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John Rey reflects on first year as DeKalb’s mayor

City manager search, NIU and finances dominated focus

DeKALB – DeKalb Mayor John Rey’s first year in office has been a fast ride of building relationships and making decisions, but one’s been more trying than another.

“There are a lot of formal aspects of the position, and those were fairly easy to grasp and become involved in,” Rey said. “The informal relationship-building has been one of the challenging dimensions, but at the same time those have been the most satisfying, too.”

Rey was elected mayor April 9, 2013, garnering 1,500 votes to win a four-way race. Before his successful bid for mayor, Rey served as the president of the Ben Gordon Foundation, the DeKalb School District 428 board and the Kiwanis Club of DeKalb.

May 6 marked the official start of Rey’s tenure. He replaced Kris Povlsen, who decided he would not seek re-election after 16 years on the City Council, including five as mayor.

“I think the transition was a good one,” Povlsen said. “I think he’s really doing the job he needs to do with the drive and motivation needed there.”

Among the first things on Rey’s and fellow council members’ agenda was the selection of a new city manager to replace Mark Biernacki, who retired in June. They completed a nearly six-month search in December, selecting Anne Marie Gaura.

Rey called the selection process a balancing act between being involved in the search and selection while not becoming entirely absorbed by the process. He said while he knew he would be asked to consult on some issues in the interim, he also knew selecting a search firm would be the best option.

“It probably stands out as one of the most
important aspect of this past year, was to restaff that city manager position,” Rey said. “I felt we wanted to develop a strong field of candidates, which I think we did.”

The first year of Rey’s four-year term also included approving the annexation for 458 acres near DeKalb High School, 501 W. Dresser Road, for the Irongate subdivision. Developer ShoDeen Homes plans to build more than 1,100 homes on the property over a 20-year period. Rey said he was pleased to reach a compromise on the long, often contentious process and move forward with development in the city.

Fifth Ward Alderman Ron Naylor, who served with Povlsen and Rey, applauded Rey’s work with fellow aldermen as well as his stance as a visible mayor who takes part in community discussions and is accessible in the office.

“I think he does a good job leading the council and getting a consensus from the council,” Naylor said.

Beyond his work at city hall, Rey said he’s proud of the relationship he has built with Northern Illinois University President Doug Baker. Rey characterized the relationship as a collaborative one that is open and genuine.

Baker became president of the university in July, but said Rey was quick to connect after Baker’s appointment in April.

“We met and discussed common ground,” Baker said. “We tried to think about economic development, transportation and revitalizing some of the community.”

Baker added, “I’ve been impressed with the energy he brings. I think he’s really sincere about it.”

Rey said although he knows the primary focus of student learning will be in the classroom or laboratory, he would like NIU students also to gain experience in the community. As part of his focus to strengthen the city-university bond, Rey attended both of the “Bold Futures” workshops hosted by the university to look at ways to boost student enrollment and improve the connection between NIU and DeKalb.

He plans to hold a town hall meeting Saturday to address concerns from residents about some of the university’s ideas.

Financial concerns from the city will also be a focus for Rey in the coming months and through the rest of his term.

By 2019, the city hopes to have the reserves of its general fund, water fund and airport at 25 percent of their annual expenditures. Rey said reserves are around 17 percent, a slight gain from a year ago.

The city is in the thick of drafting a budget for the fiscal year that starts on July 1, and two outside financial consultants are reviewing the city’s financial policies and budget as part of Gaura’s financial responsibility initiative.

“[We’re] focusing on financial reporting, financial procedures which are clearly a priority to get an understanding on those matters and to provide clarity and more accountability where its needed within those procedures,” Rey said.

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