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

Feels like a SLAPP to me

***Update 11/3/2017*** Next court appearance is Wednesday, November 8, 2017, 9 am in Room 300 of the DeKalb County Courthouse.

DeKalb’s police chief is suing a McHenry County resident for calling him names in emails addressed to other DeKalb city officials.

[DeKalb Police Chief] Gene Lowery filed suit in DeKalb County Court in January 2016, seeking damages from Thomas G. Salvi, for libel. Salvi, a doctor of internal medicine and a former Republican candidate for state representative who lives in Crystal Lake, sent emails in 2015 to then-Mayor John Rey and City Manager Anne Marie Gaura, in which he called Lowery “evil” and “a thug,” and urged them to fire him.

Chief Lowery worked in McHenry County before he came to DeKalb, and that’s where he and Dr. Salvi apparently locked horns.

This actually happened to me once. A person wrote to my supervisor to make outlandish accusations against me. The boss and I had a brief chat, and I returned to work. End of story.

Chief Lowery didn’t even have to have the chat. Continue reading Feels like a SLAPP to me

Resident Officer Programs: One of These Things is Not Like the Others

**UPDATE 11/24** Via email, the city still maintains that the redaction “facially” applied to its FOIA response. However:

[A]fter further discussion with the Police Department, we believe that the Resident Officer Program’s mission is furthered by engaging with the public wherever possible, and where doing so does not endanger public or officer safety. Accordingly, the City is providing an un-redacted copy of the record at issue as per your request.

Whether or not I would have prevailed in the state’s review of the redaction, the reversal is a good reminder that most exceptions to FOIA — assuming they’re properly applied — are allowed but not commanded.
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The City of Elgin has a nationally recognized community policing endeavor called the Resident Officer Program of Elgin (ROPE). Here’s the webpage. Links from that webpage take you to a map of ROPE coverage, as well as to pages devoted to each of five ROPE officer locations that include the resident officers’ photos, contact information and introductory greetings.

Oak Park has a Resident Beat Officer Program (RBO). Here’s the webpage. There are eight patrol zones; click on zone headings for the beat officers’ names, photos and contact information.

City of DeKalb has a Resident Officer Program (ROP). Here’s the webpage. The description identifies an Officer Burke who lives on the 600 block of North Eleventh Street, and there is a written description of the ROP territory. There is no map, no address, no photo or contact information for this or any other officer.

Part of this is about how much DeKalb’s $50,000+ website sucks, but there’s more to it. On Friday, I received an email from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) officer that read, “As you may know, the City utilizes multiple police officers in its Resident Officer Program (ROP).”

No, I did not know that. How could I? The city’s website mentions exactly one resident officer, and there’s nothing in the Chronicle archives, either. Unlike those of other communities I looked up, there is virtually no current public information about this supposedly extensive public program.

Indeed, what I found were a couple articles published three years ago, when Officer Burke moved into a home that City of DeKalb purchased and renovated with Tax Increment Financing (TIF) funds (an arrangement the city refers to as “enhanced” ROP). Continue reading Resident Officer Programs: One of These Things is Not Like the Others

DeKalb’s Police Department Overspent by $700,000 Last Fiscal Year

Overtime comprised most of DeKalb PD’s excessive spending over budgeted amounts for FY2014, but another major culprit was spending in the “Commodities” category that came to roughly twice as much as the $260,000 budgeted.

Commodities were clearly under-budgeted in 7 of 10 accounts in that category and in a couple cases downright unrealistically. For example, actual costs for gas, oil and antifreeze for that department came in a bit over $117,000 for FY2013, yet PD budgeted only $95,000 for the same item the following year.

What’s going on? My guess is that the decision to return expenses from off-budget accounts back into the department’s budget accounts was an unexpected development.

Fortunately, spending for general government was lower than budgeted and this partially offset the excessive spending on public safety, leaving the city at a mere $347,773 over its General Fund budget for the year.

Resources:

City of DeKalb FY2015 Budget

Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for Fiscal Year 2014

Auditor’s Letter to Management (see p. 6 of the PDF)

City of DeKalb’s Downloads Page (Look under the Finance heading for annual budgets and CAFRs)

Towing Fee Account Story Generates More Questions

The Daily Chronicle may have just published one of the most important investigative reports ever written about City of DeKalb finances.

