The following is a chronology of the DeKalb Public Library’s (DPL) closed door plan to build a new library including the purchase of property owned by the DeKalb Clinic. The information used for this chronology was obtained from published minutes of the library’s board meetings and a July 16, 2010 FOIA request filed by DeKalb County Online with the City of DeKalb asking for all relative correspondence between the City and the DPL as well as any reports of meetings filed by assistant City Manager, Rudy Espiritu.
11.20.2007: Minutes of the November 14, 2007 regular scheduled meeting reports that the Library’s property tax levy would be voted on at a Special Meeting to be held Tuesday, November 20th at 5:00 p.m. There is no published agenda for this meeting. Likewise there are no minutes available. Was the 2008 library tax levy approved in an unrecorded meeting?
03.20.2008: DPL Director Dee Coover emails Alice Freier of the DeKalb Clinic to inquire about the property. A price of $2.7 million for the former main clinic at 217 Franklin Street and $937,500 for the old A&P store at 302 Grove Street is obtained.
04.12.2008: CLOSED SESSION MEETING.Agenda items for this “entirely closed session” were “Travel to Remote Sites – Visit to Other Libraries.” Neither of these items are exemptions allowed under OMA. The purpose of these items was to get ideas for building a new library which is far beyond the scope of discussing a real estate transaction. A review of the mandatory audio recording of this closed session meeting will confirm this allegation.
04.26.2008: Coover emails multiple recipients stating that in executive session the library board warmly endorsed the building of a new library.
07.30.2008: CLOSED SESSION MEETING: According to the agenda the Building Program was the topic for the closed session meeting. The Building Program is a proposal to build a new library and as such is not an exemption allowed under OMA.
07.31.2008: Coover emails DPL attorney Gary Cordes in inform him of a conversation she had with Rudy Espiritu. The assistant city manager advised Coover to move ahead with negotiations to purchase the clinic property and states that things were looking good for a new police station.
09.21.2009: Espiritu advises Coover, in a discussion regarding financing the construction of a new library, that he didn’t think bringing criminals into the same building as a library would go over very well with the taxpayers.
10.07.2009: Coover emails the DPL board and tells them of a discussion she had with Ray Bockman, county administrator. Bockman told her that $6 million in recovery funds were available but the County wanted those funds for the expansion of the courthouse.
11.14.2009: Coover informs the library board that the Clinic might accept a price of $1.7 million for the properties (down from a reported near $3.5 million in March, 2008).
11.16.2009: “… the most exciting news since 1929,” writes Coover to Rudy Espiritu, regarding the property negotiations.
11.18.2009: CLOSED SESSION MEETING. This is one of eleven (11) special meetings dating back to March 19, 2008 called by the Board in which minutes are not available. The agenda for this meeting included approving the Library’s tax levy request and while that topic was not identified as closed session no minutes are available and, by the vote taken in closed session of the Aug. 11, 2010 Review of Closed Session Minutes, no minutes will be available. Withholding minutes related to the library’s tax levy is clearly a violation of the Open Meetings Act. A review of the mandatory audio recording of this closed session meeting will confirm this allegation.
11.19.2009: Cordes called Coover at home and reported that the Clinic did not sign the letter of intent approved by the DPL Board in closed session on November 17, 2009. He reportedly agrees with Coover that the library should pass its tax levy with a statement that an increase is needed for operational expenses and to work on capital development.
01.07.2010: Coover writes attorney Phil Lenzini to inform him that the DPL board had approved, in closed session, a non-negotiable offer of $1.8 million for the properties. Lenzini would later put on a “workshop” on the Open Meetings Act.
03.11.2010: The DeKalb Clinic would accept the library’s offer of $1.8 million if the library would agree to store the business and medical records that are currently stored there.
04.19.2010: DPL board president, Wendell Johnson, reportedly signs a letter of intent to purchase the property from the DeKalb Clinic.
05.12.2010: At 9:10 PM, after a closed session board meeting Dee Coover has the signed contract, according to her email to Gary Cordes.
