Here’s the difference in agenda rules between regular and special public meetings

During a recent Annie Glidden North task force subcommittee meeting, I alleged Open Meetings Act (OMA) violations. I want to explain why.

What I objected to was the subcommittee’s addition of discussion items to the agenda of a special meeting. During regular meetings, a public body can talk about anything it wants, but that same body must stick to the published agenda when it has a special meeting.

It’s easier to understand if you unhook “notice” from “agenda.” Maybe you’ve heard of the rule of publishing meeting notices and agendas 48 hours in advance? The “notice” part actually differs between regular and special meetings. While you might also see meeting specifics on a regular agenda (makes sense) the notice that counts under OMA is the schedule published at the beginning of the fiscal or calendar year; the 48-hour notice applies to the agenda only. A special meeting, on the other hand, requires that the body publish 48 hours in advance the notice of the meeting and the agenda together.

Adding discussion items to a regular agenda is allowed due to the abundance of notice for regular meetings. At least hypothetically, anyone interested has enough time to arrange to attend any or all regular meetings.

The agenda rule for special meetings is tighter — no additions allowed — due to the short notice.

So back to the subcommittee meetings. These are special meetings so far, but last week at least one committee added items to its agenda. Whoever is the boss of these committees (the mayor, I hope) could decide to give them flexibility of agenda by setting up a regular meeting schedule, but until then they must stick to their agendas.

Also, could somebody please train the city staff. There were three staff members attending the meeting I observed, and none of them had a clue. Continue reading Here’s the difference in agenda rules between regular and special public meetings

City of DeKalb does not want you to come to this meeting

Tonight is a special meeting of the DeKalb city council. Unlike all other council meetings, this meeting will not be recorded on video. That’s because the city does not know how to video-record meetings outside of council chambers, and council is not meeting in chambers tonight, even though this is the only city meeting scheduled.

Instead, they’re holding it in the Bilder room at DeKalb Public Library. I understand that the Bilder room holds about 30 people. If true, it’s a potential problem, because it’s a committee of the whole meeting, where the number of participating city staff will likely outnumber the council members, and leave — maybe — seating for only about 15 members of the general public.

If more people show up than the room can reasonably hold, that’s an Open Meetings Act violation.

The venue makes no sense.

The vague agenda item is also questionable when it comes to OMA: “Goal-setting session.” That’s it. Fortunately, staff were a little less lazy about putting together the agenda packet for the finance advisory committee (whose meeting has been rescheduled for January 30, FYI) so I’m able to share more. The memo to FAC says this:

On January 24, 2018, the City Council will hold a Goal Setting Session to determine what goals they want to accomplish in 2018. As part of that session, the Council would be asked to identify short-term and long-term goals. Specifically, goals or projects they would like to address in the next one to two years would be identified. This would determine what subject areas Council wants staff to focus their time on and could impact the current and future budgets. Council will be asked to identify the broad outcomes to be accomplished in the next 18 months to three-and-a-half years.

But that’s not all. I’ve attended several planning sessions over the four years of city manager Anne Marie Gaura’s tenure. She is incapable of hiding her hostility toward us. They place the tables in an enclosed rectangle so the audience is facing people’s backs, and between this unfortunate positioning and their failure to use microphones, what you hear is dependent on the projection skills of each individual. Meanwhile, the audience has to wait an average of four hours for a chance to speak to its representatives, after all the decisions have been made.

It’s sketchy. Unacceptable. A 100% shut-out in every meaningful way.

Which is exactly why you should attend if you can.

Chief Lowery doesn’t want you at meetings if you don’t have anything nice to say

DeKalb’s police chief, Eugene Lowery, is so very, very tired of your negativity. Here’s what he said at Monday’s Committee of the Whole meeting of council.

I want you to hear everyone’s voice. Not the voices of the few that walk up to this podium, and day in and day out, or week in and week out, have nothing but negative things to say.

In this setting (or so my 12 years of watchdogging the city tell me) “negativity” is substituted for the more accurate word “disagreement.” It’s a device the bureaucrats occasionally use to try to silence and marginalize people who disagree with their ideas, goals and methods.

But I don’t believe I’ve ever heard a city employee straight-up tell the city council who to listen to. That part may be unprecedented.

More from Chief Lowery:

God, I shouldn’t say this, but I’m going to say it anyway. I believe Brendan Behan was an Episcopalian bishop, I think it was, like, late 1800s. He said this: “Critics are like eunuchs in a harem. They know how it’s done, they’ve seen it done every day, but they are unable to do it themselves.”*

Continue reading Chief Lowery doesn’t want you at meetings if you don’t have anything nice to say

Why I’m alleging DeKalb violated the Open Meetings Act yesterday

During a special meeting of the city council yesterday, I alleged that City of DeKalb had not given sufficient notice of the meeting, in that DeKalb did not explicitly name a location for it.

The city maintains that it gave sufficient notice because the agenda was printed on city letterhead, which includes the address of the Municipal Building. I believe letterhead may be sufficient for a regular meeting but not for a special meeting.

From merely a practical standpoint, consider that DeKalb often holds special meetings in special places, not just the Muni Building. As an example, I’ve attended special meetings of council at NIU, the library — even once on a bus. People who attend city meetings know about this aspect of special meetings, and the lack of location information caused confusion among the public yesterday.

There are legal considerations as well. Let’s explore them. Continue reading Why I’m alleging DeKalb violated the Open Meetings Act yesterday

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. 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