Schiff: Pelosi 'absolutely right' to hold back impeachment

WASHINGTON – A key House investigator said Tuesday that Speaker Nancy Pelosi is "absolutely right" to hold back on impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff sided with Pelosi, who said Democrats shouldn't pursue impeachment unless there's overwhelming and bipartisan support for doing so. Her comments to The Washington Post riled some liberals, including new lawmakers who helped flip the chamber to Democratic control.

Together, Pelosi and Schiff's remarks are designed to signal to outspoken Democrats in the House that senior lawmakers in the Democrat-controlled House aren't behind any drive to impeach Trump. The delicate issue returned to the surface after a week of ugly dispute in Pelosi's ranks over how to word a resolution condemning anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim discrimination.

Schiff, whose committee has been investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, told reporters an impeachment effort seen as partisan would be doomed.

"A bipartisan process would have to be extra clear and compelling," Schiff told reporters. "I think the speaker is absolutely right. In its absence, an impeachment partisan becomes a partisan exercise doomed for failure. And I see little to be gained by putting the country through that kind of wrenching experience."

In remarks published Monday by The Washington Post, Pelosi made clear that she thinks Trump is not fit for office. But she said based on what's known now and the fact that the country is not behind any effort to remove him, "I'm not for impeachment," she said.

"Unless there's something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don't think we should go down that path, because it divides the country," Pelosi said.

It's a departure from her previous comments that Democrats are waiting on special counsel Robert Mueller to lay out findings from his Russia investigation before considering impeachment.

"We're just starting the investigation. And it's not going to stop," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash, a member of the House Judiciary Committee. "We're going to make sure we don't provide sort of an open playbook for people to just continue to sit in the Oval Office and not uphold the Constitution."

Schiff spoke at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.

Pelosi has long resisted calls to impeach the president, saying it's a "divisive" issue that should only be broached with "great care."

She refused calls when she first held the speaker's gavel, in 2007, to start impeachment proceedings against George W. Bush. Having been a member of Congress during President Bill Clinton's impeachment, she saw the way the public turned on Republicans and helped Clinton win a second term. Heading into the midterm elections, she discouraged candidates from talking up impeachment, preferring to stick to the kitchen table issues that she believes most resonate with voters.

Pelosi has said the House should not pursue impeachment for political reasons, but it shouldn't hold back for political reasons, either. Rather, she says, the investigations need to take their course and impeachment, if warranted, will be clear.

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Associated Press Writer Alan Fram contributed to this report.

Street maintenance funds for fiscal 2020 on Sycamore council agenda

SYCAMORE – The Sycamore City Council will continue fiscal 2020 budget talks by discussing proposed street maintenance projects during its meeting Monday.

Sycamore City Manager Brian Gregory said 17 maintenance projects, including surface removal and overlay at Sycamore and California streets, are included in the proposal. If the City Council approves them, staff will be able to prepare bid documents for the projects, and bids likely will go out in April.

Concrete sidewalks projects would be addressed in the spring, street microsurfacing would be done in the summer, and cracks would be filled in the fall, Gregory said.

“That’s one of the priorities that [the] council has, is to continue to invest in infrastructure,” Gregory said.

Other proposed fiscal 2020 budget subject matters that will be covered Monday include the city’s downtown facade and gateway improvement project. Gregory said one change the city will make is limiting applicants to only one grant per building every three years, as opposed to the current two-year period.

Gregory said there will be no additional costs to residents as a result of these proposed budget items, including no tax increases. He said the facade and gateway programs are funded by the city’s hotel and motel tax revenue, and city’s road and sidewalk maintenance projects are funded by sales tax, motor fuel tax and video gaming tax revenues.

A public hearing for the full city budget and its first reading is scheduled for April 1. The scheduled second reading and adoption of the budget will be April 15.

Gregory said the City Council also will vote on the city’s updated liquor code, which hasn’t been changed since it last was discussed during the Feb. 18 meeting. He said the council also will vote on collective bargaining agreements for International Association of Firefighters Local 3046 and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3957.

