DeKALB – DeKalb Mayor Jerry Smith understands that people might question why anyone would want to be mayor or an alderman after the 2018 the city endured.
“To say that 2018 tossed us some challenges would be an understatement,” Smith said during his 30-minute State of the City address during Monday’s Committee of the Whole meeting.
Smith, who unapologetically deemed himself DeKalb’s “No. 1 cheerleader,” spoke at length about the promise 2019 holds, now that City Manager Bill Nicklas has taken the reins; the continued partnership between Northern Illinois University and the city; the economic development boom spearheaded by John Pappas of Pappas Development; and public safety progress, such as the DeKalb Police Department’s Safe Streets Initiative.
“Foremost in our trials has been the lack of staff leadership at the top,” Smith said, adding that Nicklas has been tasked with laying the groundwork for a “realistic budget that will allow us to manage the city effectively.”
“I fully realize your government has not performed as many of you expected it to do over the last several years,” Smith said. “Frankly, a good share of the problems, especially those on the budgetary side, were the results of decisions that were made in this building a number of years ago.”
Smith identified a number of reasons why the city still is facing budget crises in 2019: the lack of a state budget, ongoing strains on services with police and fire departments, a continued decline in NIU enrollment, a loss of sales tax dollars and an oversupply of rental properties in the city, specifically in the Annie Glidden North neighborhood.
The evening was not all gloom and doom, however.
In terms of economic development, Smith identified a number of specific projects as emblematic of the city’s continuing efforts to prioritize development, including Cornerstone and Plaza DeKalb, the new Aldi grocer that will be moving into Northland Plaza, Walmart on Sycamore Road and Dunkin’ Donuts on East Lincoln Highway.
Smith said he spoke last week with Pappas, who indicated more work on the Plaza DeKalb project would begin in the spring, and Jamrah Middle Eastern Cuisine’s second location next to Cornerstone will be opening in the next few weeks.
Smith also heralded NIU frequently, specifically President Lisa Freeman; the $23 million Center for Community Sustainability, which was announced in October; and the merging of the Huskie Line and Voluntary Action Center bus systems.
“I think there is a new spirit, a new culture [in the city],” Smith said after the meeting. “[It] gives me hope and confidence that 2019 will be better.”
Talkington settlement reached
Former interim City Manager Molly Talkington will receive almost $70,000 from the city of DeKalb in the next sixth months, thanks to a severance package settlement that was approved during Monday’s regular City Council meeting.
The city will continue to pay Talkington her normal biweekly salary, including a car allowance, at the rate she was paid as finance director – $4,995 every two weeks, as of Jan. 6. Talkington will be paid that rate for six months until July 7, at which time her employment with the city will be terminated.
During the sixth-month pay period, Talkington will be allowed to remain on the city’s group health and dental insurance plan and continue to pay the employee portion of her health insurance benefits. Her portion of insurance premiums is $208 every two weeks for health insurance and $9 for dental coverage.
Additionally, Talkington will receive payments for her 118.6 hours of accrued, unused vacation, totaling $7,162.
As part of the package, the city also will issue a letter of reference to be used if and when any employers seek comment from the city.
Nicklas said Talkington has agreed to voluntarily withdraw her charges as listed in an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit. She filed the suit in November after being placed on administrative leave, alleging gender discrimination and sexual harassment against Smith and City Attorney Dean Frieders after she refused to disclose to them whether she was dating 1st Ward Alderman David Jacobson.
The package agreement passed with six votes of approval, one abstention from newly appointed 3rd Ward Alderman Joyce Stupegia and a recusal from Jacobson, who declined to comment when asked after the meeting why he chose not to vote on the matter.
“My only comment is I would hope that [the] council would agree with me that this is a very transparent undertaking,” Smith said after the vote.
Talkington’s lawyer, Keith Hunt, did not respond to requests for comment.