For not a lot of contested races there seems to be more buzz than usual for the April 7 consolidated elections. There are few contested races and more write-in candidates. But there seems to be more people involved with this election based on the two candidate forums held in DeKalb.
City council chambers at the DeKalb Municipal Building was full for the League of Women Voters Candidate Forum which was broadcast live over Comcast Cable channel 14 and streamed live over the Internet via the inhouse produced City of DeKalb website.
A pleasant surprise for the first time in a few decades of covering local candidate forums the DeKalb city manager attended — both — events. Anne Marie Gaura told Gracie she was surprised to learn past managers didn’t attend. She plans to attend every one she can so she can learn more about the pulse of the community.
The Chamber of Commerce event, emceed by the Daily Chronicle’s Eric Olson, focused solely on the contested races for the city council. The League of Women Voters forum, hosted by Kay Shelton, included those council races plus Kishwaukee College Board of Trustees; representatives for a non-binding anti-corruption ballot initiative; and four of the six candidates for District 428 Board of Education.
The meet and greet session at the Chamber event was superior in format to the LWV forum. Stage Coach Theatre provided a good setting for an almost Chataqua-style session for voters to meet and chat with candidates. But by far and away the question and answer session was more in depth and provided more contrast between the candidates at the LWV forum.
A lot of effort by the LWV was put into getting voters to write their questions on 3″ x 5″ index cards. They ended up with more questions than they could ask.
For that reason, Kay Shelton, there is no soup for you. Neither of my questions were asked of the 3rd ward candidates of which I live.
My first question was: On three separate referendums the voters of DeKalb overwhelmingly rejected ballot initiatives that attempted to put the office of the City Clerk under the control of the city manager. Who do you believe the office of the City Clerk should answer to — the city manager or the voters? Just in case that question was too wonkish I also asked: How important is the public’s trust to you?
Steve Kapitan and Mike Marquardt are running for 3rd ward. Kapitan recalled his time on the city council. He got involved when the City of DeKalb subsidized a deal that demolished the old post office to be replaced by the Walgreens on the southwest corner of Lincoln Hwy and First Street. He served on the council until he was defeated by Vic Wogen, who later resigned amid raging controversy for alleged multiple no-bid contracts awarded for TIF funded downtown revitalization work without public disclosure.
Kapitan then got elected to a $61,000 job as city clerk.
In my opinion without any experience at the job, little-to-no training and without consulting any predecessors he allowed his office budget to be cut to eliminate a much needed deputy clerk position and then did not have the skills or aptitude to perform the basic functions of the office such as recording and filing minutes to closed session meetings.
When covering for him became an issue because the Open Meetings Act requires closed session minutes to be recorded city attorney Dean Frieders drafted a voluntary separation agreement that gave Kapitan no room to wiggle out of a resignation plus gave him $10,000 in separation pay with stipulations that both sides remain silent. The elected city clerk is the keeper of the public’s record. Confidentiality regarding the public’s business just smells bad.
Then Mayor Kris Povlsen and former city manager Mark Biernacki moved quickly to gut the vacant position’s duties and cut the pay to $5,000 a year with the approval of the city council. Voters still soundly defeated a third referendum attempt to put the office under the direct control of the city manager. The public’s trust of the city administration has eroded ever since.
Former DeKalb deputy clerk and current Maple Park village clerk, Liz Peerboom, won a race between four write-in candidates — one of them Kapitan — to become the elected city clerk. Citing rules being broken and a lack of respect for the office by the city administration Peerboom resigned — accepting no separation pay or signing any confidentiality agreement.
Kapitan himself referred to his tenure as city clerk as “infamous” at the LWV forum. Indeed.
Kapitan said he wants to make sure the city’s new website isn’t rushed and favors advancing technology in GIS. He thinks the city needs to fight the Rauner cuts but be prepared to make tough decisions if they lose.
It’s sort of like mea-culpa for what he did to the office of elected city clerk but vote for him because he was an alderman before that.
Marquardt has no experience in city government or politics. His career has spanned many years in office management so he has experience in human relations, budgeting, vendor contracts, etc. He has advanced computer skills.
He’s running because he thinks it’s time to give back to the city and try to be a common sense voice on the city council. At times since becoming a candidate he admits asking himself if he knew what he was really getting into as the issues can seem overwhelming. He’ll do the best he can and hope for keeping his sanity.
Marquardt said his approach to city business would be to listen to all parties and work to build a common sense consensus.