“After a few bargaining sessions and looking at comparable communities, the state of the economy and our budget, we were able to come to an agreement that I believe is fair for employees and the city organization,” Gregory said.

The City Council will meet at 7 p.m. Monday at the Sycamore Center, 308 W. State St.

Kinzinger: Situation at U.S.-Mexico border a 'crisis'

U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, called the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border a "crisis" a couple of weeks after his Air Force National Guard unit was deployed there.

In a post on his campaign Facebook page, he said he's been flying missions on the border, and what he's seen has led him to agree about the severity of the situation there.

"I'll keep it simple — the situation on our border is a crisis," Kinzinger wrote. "I've never seen it this bad."

Kinzinger further described the situation there saying there were cartels attempting to bring drugs into the U.S., human traffickers attempting to smuggle innocent people and sometimes abandoning them in the desert. He said they saved a woman who had been left to die. He added there were also "countless other breaches at the weakest points on our border."

"For anyone hell bent on believing otherwise, despite the prevailing evidence, I wish you could see what my squadron and I did," Kinzinger wrote. "It's a nightmare down there."

Kinzinger called on everyone to "rise above politics and do what's best for our country."

"Look, I get that some people can't handle agreeing with the president," he wrote. "If he says 'there's a crisis,' they say it's 'manufactured.' But I can tell you from firsthand experience, and as someone who has had some disagreements with our president: The crisis is real."

Acting U.S. attorney general says he has not hampered Mueller probe

WASHINGTON – Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said on Friday that he has "not interfered in any way" in the special counsel's Russia investigation as he faced a contentious and partisan congressional hearing in his waning days on the job.

The hearing before the House Judiciary Committee was the first, and likely only, chance for newly empowered Democrats in the majority to grill an attorney general they perceive as a Donald Trump loyalist and whose appointment they suspect was aimed at suppressing investigations of the Republican president. They confronted Whitaker on his past criticism of special counsel Robert Mueller's work and his refusal to recuse himself from overseeing it, attacked him over his prior business dealings and sneeringly challenged his credentials as the country's chief law enforcement officer.

"We're all trying to figure out: Who are you, where did you come from and how the heck did you become the head of the Department of Justice," said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries. When Whitaker tried to respond, the New York Democrat interrupted, "Mr. Whitaker, that was a statement, not a question. I assume you know the difference."

Yet Democrats yielded no new information about the status of the Mueller probe as Whitaker repeatedly refused to discuss conversations with the president or answer questions that he thought might reveal details. Though clearly exasperated – he drew gasps when he told the committee chairman that his five-minute time limit for questions was up – Whitaker nonetheless sought to assuage Democratic concerns by insisting he had never discussed the Mueller probe with Trump or other White House officials, and that there'd been no change in its "overall management."

"We have followed the special counsel's regulations to a T," Whitaker said. "There has been no event, no decision, that has required me to take any action, and I have not interfered in any way with the special counsel's investigation."

Republicans made clear they viewed the hearing as pointless political grandstanding, especially since Whitaker may have less than a week left in the job, and some respected his wishes by asking questions about topics other than Mueller's probe into potential ties between Russia and the Trump campaign. The Senate is expected to vote as soon as next week on confirming William Barr, Trump's pick for attorney general.

"I'm thinking about maybe we just set up a popcorn machine in the back because that's what this is becoming," said Republican Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia. "It's becoming a show."

But Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the committee chairman who a day earlier had threatened to subpoena Whitaker to ensure his appearance, left no doubt about his party's focus.

"You decided that your private interest in overseeing this particular investigation – and perhaps others from which you should have been recused – was more important than the integrity of the department," said Nadler, of New York. "The question that this committee must now ask is: Why?"

Whitaker toggled between defending his role in the special counsel's investigation and echoing the president's talking points, conceding for instance that while foreign interference in U.S. elections was a problem, so too was voter fraud – a key issue for Republicans, but one that Democrats say is overstated. He said he had no reason to doubt Mueller's honesty and or to believe that he was conflicted in his leadership of the department.

