Addressing Media Coverage of the DeKalb’s Latest “Surplus”

The Daily Chronicle is irritating me this week.

DeKALB – It wasn’t long ago that DeKalb had only a $22,000 surplus in the general fund.

Now, with the Fiscal Year 2011 audit almost complete, city officials say they are looking at a $6.3 million surplus.

The DeKalb City Council on Monday will be asked to amend last year’s budget, allocating $3.6 million of that surplus into eliminating the deficits found in funds for the city’s airport, workers compensation and capital projects.
[…]
The big gains in the general fund came from a variety of sources, Assistant City Manager Rudy Espiritu said, but primarily can be credited to a bigger return on investments, bigger gains in city revenues and cost-cutting measures such as the 20 layoffs the city approved in 2010. [emphasis added]

This is not the first time they’ve mentioned only the layoffs and left out the Voluntary Separation Program (VSP) and in this case it’s not forgivable. Why? Because the VSP was specifically designed to help eliminate General Fund deficits that, earlier in the year, were projected to grow to $5 million by 2012.

Let me put it another way: they mostly closed the gap by getting rid of people, but that doesn’t really fix the things that need fixing. Here’s the comment I left at the DC website: Continue reading Addressing Media Coverage of the DeKalb’s Latest “Surplus”

Political What?

This morning I read Daily Chronicle Editor Jason Schaumburg’s weekend column. He supports term limits to fix what ails our governments.

The line of reasoning goes like this:

Term limits would curtail the influence of money and lobbyists in government. They would attract the right kind of candidate to seek office. If money and greed are out of the equation, political lifers make way for public servants.

If we don’t allow candidates to stay in Washington or Springfield too long, then they can’t become puppets of the lobbyists pouring money into their coffers.

The President has a term limit, yet he’s raised more money than anyone in history, and it easily could be argued he’s somewhat beholden to the big donors.

The only way to take money out of the equation is to take money out of the equation.

But how about term limits for the unelected? Appointed administrators wield real power locally and consolidate that power over time with favors borne of generous spending limits. In DeKalb, there’s not even an expiration date on the city manager’s contract to prompt a performance evaluation and open council vote on retention.

Lastly, there’s this at the end of the column:

Road to the White House can be found at Daily-Chronicle.com/whitehouse. On it, you’ll find stories about the presidential race, bios for the Republican candidates, Twitter feeds for the candidates, polling data and more.

If you are a political junkie, you’ll want to bookmark this website.

It bothers me — in general only, no particular reflection on Mr. Schaumburg — that if you’re interested in campaigns, politics and/or policy, you get labeled a “junkie” like there’s something deviant about you. It’s another symptom of what ails us, methinks.

Depending on City Officials for Truth about Legality of Library Expansion? Please.

It was a toss-up whether to focus on DeKalb Public Library’s ongoing coyness about its expansion plans, or the role of local media in covering for it. How about a bit of both.

Today’s WTF moment is brought to you by the Daily Chronicle in “DeKalb officials expand on library land process, say everything appears kosher”.

City attorney Dean Frieders said the city council does not have to give its approval for the land purchase because it would be funded with “relatively short-term financing,” in the form of a bequest, rather than a tax increase, a mortgage or a municipal bond to purchase the land.

And, ahem, TIF money.

Here’s the comment I left on the story.

The development agreement may give the council a “say,” but according to library law the council does more than that — council makes the call. At any rate, why are we listening to the same city officials who flip-flop about whether council has the authority to set the library’s levy (it does), and who refuse to insist the library make its annual report to council using the same detailed report it sends to the state? Perhaps it is time for our state’s attorney to step in, at least to ask for an opinion from the Illinois Attorney General.

The alternative is to go to court. Continue reading Depending on City Officials for Truth about Legality of Library Expansion? Please.

Aren’t DeKalb’s Finances Recovering Nicely?

What a lovely surprise.

I can’t wait! I can’t wait for the rollbacks to begin of the tax and fee hikes our city council has approved since 2008 to keep afloat. Shall we start with the property tax, sales tax, restaurant and bar tax, hotel-motel tax, utility tax or the first gas tax hike? When will we hear the glad news that the rest of the planned water rate hikes have been canceled?

Or maybe instead, we could re-hire the 50+ people we’ve let go.

Or maybe, just maybe, this is propaganda, groundwork to justify more planned employee raises; and some parties are swallowing it hook, line and sinker.

And afterward, whatever budgetary badness happens will be something that “nobody could foresee.”

Chronicle Misses the Mark with Corn Fest Parking Fees

In “Our View: Corn Fest fee to park is fair,” the Chronicle today makes the case for users of Corn Fest to help pay for it.

The city provides, among other things, a location for the festival and police and emergency personnel in case something goes wrong. The emergency personnel are paid out of their departments’ budgets, which tough financial times have stretched as far as they will go.

The question: Who should pay for those costs? The people who attend the festival or every taxpayer in the city, whether they attend or not?

