Library FUBAR

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On the same day that DeKalb County States Attorney, John Farrell, announced he is sending a letter of inquiry to the DeKalb Public Library Board regarding an admitted violation of the Illinois Open Meetings Act, the fake ice rink that occupied the corner of Locust and North First Street was unceremoniously dismantled and removed from the location.

Piling on? Yes. One incident after another is piling on and the City of DeKalb needs to stop it. Yes, the City of DeKalb has responsibility for the actions of the DeKalb Public Library Board of Directors. More specifically, the mayor and city council appoints the library board so the political buck must stop with those elected positions.

The DPL Board may not have known they were violating the Illinois Open Meetings Act but they were deliberately abusing the public’s right to know how tax dollars were being spent. By the library’s attorney’s own admission they purposely delayed making the information public until it was a done deal.

Building a 60,000-90,000 square foot new library on the properties once occupied by the DeKalb Clinic has been on the books since September 19, 2009.

A Building Program for the DeKalb Public Library – September 19, 2009 – Page 51
VII. OPTIMAL PROJECT TIMETABLE

Assuming that there are no delays introduced by either land acquisition or locating funding, the best reasonable time for the project is about as follows:
Completion of Building Program – August or September 2009
Architect interviews – October 2009
Architect selected and contract signed – November 2009
Schematic design completed – April 2010 *
Design development completed – June 2010
Construction documents completed – December 2010
Bidding – January 2011
Construction begins – March or April 2011, depending on weather conditions
Construction completed – September 2012
Ribbon cutting – October 2012
* Schematic design work cannot begin until a site has been selected.

A Building Program for the DeKalb Public Library was produced by Fred Schlipf who was hired to do so by the DPL Board. The Board approved Schlipf’s building program on September 9, 2009. The program lists as participants:

Board of Trustees of the DeKalb Public Library
Clarence Casella
Virginia Cassidy
Alan Genis
Kathy Higgerson
Wendell Johnson
Janis Kirts
Lara Luethehans
Clark Neher
Imelda Ruiz

City of DeKalb
Kris Povlsen, Mayor
Mark Biernacki, City Manager
Rudy Espiritu, Assistant City Manager
Russ Farnum, City Planner
Joel Maurer, City Engineer
John Guio, Planning Commission

ReNew DeKalb
Jennifer Groce
Frank Roberts

The program does not mention that Library Director Dee Coover and Alice Freier (Administrator for DeKalb Clinic Chartered) are members of the Board of Directors for ReNew DeKalb. ReNew DeKalb administers the Central Business District TIF Redevelopment Program. When the DPL Board chose to keep the wraps on their building plans until it was a done deal it makes those potential conflicts of interest smell worse than perhaps they are.

When the “Letter of Intent” includes language such as “consummating a satisfactory agreement and/or resolution between Purchaser (DPL) and the City of DeKalb, if required, authorizing the purchase of the property by Purchaser,” as a contingency — and the land acquisition is approved in closed session by the DPL Board (and the City Council has not even discussed it, ummm, in open session) — it smells even worse.

The DPL had the cash available to buy the land. Their Ending Fund Balance for the beginning of FY2011 was a healthy $1,638,368. The City of DeKalb’s financial goal is to get to a point where their ending fund balance equals 25% of their operating budget. The library was near 100%.

In the recent past the DPL has been pretty good on the bottom line of budgeting. They built the ending fund balance by maintaining a surplus in their annual budget. There was no projected surplus for FY2011. But contingencies climbed from $2,939 in FY2010 to a projected $282,554 in FY2011.

So, in closed session, the DPL Board took final action to purchase two parcels w/buildings from the DeKalb Clinic by committing its Ending Fund Balance. That’s a risky financial strategy unless you have some guarantees along the way. Bold some might say. But then some might say that Schlipf’s Building Program was quite bold:

A Building Program for the DeKalb Public Library – September 19, 2009 – Page 7
The primary purpose of the Program is to guide the architect selected by the City of DeKalb in the development of a design for the construction of a new public library building.

The Building Program was developed and edited through extensive conversations with De3Kalb [sic] City officials and with the library’s Board of Trustees, staff, Friends of the Library, and library users.

Fred Schlipf has an extensive background in library construction as a building consultant to about 90 libraries, excluding miscellaneous pro bono work. Most of those libraries are here in Illinois. Many appear as impressive success stories. But not all went as planned.

Schlipf produced the building program for remodeling and expanding Mercer Carnegie Public Library District in Aledo. The program was completed.  The architect selected.  Expansion site acquired.  Schematic design completed.  But then the Spring 2010 referendum was defeated.

Oooops.

That example in some ways mirrors the recent attempt to get a new police station built.  The program completed.  Architect selected.  New site acquired. But then the city council decided it wasn’t the right time to finance a $12-$20 million police station.

And the library’s betting their Ending Fund Balance on the city council approving their construction wants over those of the police department?

The architect that almost got the police station built was PSA Dewberry. They had to settle, for the mean time, for a much smaller contract to reconfigure the telecommunications area of the existing police station. They also picked up a courthouse expansion plan over in Sycamore. They’ve been working on a new library in DeKalb since at least 2007.

A Building Program for the DeKalb Public Library – September 19, 2009 – Page 29
In 2007, BCA determined that a group of small lots available near the library could not be used effectively to expand the library. Since all of the lots are small corner lots across two streets from the library, and neither street could be closed, these additional spaces offered no way to develop the larger single building required for good library service. (In late 2008, BCA merged with the architectural firm PSA-Dewberry.)

The DPL Board has held ten Special Meetings since 2008. Seven were held in 2008, one in 2009 and two so far in 2010. Every meeting has a printed agenda indicating that it is a Special Closed Session meeting. No minutes from any of these meetings have been published on the DPL website.

When FOIA’d for the minutes from a minimum of two required annual public meetings to discuss whether closed session minutes should remain private, Dee Coover’s response was “we’ll add it to the agenda of the July meeting.” When asked again the response was, “we’ll add it to the agenda of the August meeting.” It appears the minutes of those meetings required by 5 ILCS 120/2.06 (d) do not exist because those public sunshine laws have been ignored.

ILCS 120/2.06 (d)
Each public body shall periodically, but no less than semi‑annually, meet to review minutes of all closed meetings. At such meetings a determination shall be made, and reported in an open session that (1) the need for confidentiality still exists as to all or part of those minutes or (2) that the minutes or portions thereof no longer require confidential treatment and are available for public inspection

At one special meeting, held November 18, 2009, the recommended closed session motion was “Approve letter of intent.” Also on the agenda for that special meeting was an item to approve the library’s tax levy. A FOIA request for proof that the public had been properly notified (per 5 ILCS 120/2.02a and 5 ILCS 120/2.02b) of the ten special meetings was responded to with printed copies of the agendas posted on the library website.

5 ILCS 120/2.03 including copies of advertisements/announcements placed in the newspaper of general circulation

The library project needs to go back almost to square one. The public, and not just the “stakeholders” of the library and/or the Central TIF District, needs to be convinced of the need. The taxpayers should be told in full detail and sunlight how their tax dollars will be spent and any debt will be financed. Without reservation the taxpayers deserve to approve or disapprove of this project at the ballot box with a referendum.

The DeKalb City Council must not approve any related expenses without hearing with authority from their constituents.

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