But he also declined to say if he still agreed with sharply critical comments about the Mueller investigation that he made as a television commentator before arriving at the Justice Department in the fall of 2017 as chief of staff to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. And he passed up a chance to break from the president's characterization of the Mueller investigation as a "witch hunt," saying simply, "I think it would be inappropriate for me to comment on an ongoing investigation."

FBI Director Christopher Wray, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Barr have all maintained that they do not believe the investigation to be a witch hunt.

White House officials kept an eye on Whitaker's performance and, while they appreciated his combative tone and aggressive defense of the administration, there was a sense from aides that his performance, at times, appeared halting and ill-prepared. The president himself kept an eye on the proceedings as well before leaving the White House for his annual physical.

Whitaker laid the groundwork for a likely tussle with Democrats by saying in his opening statement that while he would address their questions, he would not reveal details of his communications with Trump.

"I trust that the members of this committee will respect the confidentiality that is necessary to the proper functioning of the presidency – just as we respect the confidentiality necessary to the legislative branch," Whitaker said.

Democrats also inquired about Whitaker's past business dealings. Nadler and three other House committee chairmen released documents that they said show Whitaker failed to return thousands of dollars that were supposed to be distributed to victims of a company's alleged fraud. Whitaker has come under scrutiny for his involvement with the invention promotion company, which was accused of misleading consumers.

Whitaker, a former U.S. attorney from Iowa, took over when Sessions was forced from the Cabinet last November as Trump seethed over Sessions' decision to step aside from overseeing the Russia investigation. Trump insists there was "no collusion" between his campaign and Russia.

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Associated Press writers Chad Day and Jonathan Lemire contributed to this report.

Green energy group aims to move Illinois toward 100 percent renewable energy

State Rep. Will Davis, a Hazel Crest Democrat, plans to introduce legislation in the next two weeks that would move Illinois toward 100 percent renewable energy.

“We want to make sure that the future of clean energy is clear, it’s stable and it ensures equitable participation, and it lifts up all sectors of not only the industry, but all sectors of the state,” said Amy Heart, Midwest chair for the Solar Energy Industry Association and policy director for Sunrun.

David Lundy, spokesman for the Path to 100 Coalition, said the future legislation would make this happen by requiring greater private investment in renewable energy production from energy companies.

This would be accomplished through the authority of the Illinois Power Agency, which develops electricity procurement plans for large investor-owned electric utilities Ameren, ComEd and MidAmerican.

In this way, investment would be ratepayer funded, costing the ratepayer “less than a couple bucks a month,” Lundy said. It would not require state funding.

Currently, the Illinois Power Agency turns away about 90 percent of applicants for green energy projects because of a limited pool of available credits, Lundy said. But by expanding Illinois’ Renewable Portfolio Standard, the planned legislation would increase the available pool of private grant funding to be disbursed by the Illinois Power Agency.

“The renewable energy industry is ready to invest billions of dollars in our state and deliver the clean, homegrown energy our citizens want,” Davis said. “I intend for this act to benefit our state equitably and spread the economic development dollars to Illinois communities throughout the state, and especially those that are most in need of jobs and economic growth.”

Davis said he plans for the bill to expand upon parameters of the Future Energy Jobs Act, under which several hundred megawatts of wind and solar renewable energy credits were procured.

Existing policy requires Illinois to reach 16 percent renewable energy by 2020 and 25 percent by 2025, but Illinois is on pace to hit only 7 percent by 2020.

The coalition said the Path to 100 ­legislation will expand Illinois’ Renewable Portfolio Standard requirement to 40 percent renewables by 2030 and requires that the goal be met by new, in-state projects that create jobs in Illinois.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker campaigned on a clean energy agenda and signed an executive order in January making Illinois part of the U.S. Climate Alliance, a bipartisan coalition which is committed to upholding the standards of the Paris Climate Accords.