Of course it would be fair, if it were happening the way they say. But it’s not.

Readers of DeKalb County Online and this blog already know that the $5 parking fee will not go toward providing first responders at the festival. FAA approval of the event is contingent upon the city’s collecting fair market value for Corn Fest’s use of the airport, in this case $30,000 – $50,000, to go straight into the Airport Fund. It cannot be used for other city operations. We are back to Square One on covering these costs.

The above information comes from e-mails provided by the city, at least one of which was supposedly prompted by a Chronicle inquiry. It is baffling that the newspaper somehow failed to get the memo.

Besides getting the basic facts wrong, the Chronicle’s stance fails to take into account how this might affect Corn Fest itself. Continue reading Chronicle Misses the Mark with Corn Fest Parking Fees

Council in the Twilight Zone

Better late than never? Here are a few comments on the City of DeKalb meetings Monday night.

Group Therapy

When I switched on the Committee of the Whole meeting (admittedly not right at the beginning) there was an immediate feeling of disorientation. The mayor was complaining about a constituent taking up too much of his time. It came across as a group therapy situation, specifically some sort of assertiveness training session for our unhappy figurehead.

Within this context, Alderman Gallagher named a civicly-participating resident. If the result is a slander suit, I guess I’m a witness!

Corn Fest

Next for discussion was charging parking fees for Corn Fest. Here’s what the agenda says:

2) CONSIDERATION OF CORNFEST PARKING FEES.
The City of DeKalb has negotiated with the Big Brothers / Big Sisters of DeKalb to enter into an agreement to provide labor for the collection of funds at the CornFest summer festival at the DeKalb Taylor Municipal Airport. Per the direction of City Council, staff has been investigating ways to recoup some of the costs expended for the support of the CornFest event.

LAST year it was about recouping staff overtime for security and cleanup. THIS year, it’s about not getting into trouble with the FAA. Continue reading Council in the Twilight Zone

Star Covers Library Comments at Council Meeting

I see some of comments left at the Daily Chronicle website express puzzlement that Mac McIntyre hasn’t yet filed suit in the case of the DeKalb Public Library Board’s violations of the Open Meetings Act. Today the Northern Star sheds some light:

Mac McIntyre, member of the Finance Advisory Committee, said the DeKalb Public Library board voted in closed session, on May 12, on the purchase of the neighboring DeKalb Clinic.

“In doing so, they broke the law. They also broke the law by not publishing that they were going into closed session or give any reason for going into closed session,” McIntyre said. “There was $1.8 million of public tax dollars that were approved and levied in closed session in three meetings of the Library Board…That $1.8 million is roughly equal to their annual operating budget.”

According to the Illinois Open Meetings Act, voting on appropriations of public funds in a closed forum is prohibited. McIntyre called for the postponement of the DeKalb Clinic purchase proposed on Oct. 25 until an investigation by the city council was made and it issued a public report of the findings.

My take: Mac is giving Council a chance to address the DKPL violations just as he allowed time for the State’s Attorney to act. How embarrassing it would be to file suit, only to discover afterward that Mayor Kris “Ethics Warrior” Povlsen was already fixin’ to clean up Dodge. Why, it would be almost as embarrassing as having a council that chose to do nothing at all.

Roundup & Open Thread

Chronicle Covers Flood Buyout Factors. Sorta.

[Update 10/27: Somebody sent me an anonymous note — why anonymous? How odd for something like this — pointing out that some of these streets the mayor mentioned are in fact on the long range plan for property acquisition and suggesting I study the facts before blogging. Well, I did and I stand by my story. However, I will offer a clarification. There are targeted GEOGRAPHIC AREAS and targeted HOMES. Of the targeted HOMES on the list, as in those 10 individual residences that have already been identified, assessed and prioritized, NONE lies on Sunnymeade, Tilton Park, Joanne or John St. These streets with no currently targeted HOMES are also on the list for infrastructure improvements along with Dodge Addition. Thank you, Dear Reader, for your assistance in clearing up any remaining confusion.]

Finally.

DeKALB – The amount of rainwater that fills a home is not the only factor when determining a government buyout of properties affected by flooding.

The value of damages and cost of repairs isn’t the only measure, either.

Rather, a number of factors make the case – and they can be easily or not-so-easily computed by the local government. Acting as an applicant for federal funds, that government must identify, prioritize and submit to state and federal authorities, hoping that the selections made are the right ones – the ones that will result in funding assistance.

Egg-zactly. And, let me tell you, trying to trace the factors isn’t easy. This past week I sifted through three inches of paper and brought some of it home to study further because city government lost its privilege to be taken at face value in not disclosing the buyout of a city employee’s home. For that matter, so did the Chronicle. As far as I’m concerned, the article is a government act of damage control enabled by stenographers posing as a newspaper.

At the very least, the Chronicle should have asked about and explained this: Continue reading Chronicle Covers Flood Buyout Factors. Sorta.