DeKALB – It has been a busy couple of days for new DeKalb City Manager Anne Marie Gaura.
Her first day on the job was Tuesday, when she met with DeKalb police officers, toured the new police station, met with local firefighters and toured the DeKalb Municipal Building. She met more firefighters Wednesday, spoke with DeKalb Mayor John Rey and assistant city manager Rudy Espiritu, and met with public works officials.
Today, Gaura will meet with more police officers and firefighters and attend the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting at 5:30 p.m. at Faranda’s Banquets, 302 Grove St., DeKalb.
“I’ll reach out to City Council members [and other officials] about issues facing the city and have them give me a tour [of DeKalb] through their eyes,” Gaura said. “Everyone sees things differently.”
Gaura said this week her focus is on meeting public employees, while next week she will focus on the community.
Gaura has already been briefed on the possibility of creating a tax increment financing district on South Fourth Street to spur economic growth there. That issue is on Monday’s City Council agenda. She also will meet with economic development experts about the history of the downtown area.
Many in the community have welcomed Gaura, a Northern Illinois University alumna who comes to DeKalb after serving as interim director of engineering and public works in Schaumburg. They also have shared some of their ideas on how to improve DeKalb.
Rey said they will discuss major initiatives such as the city center plan, an initiative geared toward the next phase in downtown redevelopment, focusing on the stretch of Lincoln Highway between First Street and the NIU lagoon.
“Even before her starting Tuesday, she has been doing extensive research and homework,” Rey said. “She has been reaching out to department heads within the city preparing for her work onsite.”
DeKalb Police Chief Gene Lowery is familiar with being a newcomer. He started in May 2012 after working as the deputy chief of the Crystal Lake Police Department and as undersheriff in McHenry County.
Lowery said it will take time for Gaura to have a full grasp of all the issues in the area, but that she the tools to learn quickly.
“I believe her experiences and demonstrated leadership will serve the city well,” he said.
Gaura said she wants to hold monthly meetings with officials, such as those involved with the school district, park district, economic development and library, to create an atmosphere in which everyone is familiar with each other, she said.
The idea stems from Gaura’s experience as Montgomery’s village manager.
“If those connections haven’t been made, the goal is to make those,” she said. “It’s easier to work on issues if you already know that person.”
City Council members voted to approve Gaura’s hire Dec. 9. The search began in June when former City Manager Mark Biernacki retired after nine years in the position. The top five candidates were interviewed Nov. 1.
Espiritu served as interim city manager after Biernacki’s retirement. He spoke with Gaura on Wednesday about a range of subjects, including the financial constraints on the city, the partnership with NIU, and the decision to move the city’s finance department into space formerly occupied by the police department, Gaura said.
Espiritu said the transition has been relatively smooth. He is still helping Gaura with typical city manager duties but expects to have her assume the position entirely quickly.
“My job is to make sure she has the resources to make the best decisions possible for the city,” he said. “We’ll make a great team for the city.”
First ward Alderman David Jacobson said he hopes to work with Gaura in the next one to two months on the city’s strategic plan, a guide last updated in 2005 that gives officials information about how to make informed decisions.
“I’m expecting amazing things,” Jacobson said. “I’m excited to work with her to see what she can show us in terms of [DeKalb’s] future.”
Gaura will be appointed to an ex-officio position with the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce tonight so she can stay connected with the chamber’s proceedings, said Matt Duffy, executive director of DeKalb Chamber of Commerce.
Duffy said he hasn’t met Gaura yet, but wants to keep lines of communication open as with past city officials.
Doug Moeller, who will become DeKalb School District 428’s superintendent in June, said his top priority is to contact Gaura to discuss their working relationship.
In a statement, NIU President Doug Baker said the university looks forward to working closely with Gaura to make DeKalb a vibrant college town where students want to attend school.
“... We are excited to have [Gaura] on board so that we can roll up our sleeves and build upon the work that we have already begun with Mayor Rey,” Baker said.