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Our View: Changes afoot in DeKalb government

The opening months of new City Manager Anne Marie Gaura’s tenure have brought some major changes to DeKalb’s government.

In March, days after Gaura announced a new fiscal responsibility initiative, Finance Director Linda Pisarcik resigned “to pursue other opportunities” without receiving any severance or other separation benefits other than her accrued time off.

Last week, the Daily Chronicle learned that both of the city’s building inspectors and its building supervisor had been placed on paid leave as city officials consider the future of the department and the most efficient way it can meet its building inspection responsibilities.

City officials made no announcement in either case. The moves all deal with personnel issues, a subject on which employers are generally limited on what they can say, but they could have announced they happened.

However, it appears all of the steps taken can be linked to attempts to improve efficiency.

The finance director’s removal came after Gaura pointed out that the city needed to improve some of its financial policies and that some city department heads had made purchases in excess of $20,000 without seeking City Council approval. It also came just as the city was beginning its annual budgeting process.

In the case of the building department, its three employees on leave earned more than $320,000 combined in the city’s fiscal 2013. Two had accrued more than five weeks of vacation time as well.

Dean Frieders, attorney for the city, said that an outside contractor will handle the services the department offers while the employees are on leave.

It could be that there is a more efficient way for handling building permits. Outside contractors are available to handle building and code inspections, and some will do so for a percentage of a city’s permitting fees, or another negotiated rate. With the demand for building and occupancy permits slowed from its peak of years ago, such a switch could allow the city to spend less, or pay only for the services it needs, rather than incur the expense of running its own building department.

Other municipalities in Illinois have moved in this direction already, including the suburban communities of Glenview, Wilmette, Winnetka, and Evanston.

There are also several buildings around the city in bad shape: The partially collapsed Wurlitzer building, the building at 118 E. Lincoln Highway in downtown DeKalb that housed Otto’s and Ducky’s Formalwear before a burst pipe left it unsuitable for occupancy, and so on. Perhaps a new approach and a new perspective would help with some of these problems.

Anyone who was wondering when Gaura would make her mark on city government in DeKalb has not had to wait long. Our hope is that in the long run, these moves make the city more efficient and affordable for residents.

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