no incentives.

So why bring tax increment financing into the equation? It certainly might give the city some more money it can spend on projects of its choosing, but it doesn’t appear necessary here.

For one thing, I think maybe NIU has gotten the idea that the city is going to fix up one of its buildings. TIF in DeKalb has ALWAYS been about generating slush for pet projects.

But tax increment financing is supposed to be used to encourage development in areas that need it, not just to generate revenue for City Hall to spend.

The South Fourth Street corridor needs redevelopment, no question. But the South Fourth plan is a horrible plan. In fact, both of the TIF proposals are bad, as in ill-conceived and lazy. The TIF consultant should be fired and the Joint Review Board publicly shamed for its lack of proper oversight.

I’m glad to hear that the city council is questioning these TIF proposals and I hope at some point this body also sees the need to review and reform how TIF plays out in DeKalb.

DeKalb – Firefighter Quid Pro Quo

The City of Springfield is expecting to approve a new contract with its firefighters’ union soon.

Golly, I wish we had that kind of news coverage. Remember the last-minute hoop we had to jump through to find what the 2011 contract with our firefighters was about?

The Springfield story reminded me that the longish closed sessions our council is holding lately have something to do with collective bargaining and not just horse-trading over the appointment of the new city manager. Sure enough, DeKalb’s agreement with International Association of Firefighters Local 1236 expires June 30, 2014.

I meant to look at the contract anyway because during the last council meeting, they were speaking in code while talking about the latest emergency services contract. The code was “7(g)” and turns out “7(g)” is shorthand for, “How much the city is going to pay emergency personnel to attend sporting events.”

But on to the quid pro quo. Continue reading DeKalb – Firefighter Quid Pro Quo

Did You Get Invited? Me Neither.

Last week I decided to email our almost-daily newspapers to let them know I’ve been searching them each day for news of the DeKalb city manager interviews. You’ll remember that last summer the date for the interviews was set for November 1, but a lot could have happened since then.

Then an article appeared in the weekend edition of the Daily Chronicle. (I don’t know if I can take credit for this or not.) It confirmed the date of the panel interviews but not much else.

You see, in July when the interview schedule was set, the Community Committee interview panel and a candidates’ evening meet-and-greet were designated public meetings, so I’d expected to get details about those events in the article as well.

I guess we second-class citizens who would like to attend the public events will need to make an extra effort to find out the where and when, unless we’re content to wait for the state-required public notices to come out Wednesday and scramble from there.

Of course, it’s entirely possible city officials have decided instead to renege on the earlier plans for openness and are now keeping all panels and the meet-and-greet limited to the select few. Continue reading Did You Get Invited? Me Neither.

Sustainable is the Last Thing This Is

A Chronicle article last week talks about all the new building, equipment and personnel the City of DeKalb is investing into its fire department.

I read the article after just having skimmed through the city’s check register for August. The police department spent, among other things, $125,000+ on software and $2600 on the new dog, including $79.95 for a water bowl. They seem to be having fun. Continue reading Sustainable is the Last Thing This Is

Baker Says City Employees Were Terminated for Conducting Personal Business on City Time

**Update September 15: Here’s the link to the full, 56-minute Housing Bureau discussion (HT M.C.)**

The City of DeKalb and the Chronicle recently made a big deal of a Housing Bureau employee’s using city email in negotiating her rent. But now that looks like the tip of the iceberg.

For adequate context, I recommend watching from about 6:30 to 9:30. The money quote from Alderman Baker comes after 8:30 and he makes another comment about the matter at 14:00.

What should be our conclusion here? That there’s rampant corruption but it’s kept secret unless the employee is stupid enough to put it in writing?

And where’s the Chronicle? This happened on Monday.

Power Shifts and Pushback

Let’s cut loose a couple of these agenda items for tonight’s DeKalb council meeting and try to paste them into the big picture.

It is odd that this fiscal year’s budget allows for the hiring of code inspectors into the police department’s Crime Free Housing Bureau instead of mingling them with the rest of the code enforcement people. It also has seemed wrong to members of the DeKalb Area Rental Association, who have been questioning this arrangement from its inception. They’ve finally gotten a couple of aldermen to bring up the question again so these assignments and allocations can be reconsidered.

The Chronicle does a good job with the story if you need something to get you up to speed. Of course the misplacement is major mission creep and strikes a blow against accountability in blurring boundaries between code enforcement and what Crime Free Housing is supposed to accomplish.

Then there’s the new truancy ordinance (see pp. 157-9 of the agenda PDF). Here’s what home-schoolers are reacting to most: Continue reading Power Shifts and Pushback

Chronicle’s Corn Fest 2011

ear of cornDeKalb Corn Fest just filed its IRS Form 990 this month for calendar/fiscal year 2011.

Let’s add the numbers to our chart:

[table id=75 /]

Corn Fest was able to to reduce its costs over the previous year. Unfortunately, its revenues took another dive. This (along with the sorry parking fee revenue total for 2012) is consistent with our hypothesis that Corn Fest is back downtown because it was dying at the airport, no matter what public officials say about it.

I’m calling it “Chronicle’s Corn Fest” for fun, though it really isn’t funny. In fact, let’s talk. Continue reading Chronicle’s Corn Fest 2011

Remarks from the TIF Public Hearing Last Night

The Chronicle covered the public hearing on the proposed Sycamore Road and South Fourth Street TIF districts last night. The article seems a bit short but I’m gratified to have been quoted.

Three of us spoke at the hearing: Kerry Mellott, Mac McIntyre and me. If you did not observe Mac’s and Kerry’s contributions, let me assure you they are worth an ear when the city makes the video available.

Today I offer my prepared remarks* because they represent a somewhat organized body of objections that I haven’t yet shared here.

Jump to look. Continue reading Remarks from the TIF Public Hearing Last Night

City Pay Raises Approved

In reading the agenda for last night’s meeting, I noticed council members were getting set to “reconsider” Resolution 13-56, the same one they shot down last meeting that would have given the contracted attorney a 2% raise.

I would’ve liked to have read a summary of the contentious June 24 discussion, but alas! I couldn’t find the regular meeting minutes in the agenda packet, nor was approval of those minutes part of last night’s agenda. Wonder what’s going on in the clerk’s office that they’re running late on something so basic?

Anyway, after two weeks of the miracle of “reconsidering,” the lawyer and others will now enjoy 2% increases; and apparently anything less now constitutes abuse of city staff. Continue reading City Pay Raises Approved