06.09.2010: CLOSED SESSION MEETING: The published agenda states that the Board would go into closed session without any reference for cause or exemption under the Open Meetings Act. Minutes from that meeting state “Board voted to go into Closed Session at 8:04 p.m. Board came out of Closed Session at 8:46 p.m.” As is consistently the case, the Board failed to report on any summary or detail as to the reason for the closed session or of any decisions.
06.11.2010: The purchase of the Clinic properties was formally announced to DeKalb city manager, Mark Biernacki, in an email from Rudy Espiritu. Espiritu explains that the Library had the $1.8 in the bank from its property tax levy to make the purchase. “They [the Library] recognize that they are years away from building a new library…”
06.16.2010: Coover sends an email to architectural firms confirming that the property purchase had been made and notifying them of the DPL board to meet with them to discuss the building program in a July 13, 2010 closed session meeting.
07.13.2010: Just before the start of the DPL regular board meeting (July 13, 2010) Dee Coover directs Gary Cordes to take Elena Grimm (Daily Chronicle) and Mac McIntyre (DeKalb County Online) away from the public meeting to her office to “give the media a special announcement on the purchase.”
Subsequent to the July 13 meeting a Request for Review for possible Open Meetings Act violations was filed by Mac McIntyre with the Illinois Attorney General’s Public Access Counselor. The AG’s office concluded that further review was warranted.
08.11.2010: The DPL board met (a regularly scheduled meeting). The agenda for that meeting included three items related to the Open Meetings Act Request for Review.
1) In open session the library’s attorney, Gary Cordes, discussed similar allegations made in #8459 that were made by the Daily Chronicle newspaper. There was no mention of #8459 but Cordes did admit that the Library Board had not held any meetings to discuss review of minutes of all closed sessions as required under Illinois Law: 5 ILCS 120/2.06 (d). The Board also voted to ratify the May 12th 2010 vote taken in closed session that authorized the $1.8 million purchase of the DeKalb Clinic properties.
2) In closed session, according to the agenda, the Board discussed: “b) For semi-annual review of minutes of all closed sessions as permitted under Illinois Law: 5 ILCS 120/2.06 (d)”
3) In closed session, according to the agenda, the Board discussed: “c) To discuss probable or imminent litigation as permitted under Illinois Law: 5 ILCS 120/2(c)(11)”
The closed session lasted a little more than an hour. According to the agenda the closed session also included real estate transaction discussion. When public session was reconvened the Board President, Wendell Johnson, reported that the Board voted unanimously, in closed session, to keep all of the minutes closed. Every word.
08.27.2010: DeKalb County State’s Attorney, John Farrell, notified the AG’s office that he intended to initiate a civil action against the library board to address the same allegations that McIntyre made. The AG’s office then withdrew from the case. Two library board meetings have taken place since Farrell informed the Daily Chronicle and one since his announcement of his intentions to the AG’s office. Each meetings’ agenda included a closed session to discuss potential litigation but each time that item was stricken from the agenda. Farrell has still not initiated any civil action nor has he announced what actions he will take.
Dates of Special Meetings in which an agenda is provided but minutes are not available: WEDNESDAY, MARCH 19, 2008; FRIDAY, APRIL 11, 2008; SATURDAY, APRIL 12, 2008; FRIDAY, APRIL 25, 2008; FRIDAY, JUNE 13, 2008; SATURDAY, JULY 26, 2008; WEDNESDAY, JULY 30, 2008; WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 18, 2009; WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 6, 2010; and WEDNESDAY, JUNE 16, 2010.
The actions taken by the DeKalb Public Library Board is an affront to the Open Meetings Act. It is not just about an illegal $1.8 million real estate transaction. The Building Program, the property purchase, etc., are an attempt by the Library Board to obtain tens of millions of public funds to 1) acquire the property; 2) use TIF funds to demolish buildings that exist on the purchased property; and 3) to bond (debt) to pay for the construction of a new library.
There are now no minutes available to at least two meetings which the library’s tax levy is discussed as an action item. At the time of the May 12, 2010 property acquisition the library had amassed more than $1.6 million in surplus funds that were used or earmarked for the transaction. Email correspondence indicates that the library’s tax levy was adjusted in consideration of purchasing the property.