Border security deal seems near, easing shutdown concerns

WASHINGTON – Congressional bargainers seem close to clinching a border security agreement that would avert a fresh government shutdown, with leaders of both parties voicing optimism and the top GOP negotiator saying he believes President Donald Trump would back the emerging accord.

It could take days to nail down final details and unexpected problems could develop, especially with Trump's penchant for head-snapping changes of mind. Even so, participants said a handshake could come any day on a spending package for physical barriers along the Southwest border and other security measures that would end a confrontation that has dominated the opening weeks of divided government.

"The president was urging me to try to conclude these negotiations and this is the most positive meeting I've had in a long time," lead GOP bargainer Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama told reporters after discussing the parameters of the potential pact with Trump in the Oval Office.

"I gathered today that if we work this out in the context that we were talking today, that I thought was reasonable, very reasonable, that he would sign it," added Shelby.

"Hopefully, we'll get some good news in a short period of time," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Congress has until Feb. 15 to approve an agreement before the government runs out of money.

Trump faces an aggressive, Democratic-led House that is ramping up investigations into Russian involvement in his campaign and businesses and trying to get access to his income tax returns. But ending the border security fight would close one chapter that's bruised him, including his surrender after a 35-day partial federal shutdown that he started by unsuccessfully demanding taxpayer money to build the border wall.

Trump, who'd previously called congressional talks a "waste of time," was non-committal.

"I certainly hear that they are working on something and both sides are moving along. We'll see what happens," he said. "We need border security. We have to have it, it's not an option."

A senior administration official said the White House is "cautiously optimistic" about getting a deal they could support. The official lacked authorization to discuss the matter publicly and spoke only on condition of anonymity.

The agreement seemed sure to produce far less than the $5.7 billion Trump had demanded to build over 200 miles of the wall, a structure he made a paramount plank of his presidential campaign. It seemed likelier to provide closer to the $1.6 billion a bipartisan Senate panel approved for fencing last year.

Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., a negotiator, said it was "unrealistic" to think there would be no funding for physical barriers. "Like in anything else, it's a trade-off," she said.

Even with a deal, it was possible Trump might try using claims of executive powers to reach for more wall funding, sparking more fights with Congress.

Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., said an accord could be "a good down payment" and added, "There are other ways to do it and I expect the president to go it alone in some fashion." Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said on Fox News Channel's "Hannity" on Wednesday, "If Congress won't participate or won't go along, we'll figure out a way to do it with executive authority."

Members of both parties have expressed opposition to Trump bypassing Congress by declaring a national emergency at the border, a move that would be certain to produce lawsuits that could block the money.

It was unclear what verbiage the evolving pact would use to describe the barriers, with Democrats vowing repeatedly to block funding for a "wall." Also unresolved was Democrats' demand to reduce the number of beds for detained migrants operated by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., a negotiator, said both sides are showing flexibility.

"They are not opposed to barriers," Blunt said about Democrats. "And the president, I think, has embraced the idea that there may actually be something better than a concrete wall would have been anyway."

No. 2 House GOP leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana told reporters that "from the things that I'm hearing, this agreement could get a majority of both Republicans and Democrats in the House."

Still, lawmakers have grown accustomed to expecting the unexpected from Trump. Before Christmas, both parties' leaders believed he'd support a bipartisan deal that would have prevented the recently ended shutdown, only to reverse himself under criticism from conservative pundits and lawmakers.

"I remember everybody was optimistic the week before Christmas," said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. This time, though, "It sounds like Trump is closer to reality."

"There's a small light at the end of the tunnel," said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan. "We just hope it's not a train coming the other way."

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AP Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro and AP reporters Jill Colvin and Catherine Lucey contributed.

Acting AG overseeing Mueller probe says he has not interfered

WASHINGTON – Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said on Friday that he has "not interfered in any way" in the special counsel's Russia investigation as he faced a contentious and partisan congressional hearing in his waning days on the job.

