The good, the bad and the ugly news of the library expansion

from Dennis Frieders memo to DeKalb city council

The DeKalb city council voted unanimously to approve an intergovernmental agreement with the library authorizing the purchase of property recently acquired by local developer, Steve Irving. He is listed as sole beneficiary of the owner of record of the property, Castle Bank N.A. Trust #2222. Irving testified at the public hearing that he approached the library board in December 2010 with an idea for acquiring the property and they were very interested. He said he sold the property to the library at near cost.

The good news is the DeKalb Public Library has a new campus that could accommodate a four story (up t0 80,000 sq. ft.) building with off street parking adjacent to the Jacob Haish Memorial Library near the corner of Oak and North Third Street in DeKalb. The 80 year old gift to the community by another local developer (and inventor, manufacturer, philanthropist) Jacob Haish, may serve another 80 years in the capacity intended because of the expansion site location. By purchasing the property, the library may have saved the RC-1 (Residential Conservation District) neighborhood from adding more multifamily homes to its mix. On June 22, 2011 the Daily Chronicle’s Andrew Mitchell, reported that Irving announced his intention to build high end townhouses on the property.

The bad news is a nostalgic brick-paved portion of North Third Street will be vacated so the expansion can be attached to the historic existing building. The “first” Isaac Ellwood house, ironically built by Jacob Haish, was one of the properties on the expansion site that was purchased and demolished. Tragically but just as ironic, the Jacob Haish mansion suffered the same fate in 1961. The beautiful Boardman house with its grand walnut tree filled with nuts and the squirrels that eat them will also fall to the wrecking ball to make room for a parking lot for the library. Two other homes were demolished and more could be.

The ugly news is a continuing legal argument over the authority of the DeKalb Public Library Board of Trustees to choose which state statutes it may comply with and the failure of its corporate authorities, the Mayor and city council, to fulfill fiduciary responsibilities of due diligence and legal obligations for due process for the public it serves. The project, which included vacating a street, rezoning the property and a “handshake” agreement to use $1 million in TIF dollars was introduced to the Planning and Zoning Commission on October 26, that included a public hearing and was passed (with a public hearing) on first and second reading at the same city council meeting. Included in the ugliness is the performance of well paid administrators and professionals who by their actions (or inaction) led a blind horse to the water and then pushed her in.

Library board president, Clark Neher, testified that the effort to find and secure property for expansion began in 2005. The chronology of this public project includes a well publicized violation of the Open Meetings Act with a rebuke from the DeKalb County States Attorney, closed session meetings that included on the agenda the library’s tax levy as well as email and correspondence (Nov. 7, 2009; Nov. 19, 2009; and Jan. 6, 2010) obtained through FOIA between Dee Coover, Rudy Espiritu, library attorneys and members of the board that appear to suggest (see Nov. 19, 2009) an attempt to add a tax levy increase disguised as “operational” for a building fund.

I hope the library board keeps its promise that no tax increase will be needed for the construction of the new expansion. Due to historical patterns I fear they will not. Supposedly, based on the public hearing testimony of Dennis Frieders, new legal counsel for the City of DeKalb, and Mark Biernacki, City Manager, the city council will still have authority over the design and funding of the library expansion. Yet, the very statute Frieders quoted in his argument for why the library should follow the statute exclusively devoted to building and financing such an expansion suggests that the trustees no longer needs approval of their corporate authorities:

from Dennis Frieders memo to DeKalb city council

I cannot imagine an attorney working for the mayor and city council advising them to waive their corporate authority granted in 75 ILCS 5/5.1 BUILDINGS. Based on the body language and violent head shaking of the library board of trustees in attendance when Ron Naylor made a motion (failed for lack of a second) to amend the intergovernmental agreement to include language for the library to include one alternate plan that did not vacate North Third Street — I think they (and we) might regret that advice.


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