Since early 2013, the DeKalb Police Department has used around $300,000 of the $350,000 collected in administrative tow fees to buy a wide range of items outside of its regular budget.

There are a lot of potential issues arising from this revelation, from whether the tow fee ordinance is fair to how much the equipping of the new police station might have gone over budget. The article seems to suggest that, right now, the city is mostly concerned about the administrative tow ordinance itself coming under attack. But to me, we’re taking our eyes off the prize if we stray too far from the simple fact that $300,000 in public spending was not publicly accounted for in 2013.

I mean, doesn’t it make you wonder:

  • What other accounts holding fines and fees are used for “extras”?
  • How this might relate to the $3-million-plus “excess expenditures over budget” that the city’s auditors found noteworthy?

  • Why the city has begun changing the policy even while insisting there’s nothing wrong with the status quo?
  • That’s just for starters. So I’m going to keep my eyeballs on this for awhile, yes, yes indeedy.

    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

    City of DeKalb, Truancy Services are Not Your Job

    Do you ever go into a store during a weekday when your own kids are in school, and see similarly-aged kids and think, “I wonder why they’re not in school?”

    I’ve done so quite reflexively on occasion, and when that happens I say or do…nothing. Because it’s none of my business.

    This is between the parents/guardians and whatever school authorities apply to the situation.

    Now, city staff are pushing a truancy ordinance that would encourage police officers to enforce what in essence constitutes a curfew during weekdays that District 428 schools are in session, making truancy suddenly the business of the City of DeKalb.

    If a school district has a truancy problem and a municipality needs more revenue, it might seem like a good solution on the surface. However, several flaws emerged at last night’s council meeting, not the least of which was any lack of anticipation of how this would affect the kids who are privately schooled. Continue reading City of DeKalb, Truancy Services are Not Your Job

    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

    DeKalb’s Hiring Spree

    The City of DeKalb got rid of 30+ employees at the beginning of FY2011 in order to balance its budget. There followed a year of quiet, but now we’re in the midst of a hiring spree.

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    Here is what it has done to personnel expenses.

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    And here’s what the FY2014 budget narrative (PDF p. 29) says about the increases:

    Total Personnel Services reflect an increase of 4.5% percent over FY2013. Most of this increase is attributable to a 15% percent increase in pension costs. Wages reflect increases based on collective bargaining agreements. Our insurance consultant informed us in March that the City’s health insurance premium will increase by 4.5% percent[.]

    The latest pension cost increase is distressing, but in terms of dollars it is neither the only source nor the primary source of rising personnel costs, which make up some 83% of the General Fund budget.

    So we’re looking at these expenditures going up $2.4 million over a two-year period. However, personnel expenses as a whole are expected to rise only about $1 million. In my opinion, this has given council and others a false sense of security that our revenues are naturally growing to cover the ongoing, rising expenses — so let’s try to tug the curtain away. Continue reading DeKalb’s Hiring Spree

    DeKalb’s New Towing Policy a Slap to Checks and Balances

    I was reading an article at DeKalb County Online about the City of DeKalb’s new towing policy. Comments on the story included a reference to this tidbit from Section 35.05, Orders for Towing and Impounding of Vehicles by City:

    f) Towing Policy: The Chief of Police is and shall be authorized to approve changes, amendments or modifications to the City’s official Towing Policy from time to time, without requiring approval of the City Council or amendment of this Ordinance, and shall maintain a current copy of the Towing Policy at the Police Department office, for public inspection.

    The above was taken from the online version of the DeKalb Municipal Code, where I read the rest of the policy while wondering what might already be out of date. Perhaps in the past month new violations were added to the list, or the $500 fine was changed to $1000. To be absolutely sure, I’d have to stop by the police station each day to see if things have changed, and in between visits a bit of uncertainty would ever remain.

    Only two council members voted against the ordinance, and they did so only because they disagreed with the provisions for establishing a towing company rotation. Everyone apparently thought it was fine for the council to cede its authority and responsibility to act as a check on executive power.