He favors remodeling city hall as opposed to building new or renovating the current building and doesn’t believe any further studies are needed. He thinks it’s important in the tough times ahead to deliver the core city services — streets, water, police and fire — as efficiently as possible and maybe pass on some of the paid studies.
Shelton didn’t ask my tongue-in-cheek question for the 5th ward candidates either: If at anytime you find yourself in agreement with Dr. Herb Rubin would you resign?
Rubin wrote an email to Mayor John Rey at his official @cityofdekalb.com address. In a nutshell he asked the mayor which candidate, between Kate Noreiko and Cameron Zelaya, should be talked into dropping out of the race to stop who he described as the “destructive” Michael Haji-Sheik from winning the 5th ward alderman seat. Thus my dig.
Rey, who was recently reprimanded by city manager Anne Marie Gaura in her role as ethics officer for his improper use of email, replied and advised Rubin that Noreiko was the “reasonable candidate” to replace the outgoing Ron Naylor.
For those keeping tabs on the colorful 5th ward history it was then citizen John Rey who challenged the petition of then candidate Gavin Wilson who had voiced opposition to some aspects of the grand plan of the TIF funded DeKalb city center revitalization program that Rey still champions today. Wilson was tossed off of the ballot for not numbering his petition pages properly leaving current alderman Ron Naylor unopposed. Naylor was the treasurer of then Mayor Frank Van Buer’s campaign committee who cast the deciding vote to disqualify Wilson’s petition.
Kate Noreiko sounded reasonable at both the Chamber of Commerce event and the LWV forum. She retired as Human Resources Director for Kishwaukee College and is self employed as a consultant in that field. She cited a need for more meetings and promised just that if elected. Should the Rauner budget cuts hold Noreiko said she would ask department heads for across the board budgets of between 5 percent and 10 percent. She wants to focus on the positives aspects of DeKalb moving forward.
Michael Haji-Sheik also sounds reasonable. He displayed no destructive tendencies at either candidate forum or on his Facebook page. He worked half a career in industry as a senior engineer and is working on the other half as a professor in engineering at NIU. From that background he sees opportunity to attract knowledge-based and light manufacturing jobs to DeKalb by making use of the assets the city already has in place, such as fiber optic cable. He’d vote to “flatten the top” and cut from the administration down to balance the budget as well as cut down on outside studies.
Carmen Zelaya will win a political race in DeKalb County someday. He is well spoken, driven, educated and young. How that plays in DeKalb’s 5th ward remains to be seen. He’d like to see the Shodeen original mixed-use plan carried out on the formerly known as NB&T Square that’s now commonly referred to as an eyesore. Like Haji-Sheik, Zelaya would first cut administration if forced to make cuts. He would not favor reducing service or funding levels from the Public Works Department and the Police Department as those two departments embody the core services that residents expect to be offered by any city government.
DeKalb’s 7th ward has been a launch pad for young professionals. James Barr (2003-2007) is now the administrator for Hanover Township in Cook County. Brent Keller (2007-2010) is in upper management with CareerBuilder.com and Joe Sosnowski (1999-2003) is currently Illinois House Representative for the 69th District.
The ward is unique in this election as Monica O’Leary is the only incumbent candidate in any race in DeKalb.
O’Leary has experience likely not shared by any other council member or candidate. She’s a mother of ten children. She said there was a time she experienced homelessness in DeKalb. But she drove truck for more than 17 years before buying her home in DeKalb and then and started her own automotive repair shop. As a council member she is soft spoken but will challenge staff if her take differs with theirs and she votes far more similar to the fiscally conservative Dave Jacobson (running unopposed for re-election if the 1st ward) than the whatever-staff-wants-they-get Ron Naylor (5th ward, not seeking re-election).
O’Leary may not be a gifted speaker but when asked about the proposed changes at University Village she brought out that the property only paid 47% of the property tax rate likewise properties pay. She would not vote in favor of the proposal unless University Village paid the same rate as everyone else. That’s significant funds from a high services demand source. The school board should take note of this.
Her opponent, Craig Roman, is not new to running for office. Before the ward boundaries were redrawn he lost a race against Dave Baker in the 6th ward. He challenged Ruth Anne Tobias in a primary race but fell short. He was elected precinct committeeman and is currently treasurer for the DeKalb County Democrats. He has expressed interest in running for 7th ward alderman from the time the ward boundaries were redrawn.
