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Our View: DeKalb needs a do-er for next city manager

Published: Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

DeKalb needs a do-er.

As the list of improvement plans coming from the DeKalb City Council of late shows, they’ve got plenty of “big-picture” people.

Council members have sought to improve the city’s housing stock, and ensure that rental properties are not an invitation to people who would use them as a base to break the law.

They want to improve various areas of the city, including the South Fourth Street corridor, the Lincoln Highway corridor between the Northern Illinois University Campus and downtown, and a section of Sycamore Road where dilapidated buildings still remain.

It’s appropriate that elected aldermen and the mayor supply much of the vision for DeKalb’s future. What they need is someone who can work to make their goals a reality. That’s why the search for a new city manager, which now is down to its final five candidates, is so important.

Although it’s up to the aldermen and Mayor John Rey to set policy for the city, it’s the city manager who is in charge of the day-to-day operation of city government. He oversees the heads of all city departments, compiles the budget each year, and is critical in making things work.

DeKalb needs someone who can work with all of the various interests in the city to make the City Council’s plans and aspirations a reality.

Just as important, the person will need to be able to make it happen while working with the city’s existing resources. The approach of identifying a problem and then creating and staffing new departments to deal with it is not the right path. That approach has led to changes and cuts at City Hall once in the recent past, and it should not be allowed to reach that point again.

Interim City Manager Rudy Espiritu is among the finalists for the job, and if he is most qualified, he ought to be hired. But a high level of familiarity with the area shouldn’t be viewed as essential in this case.

For one, many of the major players in DeKalb, including NIU President Douglas Baker and Mayor Rey, are relatively new here themselves. There’s not an entrenched power structure the new manager must fit into.

For another, the city could benefit from some new ideas and new energy. Is there a way to encourage redevelopment in some areas without relying on tax increment financing? Can the city seek out grants, or offer its own incentives to spur improvement and reduce population density in some neighborhoods? How should the new space in City Hall be used, and is there any way to renovate the building without raising taxes on property owners?

The next city manager does not need to bring a magic wand, but he or she will have to be an agent for change.

We hope that the City Council members will make the best choice for the city and select someone who believes in open and honest government, and who can help make visions into realities.

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