FOIA Request Rejection & Appeal

Kay’s post about Governor Quinn’s signing the new, improved FOIA legislation is great news, but comes too late to help with this current and ongoing situation.

Let’s start with a recap of events. I have been trying to obtain, via the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), ReNew:DeKalb meeting minutes. Re:New, as a private organization, does not have to respond under FOIA directly; however, a provision of its contract with the City of DeKalb requires it to submit certain documents to the city. Here is the provision of the Re:New contract (p. 249) upon which I have based my requests:

SUBMISSION OF ANNUAL BUDGET, AUDITOR’S REPORT & MEETING MINUTES: ReNew DeKalb shall annually submit a copy of their approved annual budget and Auditor’s Report and copies of any board meeting minutes of any meeting where the receipt or use of City funding is discussed or acted upon within thirty (30) days of the approval of such documents.

“City funding” is not specific to Re:New’s annual allocation. It includes the use of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) monies, too. The Egyptian Theatre has the same provision in its contract with DeKalb (p. 242) and its allocation is TIF funding (p. 237). Re:New is all about TIF, from the Architectural Improvement Program (AIP) to special projects like the skating rink. In fact, it would be surprising to find out that there are any Re:New meetings whatsoever that don’t discuss some aspect of the use of city funding. BTW, this has Open Meetings Act implications, too, but that’s a separate complaint. Continue reading FOIA Request Rejection & Appeal

Cook County Transparency

Did you read the title twice? It’s certainly something for the “strange but true” column: Cook County as potential role model for DeKalb County. Cook County Commissioner Tony Paraica is now hosting a website called All 25,000-plus Cook County employees are listed by name, title, department, salary and hire date in a database that is searchable alphabetically or by department or salary range.

TIF This

Medill (that is Northwestern’s journalism school) student Adam Verwymeren created a satirical description of TIFs in language so easy a five-year-old, a caveman, or a politician can understand, called: TIFs for Tots.


When you are done with the online children’s book, try Ben Joravsky’s TIFs for Dummies. Do not miss this key section:

“Think about this. If the schools, parks, and county can only get $100 from a TIF district, what do they do when their expenses go up to $200? They have to raise their levies—the amounts they each get from the property tax pie—to compensate for the money diverted to the TIFs. When they do that, property taxes go up. No matter what the city tells you, TIFs are tax hikes, plain and simple—the more you create, the higher taxes go.”

More resources on TIFs: Continue reading TIF This

Illinois & Stimulus Transparency

[Updates 8/2: Handy ARRA map w/links to state summaries and Illinois’ ARRA site.]

We love Good Jobs First because it’s taught us about development subsidies and TIF. This week, GJF released a report rating the quality of each state’s disclosure of its use of funds provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

The Good Jobs First study examines the quality and quantity of disclosure by official state websites on the many ways ARRA funding is flowing through state governments to communities, organizations and individuals. Looking at both spending programs and individual projects, it evaluates the general ARRA websites that all states have created as well as their website reporting specifically on ARRA highway projects. Based on ten different criteria, each state (and the District of Columbia) is graded twice on a scale of 0 to 100.

Six states score 50 or better for their main ARRA site: Maryland (80), Colorado (68), Washington (63), West Virginia (60), New York (53) and Pennsylvania (50). Thirteen states score 50 or better for their highway reporting, led by Maryland (75), Washington (73), Colorado (65) and Nebraska (60). The average score for the ARRA websites is 28, and for highway reporting 38.

Where do you suppose Illinois ranked? Continue reading Illinois & Stimulus Transparency

Flooded House Acquisition Criteria Need Another Look

From the Stormwater Task Force Minutes, October 23, 2008, which were finally received and filed by City Council July 13, 2009 (see pp. 49-51).

Jeff Birtell suggested a comprehensive review of all flood damaged properties be considered by the City in a complete neighborhood buyout approach. The Committee wanted to prioritize to City Council a shorter list affordable for buyouts with expected limited dollars.

After [Sue Guio’s] presentation and a lengthy discussion by committee, it was recommended that Council’s decision should be based on the life safety hazard issues when deciding what properties to purchase for buyouts. It was further recommended that the following properties be considered for buyouts based on having the highest benefit to cost ratio determined by FEMA; 814 Taylor, 829, 901, 909 Colby Court and 807 Dawn Court. However, Fairmont properties with high benefit cost ratios were suggested to be deferred at this time until future funding becomes available. These 5 priority properties for buyout consideration have serious life safety issues from river flooding and documented FEMA claims for lower living area damage.

A motion was made by Chairman Conboy to recommend Council consider these life safety issue properties as a priority for buyout with CDBG funds. Dawn Mirman seconded the motion. Motion carried by all except Dave Pauling and Elizabeth Hagen Moeller whom [sic] abstained due to both their properties lying within the buyout area.

