Follow the law or put the library expansion issue to referendum

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The DeKalb Public Library (DPL) is another step closer to its expansion goals. The DeKalb Planning and Zoning Commission forwarded an “intergovernmental agreement” between the DPL and the City of DeKalb to the city council with its unanimous approval.

The council chambers at 200 S. 4th Street was almost full for the Wednesday 6pm planning and zoning commission public hearing. Most in attendance were library employees, board members, vendors and supporters. Among them the support was unanimous.

Some nearby property owners also supported the library’s expansion plans but they had issues with the plan on display and how it would impact their neighborhood. The closing of a block of N. 3rd Street to accommodate the current expansion plan was of particular concern to several who spoke. DPL attorney, Gary Cordes, told the audience that without the closure on 3rd Street the land the library is proposing to buy would be worthless to them. Closing a block of a street seems very important to the DPL. When they were set to purchase the DeKalb Clinic properties the plan called for the closing of a block on S. 3rd Street. Without closing that block the new library proposed for that location simply wouldn’t work.

One person (moi) spoke about procedural and legal issues with the project. Chapter 5 of the Local Library Act is entirely devoted to the procedures an Illinois library should follow when acquiring land for expanding or building a new library. It’s designed to protect taxpayers from the library committing their dollars to a project without their full knowledge or understanding. The DPL board is appointed by the mayor and as is necessary has broad powers to operate a library. Chapter 5 attempts to make sure that the representative form of government (city council) is not circumvented by an appointed board. Simply put, the law requires the library board to submit a full plan, including how they plan to pay for the construction, to the city council for their consideration and approval. Doing so allows the elected representatives (city council) to interact with their entire constituency before committing additional tax dollars and/or bond indebtedness to pay for any part of the project.

Many people believe the library project will not increase taxes. They believe the DPL will raise the necessary funds for construction through private donations. That’s possible. It’s also possible that such a fundraiser falls short. Donation pledges may not fully materialize. But if the city council approves any part of the project and the DPL board signs contractual commitments then in the event of a shortfall of donations or unfulfilled pledges then the taxpayers have no choice but to foot the bill with an increase in their property taxes. Such a predicament occurred in Sycamore around 1997 when their library expansion took place. Contracts were signed in anticipation of private fundraising goals that were not met. When it became clear that taxpayers were going to have to make up the difference pledges fell by the wayside.

A more recent example took place with the new football field at the new DeKalb High School. Canvassing prior to the passing of the $110 million referendum must have indicated a lack of support for tax dollars to be used for building a new football field. ReNew Our Schools pro-referendum committee promised taxpayers that no referendum dollars would be used for a football field. Dr. Paul Beilfuss told the Facilities Planning Committee that local donors pledged money for any new football field at the new high school. News of a construction grant eliminated any such pledges. Money that could have been used to reduce debt obligations or perhaps add furniture or equipment was instead used for the stadium.

Apparently the DPL Board and administrator want to piece meal the expansion project to the city council so when it comes to financing the construction costs there is too much commitment to vote against the likely debt obligation bonds required. That is in conflict with the Local Library Act and a contradiction to open, honest government. As state law requires the city council should be presented with a full plan that includes total project cost estimates and financing methods before acquiring property for expansion or construction purposes. To move the project, which will require public debt, along in manner that provides information bit by bit only is an abuse of Home Rule authority.

DeKalb is a city that generously supports education. A city with a median income in the $30k neighborhood passed a $110 million referendum for its K-12 schools and a $56 million referendum for Kishwaukee College. It’s a city that loves its library. Obviously from their actions the last thing the library board wants to do is put the issue of the library expansion up to the test of direct democracy — a referendum. The elected representatives might consider a referendum as their first choice.

What you can do:

Send the city council an email and tell them to follow the Local Library Act as intended and/or put the library expansion issue to referendum in the March 2012 Primary election.

7 COMMENTS

    • The planning and zoning commission acted responsibly. I do wish DeKalb adopted rules similar to Sycamore and DeKalb County for public hearings for zoning changes, which require swearing in and allow for cross examination of those who provide testimony. But I thought the public hearing was well ran and the commission voted on the criteria they should. The purpose of the public hearing was for concerns to be aired. They were and mine was but one issue raised. Staff should address or rebut all concerns expressed in their report to the city council. The council should further allay those concerns and, of course, adhere to the law.

  1. I certainly spoke pro the expansion of the library and I am not a vendor, employee, supplier etc. Neither was Ms. Bass, Tom (lost his last name senior moment) the biologist and half a dozen others whom I could recognize. Library employees were wearing library t-shirts and I don’t believe anyone with said t-shirt spoke. Could have missed them I picked a bad place to see the lectern.

    A question though on the legal arguments you are making. The library attorney argued against what you are saying, indicating city council lawyer concurred with him. Well either you are right or they are right or there are some contingencies not yet described. If you are right why not try to get an injunction? What i think the library attorney was arguing is that you blur ‘shoulds’ with ‘mays’ and I think he said what you were arguing differed from case law. Whole thing is beyond my knowledge base but would be nice if you are so sure of what you are saying that you do something — probably requiring legal action — to bring the matter to a head. A court not a Mac utterance seems to be the way to resolve legal disputes.

    I am a supporter of the library expansion, though the expansion must await an easing of the economic climate or some economic miracle (like a state grant). I am also a proceduralist so am awaiting a clarification and resolution of the issues that you have raised.

    • Here’s what I said Herb:

      Most in attendance were library employees, board members, vendors and supporters. Among them the support was unanimous.

      I stand by that statement.

      The case was unresolved. The library board pulled out of its deal on the DeKalb Clinic properties. Statements were made by the then city attorney that support Mr. Cordes’ claims. Case law was not presented nor argued. The city attorney’s posit was also that the city council had no choice but to pass the library levy regardless of amount or purpose. Precedence was quickly found on minutes published on the City’s website of an earlier meeting that included the same city attorney giving advice and consent to Ron Naylor’s successful motion to reduce the library’s levy request by 2 cents.

      An injunction cannot be obtained until the council votes on the matter. An attorney was secured and was prepared to file the injunction. But the library pulled out. That attorney has since passed away. Another may be retained and an injunction may be sought if the city council approves the land acquisition sans consideration and approval of a complete plan that includes project cost estimates and financing methods.

      A more proper route to argue case law on Chapter 5 an other infractions is available under 75 ILCS 5/2-7 (scroll to bottom of the linked page).

      More importantly to me is that I tried to let people know that a plan that will increase taxes and public debt has been formulated behind closed doors. I stand by that effort.

  2. I sure wish Jacob Haish could address these library expansion issues…what would he say? What would he say about the manner in which his generosity to this community has been handled over the years? Would he approve?

    Mac, keep on keepin’ on. You do a fine work pointing our elected and appointed leaders to what’s right and THE LAW.

    Whether they comply or not, is their choice. Some day we all will have our time to be judged. All we do now is preparation.

    • Kerry, as a sad sign as to how times do not always change for the better… When Haish so frequently and generously gave (millions of dollars in today’s money) he did so because of his vision for a better community for future generations. A proponent of this and other recent public projects who has done very well financially, deservedly so, urged the council to disregard public concern of costs and financing because, well, “the public has no vision.” Haish’s gift to future generations (us) is a magnificent building, free and clear of debt. Those pulling the strings today prefer to leave our future generations with the shackles of our debt.

      Thank you, sir. You are doing the community a great service keeping a pulse on Dist 428 and other issues.

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