The hearing before the House Judiciary Committee was the first, and likely only, chance for newly empowered Democrats in the majority to grill an attorney general they perceive as a Donald Trump loyalist and whose appointment they suspect was aimed at suppressing investigations of the Republican president. They confronted Whitaker on his past criticism of special counsel Robert Mueller's work and his refusal to recuse himself from overseeing it, attacked him over his prior business dealings and sneeringly challenged his credentials as the country's chief law enforcement officer.

"We're all trying to figure out: Who are you, where did you come from and how the heck did you become the head of the Department of Justice," said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries. When Whitaker tried to respond, the New York Democrat interrupted, "Mr. Whitaker, that was a statement, not a question. I assume you know the difference."

Yet Democrats yielded no new information about the status of the Mueller probe as Whitaker repeatedly refused to discuss conversations with the president or answer questions that he thought might reveal details. Though clearly exasperated – he drew gasps when he told the committee chairman that his five-minute time limit for questions was up – Whitaker nonetheless sought to assuage Democratic concerns by insisting he had never discussed the Mueller probe with Trump or other White House officials, and that there'd been no change in its "overall management."

"We have followed the special counsel's regulations to a T," Whitaker said. "There has been no event, no decision, that has required me to take any action, and I have not interfered in any way with the special counsel's investigation."

Republicans made clear they viewed the hearing as pointless political grandstanding, especially since Whitaker may have less than a week left in the job, and some respected his wishes by asking questions about topics other than Mueller's probe into potential ties between Russia and the Trump campaign. The Senate is expected to vote as soon as next week on confirming William Barr, Trump's pick for attorney general.

"I'm thinking about maybe we just set up a popcorn machine in the back because that's what this is becoming," said Republican Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia. "It's becoming a show."

But Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the committee chairman who a day earlier had threatened to subpoena Whitaker to ensure his appearance, left no doubt about his party's focus.

"You decided that your private interest in overseeing this particular investigation – and perhaps others from which you should have been recused – was more important than the integrity of the department," said Nadler, of New York. "The question that this committee must now ask is: Why?"

Whitaker toggled between defending his role in the special counsel's investigation and echoing the president's talking points, conceding for instance that while foreign interference in U.S. elections was a problem, so too was voter fraud – a key issue for Republicans, but one that Democrats say is overstated. He said he had no reason to doubt Mueller's honesty and or to believe that he was conflicted in his leadership of the department.

But he also declined to say if he still agreed with sharply critical comments about the Mueller investigation that he made as a television commentator before arriving at the Justice Department in the fall of 2017 as chief of staff to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. And he passed up a chance to break from the president's characterization of the Mueller investigation as a "witch hunt," saying simply, "I think it would be inappropriate for me to comment on an ongoing investigation."

FBI Director Christopher Wray, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Barr have all maintained that they do not believe the investigation to be a witch hunt.

White House officials kept an eye on Whitaker's performance and, while they appreciated his combative tone and aggressive defense of the administration, there was a sense from aides that his performance, at times, appeared halting and ill-prepared. The president himself kept an eye on the proceedings as well before leaving the White House for his annual physical.

Whitaker laid the groundwork for a likely tussle with Democrats by saying in his opening statement that while he would address their questions, he would not reveal details of his communications with Trump.

"I trust that the members of this committee will respect the confidentiality that is necessary to the proper functioning of the presidency – just as we respect the confidentiality necessary to the legislative branch," Whitaker said.

Democrats also inquired about Whitaker's past business dealings. Nadler and three other House committee chairmen released documents that they said show Whitaker failed to return thousands of dollars that were supposed to be distributed to victims of a company's alleged fraud. Whitaker has come under scrutiny for his involvement with the invention promotion company, which was accused of misleading consumers.

Whitaker, a former U.S. attorney from Iowa, took over when Sessions was forced from the Cabinet last November as Trump seethed over Sessions' decision to step aside from overseeing the Russia investigation. Trump insists there was "no collusion" between his campaign and Russia.

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Associated Press writers Chad Day and Jonathan Lemire contributed to this report.

DeKalb City Council approves plan that lays off four administrators

DeKALB – Four DeKalb city administrators will not have their jobs as of March 1.

