Freedom of Speech starts at home

It’s not just DeKalb’s mayor who’s having trouble with the Open Meetings Act lately. The Edgar County Watchdogs report that the president of the Village of Wheeling recently used police officers to stop a citizen who wanted to address public comments to one particular public official instead of the whole board.

The focus of this Watchdogs’ report was the advice that the law firm Klein, Thorpe and Jenkins* have given Wheeling — and other public bodies in Illinois — when it comes to local government making rules about public comments at public meetings.

The Open Meetings Act says this about the public’s right to speak:

Any person shall be permitted an opportunity to address public officials under the rules established and recorded by the public body.

It’s a newer amendment to the Open Meetings Act, and yeah, it’s kind of vague. But that’s okay. The granting of a right to speak by any level of government automatically puts us under First Amendment coverage since nobody’s allowed to supersede the Constitution. Continue reading Freedom of Speech starts at home

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.

But it was when I decided to transcribe the mayor’s comments in full (to counter an argument about their being misconstrued) that I also realized he is mischaracterizing mine. My remarks about Stevens were not personal. They were about his job performance, particularly his reprehensible behavior toward members of the public. That is public business and therefore perfectly appropriate to the venue.

As previously noted, it so happens that making the criticism at a council meeting, while fully within my rights, was actually a last resort for me. It followed mistreatment at a private meeting that nobody has done anything about, including “the buck truly does stop here” Smith.

And FOIA as practiced at City of DeKalb is still not fixed.

Related:
DeKalb County Online: Letter: DeKalb Mayor advocating censorship

My transcription of the mayor’s August 28 comments: 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

Here are statutory provisions applicable to severance of an NIU president

…and I’m not altogether sure all of them were followed.

Chapter 110 of the Illinois Compiled Statutes (ILCS) is the Chapter that governs higher education. You can see how it is organized here, that it has general provisions and then provisions specific to the Board of Higher Education, each public university, community colleges, and student assistance.

110 ILCS 685 applies to Northern Illinois University, and most of NIU Law is contained in Article 30, as in 110 ILCS 685/30.

The section that applies to severance is Section 30-195, all of which comes from Public Act 99-0694, which passed the Illinois General Assembly July 29, 2016, and became effective January 1, 2017. In other words, this is very likely the Act that was passed in response to extreme misbehavior at College of DuPage. Continue reading Here are statutory provisions applicable to severance of an NIU president

This Election, Let’s Discuss Remedial Action for DeKalb

The Chronicle has published a letter to the editor that caught my eye. It’s about local candidates and their positions on the issues.

The words that they use may change, but the rhetoric is the same.

The writer goes on to list the same old, same old: DeKalb-NIU relations, easing of the tax burden, and jobs/business climate. He wants to hear specific ideas.

While I largely agree that some city candidates are hard to pin down, I believe the real issues in DeKalb are more fundamental, and require remediation before we can progress.

Here’s an example from Sunday. I attended the DARA forum for DeKalb mayoral candidates. One of the candidates took the position, in what struck me as a somewhat scolding tone, that residents should not share grievances unless they have the solutions already worked out. Apparently this person has already adopted city hall culture where citizens are separated into friends who have their attention, and whiners who don’t. Continue reading This Election, Let’s Discuss Remedial Action for DeKalb

DeKalb Tried to Hide Settlement Agreement with Former Community Development Director

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

DeKalb City Manager’s Office Tried to Keep ‘STEAM Team’ Under Wraps

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

Questions Regarding Custody of City Seal & Handling of Documents

DeKalb city clerk Jenny Johnson does not know where the official seal of the city is located, or even whether it is secure.

We found this out last Saturday, when she held a meeting to inform citizens of her current role, and to gather information about what we envision for the future. A dozen citizens attended, most of us members of the informal citizens’ committee called Citizens for Restoration of the DeKalb City Clerk.

Ms. Johnson explained that because of her part-time status, which she says is forced by low compensation of $5,000 per year, she felt compelled to transfer her authority over the city seal to a deputy clerk to avoid being continually on call to sign/certify/attest.

Unfortunately, the people she’s deputized are actually employees of the city manager’s office. Essentially, then, the city seal is under the control of the city manager’s office, a non-transparent arrangement that brings a slew of questions to bear about the custody and handling of official documents and use of the seal.

Yes, we’re talking about the loss of real-life “checks and balances” and what that might mean. Continue reading Questions Regarding Custody of City Seal & Handling of Documents

Forget What You’ve Heard about Steve Kapitan’s Resignation as City Clerk

***Update 5:45 p.m.*** The Facebook discussion on this post is here.

I’m going to ask you to set aside for a few moments everything you’ve heard about why Steve Kapitan resigned as DeKalb city clerk in 2012. Instead, I’d like for you to entertain the possibility that he was a casualty of a DeKalb city government intent on exchanging its elected city clerk for an appointed clerk for quite some time. Continue reading Forget What You’ve Heard about Steve Kapitan’s Resignation as City Clerk

An Important Amendment to the Open Meetings Act

I knew the General Assembly was debating the bill last year, but missed the August passage of Public Act 099-0402, which amends an important provision of the Illinois Open Meetings Act (OMA).

(5 ILCS 120/3.5)
Sec. 3.5. Public Access Counselor; opinions.
(a) A person who believes that a violation of this Act by a public body has occurred may file a request for review with the Public Access Counselor established in the Office of the Attorney General not later than 60 days after the alleged violation. If facts concerning the violation are not discovered within the 60-day period, but are discovered at a later date,
not exceeding 2 years after the alleged violation, by a person utilizing reasonable diligence, the request for review may be made within 60 days of the discovery of the alleged violation.

(Emphasis in original, to mark the amended language.)

Discovering an OMA violation beyond the old 60-day deadline was a teeth-gnasher, and happened more often than you’d think. This amendment should make a real difference.