Are there a lot of Birtells in DeKalb? Because according to the voter registration rolls from last fall, at least five Birtells lived at 909 Colby Court. Also coincidentally, a Jeff Birtell appears in some Council meeting minutes as an I&T tech for the City of DeKalb. Continue reading Flooded House Acquisition Criteria Need Another Look

Chicago’s TIF Sunshine Ordinance

Ald. Manny Flores on TIF

Long before workers occupied the Windows & Doors factory, the company received $10 million in TIF funding from the city years ago. Following that, Aldermen Manny Flores (1st Ward) and Scott Waguespack (32nd Ward), worked on developing a new ordinance on TIF transparency. It eventually passed the City Council and Mayor Daley signed it. It will appear as part of the Chicago City Codes Web sites July 30th. That site is not easily linked from another Web site. So, inside the scroll box on the Progress Illinois Web site is the ordinance as originally introduced back in February.

City: Breach of Contract? No problem!

Near the end of the Council meeting tonight, I argued against Re:New DeKalb’s getting another agreement with the City of DeKalb because of breach of contract. Re:New has not been turning in the documentation called for (which could then be accessed via the city through the Freedom of Information Act) nor has it been following the Open Meetings Act. I can verify this provision has been ignored for at least two years.

The mayor mumbled something about having Legal look into it, then called for a vote on the resolution with no further discussion. Re:New gets $45,000 of our money this year and follows whatever rules it wants to. Or none, I guess.

A lot of other business was conducted tonight, almost none of it good. Use this as your council meeting open thread if you like.

“Open Book Revolution” & DeKalb

This is about a relatively new but promising resource for Illinois activists at the local level. It’s called For the Good of Illinois and the goal is simple: Help community activists take steps for greater transparency in local government. Its mission:

For The Good Of Illinois was founded to empower regular people with the means to change how politics is practiced in Illinois state government. We want to rekindle the spirit of public service among our elected officials.

Everyone has a role to play. Government will be accountable to citizens who demand transparency. This is why grassroots organizing is so important. We’re working to return Illinois to its roots: the citizen.

We suggest fellow citizens adopt the philosophy of, “Not On My Watch!” and do something now to move Illinois in a different direction. provides a simple road map to do this.

With all of our time and talent, we want to make Illinois right again – for regular people.

The founder is Adam Andrzejewski, whose father ran twice (1976, 1978) for state representative against George Ryan. He’s always wondered how things might be different now if his dad had won, and his answer is to criss-cross the state to train activists, especially of the “budding” sort, in how to achieve gains in government transparency with a bottom-up approach. Andrzejewski envisions an “Open Book Revolution.” Continue reading “Open Book Revolution” & DeKalb

City Website Update

City staff promised a few months ago that progress would be made to public access in a number of ways by January 2008. I just checked out the Council CoW meeting agenda for the 14th, and voila’:

CONSIDERATION OF THE CITY OF DEKALB’S WEBSITE ENHANCEMENT UPDATE. Back in August, staff gave a presentation on expanded access to City Council meetings and minutes thorough the City’s website. These enhancements included offering DVDs of City Council meetings at the Public Library, providing webcasts of council meetings on the City’s website, having the full agenda packet available online, and making e-payments and direct debit available for water bills. This memorandum provides an update on these projects and other initiatives we are undertaking.

The procedures for providing the DVDs to the public library and for making utility e-payments are already in place. This must mean the webcasts and agenda packets are on the way soon–and what’s this about other initiatives? Interesting.

Tip o’ the hat to the city for the timely follow-up.

Council Pre-Watch: Public Access

In 2005 a small group of neighbors fought a certain developer for a number of reasons. Addressing the DeKalb City Council one evening, the developer claimed that he had made no attempt to obtain tax abatements or other financial breaks for his project. One of the neighbors rose to challenge the statement because she knew the developer had requested a waiver of fees from the Sanitary District, and she knew it because the Sanitary District posts its meeting minutes online. What’s more, the neighbor probably accessed the minutes on the weekend or maybe midnight because she has a day job.

This is the face of citizen participation today. If we’re to get involved in government beyond voting–can anyone argue the need?–we require either a whole lot more leisure time or increased ease of access. The case of the smart-growth advocates vs. warehouse mania represents hundreds of hours of research that simply would not have been possible without extreme surfing of the wild, unfettered Internet upon the slick board that is cable modem. What’s more, we’ve placed much of the work here at CityBarbs, which saves duplication of effort and has helped the residents of at least one other city that found itself in a similar situation.

It could be that on Monday, the City of DeKalb will demonstrate its willingness to join us in the pool. Continue reading Council Pre-Watch: Public Access