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2017 DeKalb Mayor

DeKalb mayoral, School District 428 candidates tackle various issues

DeKALB – Questions about budgeting and employee search processes were addressed to DeKalb’s mayoral and DeKalb School District 428 board candidates during a forum Tuesday at the New Hope Baptist Church at 1201 Twombly Road.

DeKalb’s four mayoral candidates were asked how they would make improvements in the city budget process and improve residents’ participation so their concerns can be taken into account.

Mayor John Rey said the city’s finance advisory committee, as well as residents, need to be involved early in the budgeting process while also focusing on the city’s five-year strategic plan.

Jerry Smith said he will ensure that the budget’s 25 percent contingency surplus is kept in budget negotiations and commended the City Council for toeing that line.

“The city should be working to see what our revenues are and our expenses are,” Smith said. “It’s obvious to me one of the areas where we’ve fallen is the maintenance of our streets. We need to do a better job of allocating funds to keep the infrastructure up.”

Michael Embrey said that community input with the budget is very limited, citing the council’s approval of a $1.2 million downtown project with a $400,000 tax increment financing contribution that didn’t receive input from residents.

“It’s not the city manager’s money, it’s not the mayor’s money, it’s the community representatives’ money,” Embrey said.

Misty Haji-Sheikh said she was also in support of having a 25 percent contingency and has had to make hard cuts while a member of the DeKalb County Board to establish a balanced budget.

“I have knowledge both on the citizen side and as an elected official,” Haji-Sheikh said. “I’m not sure that the City Council listens to the advisory committee.”

The candidates responses to other key issues are available at

Catherine Harned was the only one of the nine District 428 board candidates that did not attend the forum.

In response to the current board’s selection of the Illinois Association of School Boards to aid in the search for a superintendent to replace Doug Moeller, who resigns at the end of April, candidates were asked what they would do if they weren’t satisfied with the selected superintendent.

Sean Johnson said the district cannot have an incident such as the one that occurred with Moeller.

“I don’t think that we should put anyone in there right away without doing a great job at looking at what they can do for us,” Johnson said.

Jeff Hallgren said that the new board should be making rulings on appointing a new superintendent.

“I’m very emphatic about this,” Hallgren said. “I feel 85 percent of our job is to pick the right people for the job. Nine people are running, and we want be part of that decision.”

Valerie Pena Hernandez said it’s important to remember who served on the board at the time of Moeller’s appointment. Former district board President Tracy Williams was the only candidate involved with the appointment of Moeller.

“We need to move forward and learn from those mistakes and our decision should be more reflective of that,” Hernandez said.

Williams said that Moeller was fully vetted in processes that included the input of community members, staff and teachers.

Jeromy Olson said the timeline to find good candidates is closing and other districts are trying to find superintendents.

“I’d love to be involved in that process, but I think if there’s a terrific candidate we could miss, that would be troubling as well,” Olson said.

Twangie Smith said it is important to take the necessary time to find a fully qualified superintendent.

“There seems to have been a lot of friends working for friends that get superintendents in the positions they were in,” Smith said.

Shatoya Black said there needs to be enough time to find the best candidate so the board doesn’t duplicate the problems with the last superintendent and run the risk of repeating the same cycle.

Newport said IASB’s process is very transparent and includes community members, staff and parents in the interview process. She said that a survey will be sent to parents soon seeking questions they would want answered by superintendent candidates.

Candidates’ stances on other key issues are available at

This is the first event as part of the “Building Bridges” forum series hosted by One DeKalb, a collaboration between DeKalb County Community Gardens Director Dan Kenney and students of Northern Illinois University.

There will also be a meet-and-greet at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the House Cafe, 263 E. Lincoln Highway, and a forum at 5 p.m.March 30 at the University Village Community Room, 722 N. Annie Glidden Road.

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