DeKalb’s “new” Bureau of Housing Inspection and Registration


For dramatic effect I printed out the names and pertinent information about upcoming (2007-2008) Sheriff Auctions of foreclosed homes in the area. The list required multiple pages. At a DeKalb city council meeting and at a District 428 facilities planning committee meeting I made the list unfold to illustrate my point. The handwriting was on the wall. The bottom was falling out on the housing market and there goes the economy.

Here we are edging closer to the financial cliff and 7th ward alderwoman Monica O’Leary wrote a startling message on the brick wall for the mayor and her fellow aldermen.

“NIU is requiring freshmen and sophomore students to live on campus,” said O’Leary while expressing concerns she had with the creation of the DeKalb Police Department’s new Bureau of Housing Registration and Inspection.

“Is that true?”

“Is that true?”

The mayor and aldermen seemed totally caught off guard. But that didn’t stop them from passing (O’Leary and 1st ward alderman David Jacobson dissenting) the most comprehensive housing regulation laws in the history of the city on a night when one of the proposal’s staunchest objectors, 6th ward alderman, Dave Baker, was absent due to a vacation. Because the package required amending the budget a super majority vote was mandatory. Had Baker been at the meeting the program’s funding would not have passed.

Several of the landlords sitting in the chambers gasped when they heard that sophomores were being removed from the local rental market. They were resigned and prepared for staff recommendations to prevail over community input as that is SOP at this city hall with this mayor and city council.

There are tough years ahead for rental property owners in DeKalb and the draconian housing regulations will only contribute to their woes. The loss of sophomores, declining enrollment, and the surge towards online diplomas will have impact on the rental market vacancy rate in the city.

To rub salt into the wound all of the property inspection, code enforcement and disorderly house regulations have been waived for NIU student housing and DeKalb County Housing Authority rental projects.

Mayor Kris Povlsen said the passing of the regulations and creation of another layer of government was the culmination of two years of work. Two years? He must have meant this attempt.

City manager Mark Biernacki reminded O’Leary that it was the council’s job to set policy and his job to execute those policies. The mayor cautioned against micro-managing. But Biernacki has doggedly pursued the rental inspection, chronic nuisance policy initiative even after it was rejected by previous councils.

In 2008 when Carbondale (home of SIU) was trying to get an annual rental registration/licensing fee passed the effort received an assist from DeKalb. According to an October 15, 2007 article in the Southern Illinoisan:

Some city officials think inspection fees and beefed-up ordinances could be the answer.

In DeKalb, home to Northern Illinois University, Ernie Pinne, chief property maintenance inspector, said a new inspection fee is on the way, perhaps by July 2008.

“Right now we do our inspections on a complaint-by-complaint basis,” Pinne said. “That works out to about 10 to 12 inspections a day.”

Pinne said, with a staff of just three inspectors, including him, and a pool of 7,500 rental properties, demand has outstripped the city’s ability to inspect each dwelling.

“If we go with the rental inspection fee program we are looking at doubling our staff,” he said. “With the number of complaints we’re getting, the overall need is great. The goal is keeping people from getting hurt and saving lives.”

Carbondale soon passed their annual fees.

Fourth ward alderman, Brendon Gallagher, said that passing the regulations meant that DeKalb was finally mirroring other college towns.




    • I think the ball is in Dave Baker’s court right now so to speak, and I assume he would simply demand his vote be counted. If this doesn’t happen for whatever reason, or he gets stonewalled by city management, then I think it would be appropriate for the other members in opposition to the housing ordinance, Jacobson and O’Leary, to demand the recount/revote.

    • And regardless of the reactions from city council members, we need to get answers about what has transpired to prevent this type of thing from happening again in the future. Namely,

      1) How long did city management know the time period that Dave Baker was going to be on vacation?

      2) Did he voice the concern that he would be on vacation and therefore unable to attend this meeting?

      3) Why would Dave Baker not have been able to just phone in his vote?

      They could have had virtual Dave Baker projected to a video screen so everyone could see his mouth move, even though he was vacationing. So there is no excuse for allowing council members to miss voting, especially on important matters such as this.

    • Instead of having a phone-in or video-cast type situation, the best solution would be to simply delay the vote count until all council members have had the chance to vote, i.e. until the next scheduled meeting. This would prevent any conflict with rules or regulations concerning physical presence of city council members during the voting process.

  1. DCOnline, it might be better to remove the video content at this point. The evidence here is straightforward, but if someone wants to add a comment they should feel free to do so, and not be distracted by the circus act nature of the issue.

  2. David S — In 2008 the General Assembly passed legislation allowing public bodies to create protocols to allow for distance voting under specific circumstances. This was brought to the mayor’s attention a couple years ago and he supported it. Despite this, city management has done nothing to bring this to reality in DeKalb and many key issues find wards unrepresented at voting time.

    This is what happens when you have an incompetent Information Technology function and a city manager who would rather surround himself with loyal subjects rather than competence.

    With downsizing, a new culture was promised. Instead, we have a “hell no” culture which refuses to take on additional work without additional staffing. There is no mandate for efficiency or further belt-tightening. There is acceptance that the inefficiency and ineptitude of existing staff — the ones who couldn’t find other jobs during the downsizing — is a burden we must all continue to accept.

    This is a sad culture which wouldn’t know an operational improvement if it fell from the sky.

    • Hold tight Nadine. You have possibly the biggest scandal in the history of Dekalb politics unfolding right before your eyes. The bad actor(s) really only have two choices at this point. Be removed from office, or be laughed out of office.

  3. And why would Dave Baker not have been able to just phone in his vote on “… the most comprehensive housing regulation laws in the history of the city…”. This one stinks to high heaven my friends. Where is the sheriff when you need him?

        • I have the following note from last night scribbled on my notepad. “The days of campaign promises and hand on the bible oath-of-office jazz are over – contract only.” That pretty much sums up the situation on how to prevent bad actors from entering the picture.

          contract (n) – An agreement between two or more parties, esp. one that is written and enforceable by law.

          To be enforceable by law, it needs to be in writing, with signature. Instead of city management giving us a long list of rules or violations and asking(forcing) us to register(contract), we need to turn the tables and have public officials being given the long list of rules to obey under contract.

          Say for example we want to have public officials put their campaign promises in writing. Is any current or future public official going to have the gall to deny such a request? Would they not look like a complete idiot and expose their true nature by doing so?

          So don’t be alarmed by the loud stampede of carpetbaggers, opportunists, and liar-for-hire types running for the exits when you implement this. Honest people in public office that actually obey their campaign promises, play by the rules, and stick by their word. What a revelation.

          You also need to have immediate recall power. So the contract would specify,

          I, (public official), agree to abide by the rules listed here, or be subject to immediate termination waiving any right to court proceedings or appeal.

          The system is currently designed so no one really wants to speak up without putting them at risk of losing their job, their image in the public eye, or threat of retaliation. And I can assure you, there have been discussions between city council members regarding “getting rid of” certain public officials.

          With a contract and signature, you replace public officials like a faulty part in a machine. And no one faces retaliation against a contract built on public consensus.

          I could go into more detail, but this is the general thrust of the matter. Call it a first draft and template for future discussion.

          That’s my prescription, Lynn.

  4. And city council still has to vote on the staffing for this? Yikes. We are talking about a circus act reaching Barnum & Bailey proportions. Now I realize why running for city office is out of the question for me. These people are criminally insane.

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