Members of the DeKalb City Council spoke in favor of City Manager Bill Nicklas’ proposal to lay off Public Works Director Tim Holdeman, Community Development Director Jo Ellen Charlton, Information Technology Director Marc Thorson and Assistant Finance Director Robert Miller – and not fill an additional three vacated positions – to help the city with its budget shortfall.

“We have your back as we move forward,” DeKalb Mayor Jerry Smith said to Nicklas during the council meeting Monday night.

Nicklas said the plan now is in effect with the council’s blessing. Most of the aldermen said they enjoyed working with the four employees who will be laid off and said they regret their departure from the city having to happen this way.

Fifth Ward Alderwoman Kate Noreiko said she appreciated the consideration has been taken to heart, and it’s apparent that Nicklas was careful in his deliberation. She said she will support the council’s direction and Nicklas’ proposal, and she wants to see extra consideration on the challenges the remaining city staff will face.

“There are only so many hours in a day, and I would hope that the council will be realistic in terms of what can and cannot be accomplished with this restructuring,” Noreiko said.

First Ward Alderman David Jacobson said this discussion has been a long time coming, and it’s unfortunate that it now affects people and their families. Going forward, he said, the city is going to have to continue reassessing what it’s doing and how that will affect the city’s financial state.

“Our hand was forced at this point,” Jacobson said.

The council also voted, 8-0, in favor of appointing Jeff McMaster as DeKalb fire chief, Ray Munch as assistant city manager and Andy Raih as street department superintendent during the meeting. McMaster’s base salary will go from $135,900 to $141,244, Munch’s from $81,180 to $120,000 and Raih’s from $76,021 to $96,000.

Nicklas said the layoffs will save the city $1,105,258. He said the proposal to lay off these particular four staff members and not filling an additional three positions was carefully considered, all based on finances and nothing personal.

“I needed to find $1.1 million,” Nicklas said.

Holdeman’s current base salary is $129,727, according to city documents. Charlton’s and Thorson’s current salaries are $127,651 each, and Miller’s salary is $113,400. Each of the four will be compensated for all accrued paid time off, but no one will be placed on leave or paid a severance, the agenda said.

Nicklas’ proposal also includes a $30,000 cut to his own $150,000 salary, also effective March 1, to help with budget-saving measures.

Three positions that will be vacated or already have been will be eliminated as part of the plan. Economic Development Planner Jason Michnick’s position will stay vacant when he leaves Friday, and the deputy fire chief role will stay vacant once Jim Zarek retires Feb. 15. The role of finance director will be eliminated after Molly Talkington’s severance package agreement is completed July 7.

Charlton said she understands Nicklas’ and the council’s rationale for moving ahead with the layoff plan.

“It’s a tough budget, tough decision and tough times,” Charlton said.

DeKalb County Treasurer talks status of vacant Chestnut Grove parcels in Cortland

SYCAMORE – Want to buy the property taxes for a whole undeveloped subdivision in Cortland? The DeKalb County Treasurer's office said the chance to do so may come after June 25.

Property taxes that are still for sale for more than 90 land parcels in Cortland were listed in Daily Chronicle's legal section last week. Those properties once belonged to former home developer Anthony Montalbano – who filed for personal bankruptcy protection in 2009, according to Crain's Chicago Business – and the company Montalbano Builders, Inc., which went out of business in August 2017, according to Bloomberg.

DeKalb County Treasurer Christine Johnson said the properties' 2015 taxes were auctioned off by the county as the land's trustee in 2016 to try to get a third party to pay the property's taxes, interest and fees after the owner failed to do so. She said the goal of the county's tax auction program is to get those orphan parcels, as she called them, back on the tax rolls.

“Because that’s good for everybody if somebody cares for them and is going to start paying taxes to them again,” Johnson said.

In this case, Johnson said, no one bought the taxes for the Cortland properties when the county tried to bring them to auction. If the owner doesn't buy the taxes back by June 25, the county will petition to the court to get the land deeds so they can sell the land and split the sales to the taxing bodies, she said.