Roman will stand up to be counted on issues. He actively opposed the mega-expansion of the DeKalb County Landfill. Since entering the local political arena he has championed for open and transparent government. He seeks to improve communications between the city council and citizens.
District 428 Board of Education
None of the incumbents (Tracy Williams, Tom Matya, Cohen Barnes and Nina Fontana) elected in 2011 sought a second term. That does nothing to lessen the uncertainty over the impact District 428’s mounting debt bond obligations will have on the affordability index for DeKalb, Cortland and Malta for residents and businesses. The fear is a total tax mil rate that’s closer to 20 than 10 which would stifle any chance to broaden the tax base in a city where half the students enrolled qualify for free or reduced lunch.
Only two candidates, Kerry Mellott, a retired science researcher; and Howard Solomon, a retired teacher, circulated petitions for two of the four open seats on the board.
Mellott has served a number of years on the Finance and Facilities Advisory Committee. He was an objector to the landfill expansion and made valuable contributions as a participant in the one and only public hearing on the siting expansion application. He is likely the most prepared for the job at hand among all of the candidates. Mellott repeatedly stated his dislike for budget deficits. The district is facing a $1.8 million to $3 million deficit annually over the next five years.
If a budget deficit is required for learning so be it, according to Howard Solomon. For those who think the cost of educating children too high he suggests they consider the cost of ignorance. Solomon understood the concept behind Common Core but was not enthusiastic about the methods. He holds a PhD and while adhering to Common Core methods he felt like he performed at a 7th grade level.
Ronald Adamson is one of five write-in candidates for the two remaining seats on the Board of Education. He flat out doesn’t like Common Core. He’s doesn’t like tax increases much either but acknowledges the potential of no other means to meet the operating expenses.
Rick Smith was the only other write-in candidate to participate in the LWV candidate forum. He thinks the school district may need to diversify revenue sources to meet capital needs to free up money for operating expenses. He mentioned the potential of a 1 percent County School sales tax referendum as one new source.
All of the participating candidates liked the idea of the one-on-one technology that provides students a laptop computer. Solomon pointed to big picture cost efficiencies that distance learning can provide especially for students who have been suspended or expelled. Mellott saw the value of the program but was hoping the current board wouldn’t approve the $9 million expenditure for the new board to account for in a budget already challenged.
The other write-in candidates for District 428 Board of Education are Michael Welsh, James Mitchell and Fred Davis. Christine Smith withdrew as a write-in candidate.
Rays of hope…
Elizabeth Lindquist from Rockford and Shannon Wilde of Genoa presented the anti-corruption advisory ballot question on the April 7th ballot to the constituents at the LWV Candidate Forum. It’s encouraging to see a grassroots movement forming against corruption in Illinois. I hope voter approval surpasses 90% here in DeKalb County.
Local volunteers with the cross-partisan group Represent.Us Rockford will hold two public forums to educate the public regarding the April 7th advisory ballot question on anti-corruption reform in Winnebago and DeKalb Counties. The question reads:
Do you support removing the corrupting influence of money on our political system by prohibiting politicians from taking campaign money from the industries they regulate; increasing transparency for campaign funding; empowering all voters through a tax rebate voucher to contribute to the candidates they support; prohibiting representatives and senior staff from lobbying activity for five years after they leave office; and placing limits on superPACs?
The question is a highly abbreviated version of the reform plan known as the American Anti-Corruption Act. Members of the local Represent.Us group seek to raise awareness regarding the corrupting influence of money on the political system and what can be done to stop it. The questions will appear on the ballot as a result of resolutions passed by both the Winnebago and DeKalb County Boards.
The DeKalb forum will be held at the Sycamore Public Library, 103 E. State St., Sycamore, IL 60178 on March 25th at 6pm.
The Winnebago forum will be held at the Rockford Public Library East Branch Community Room, 6685 E. State St., Rockford, IL 61108 on March 31st at 6pm.
The forums are free and open to the public. All are welcome.
Early voting began Monday. Early voting sites located at the DeKalb County Administration building and Northern Illinois University’s Holmes Student Center accommodate voters throughout the county and NIU. Northern precinct early voting takes place at Kirkland Village Hall and those in the south county vote at the Sandwich Fire Department.
Full disclosure: I circulated a petition to run as 3rd ward alderman at the urging of friends upon learning Steve Kapitan had turned in the only petition for the April 7 election. Upon learning Mike Marquardt had turned in a petition I withdrew my candidacy as I said I would. Each correct answer as to who I am voting for might receive one cup of coffee for around $2 at many local restaurants.