Johnson said that's at least something the county and other taxing bodies can do to hopefully recoup a little of what the taxing districts lost as a result of those property taxes not getting paid.

“Because otherwise they’re just sitting there,” Johnson said.

According to the DeKalb County Community Online Map Property and Search Site, the vacant lot properties in question have “Chestnut Grove” in the brief property description. Several of the properties include land that is near Cortland Elementary School, the school that was built after the same developer Montalbano Homes donated 13 acres of land to DeKalb School District 428 district to construct the school in the Chestnut Grove subdivision.

Analysis: Trump's shutdown retreat reveals weakness

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump will emerge from the longest government shutdown in U.S. history politically weakened, his reputation questioned and his signature campaign promise still glaringly unfulfilled.

The 35-day partial shutdown over the president's demand for billions of dollars to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border was, in the end, futile. Facing defections within his own party, sagging poll numbers and public criticism for interrupted services, the self-proclaimed master dealmaker accepted an agreement that he had previously spurned and set an ignominious record that will remain part of his legacy. Days after Trump marked the midpoint of his term, the shutdown highlighted the disquieting side effects of his unconventional governing style and the trials that lie ahead for him in dealing with emboldened Democrats.

The folly of the effort was readily apparent inside the White House, where aides had warned Trump even before the shutdown began that there was no avenue to success in the showdown with Capitol Hill. Democrats ran for office on preventing Trump from building the wall – and it's hardly a popular idea even among Republican lawmakers. Advisers watched in shock as Trump declared in a December meeting with lawmakers that he would be "proud" to shut down the government.

And when he ultimately did just that, they feared the messaging war had already been lost.

"He was playing double-A ball against major leaguers," said former Republican Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, who once headed the House GOP's campaign arm. By backing himself into the shutdown with no way out, Davis said, Trump displayed a lack of discipline from the start.

The strategic deficit was only magnified by what allies saw as tactical errors. Trump spent the holidays tweeting from the White House rather than making public appearances to showcase his readiness to negotiate. He didn't deliver a public address or visit the border to make his case until weeks had already gone by. Perhaps most crucially, he underestimated House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the unity of congressional Democrats, thinking the Californian would be more amenable to a deal on the wall once she won the speakership.

Trump's message zigzagged sometimes by the hour. He maintained he was proud of shutting down the government and then tried to pin the blame on Democrats. One moment he signaled he was ready to concede the wall in favor of other barriers on the border, and the next he tweeted he was fighting for the wall as strongly as ever. It was emblematic of the dysfunctional White House culture he has fostered and the challenges that have been manifest on decisions big and small for two years.

By the end of the shutdown, West Wing aides and outside allies of the president began to look at the seminal promise of Trump's 2016 campaign as an immense – and unachievable – burden on his presidency.

It was complaints that Trump appeared to be passing up his last, best opportunity to make good on his build-the-wall pledge that led Trump into the shutdown to begin with. Conservative commentators and House Freedom Caucus members fired off warnings that Trump's base would sour on him if he didn't use the last days of unified GOP control of Washington last year to try to get money for the barrier.

But in his quest to appease his base, the president tarnished his standing with the American public. Overall, 34 percent of Americans approve of Trump's job performance in a survey released this week by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. That's down from 42 percent a month earlier and nears the lowest mark of his two-year presidency.

"Hopefully now the president has learned his lesson," Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said in a gloating press conference with Pelosi.

The impasse was an early test for Pelosi after her return to the speakership, one that she appeared to pass handily. Democrats remained unified against White House efforts to divide the caucus, and they head into the next round of debate over border security funding determined to make good on their own 2018 promises to block Trump's wall.

As White House aides suggested that the shutdown had brought Democrats to embrace border "barriers," Pelosi made clear her party remained resolved against the wall.

"Have I not been clear?" she said. "No, I have been very clear."

Trump, characteristically, refused to concede that he'd conceded. Instead, he insisted he hadn't caved to Democrats, and he threatened yet another shutdown even while bemoaning the last one's impact on Americans.

"This was in no way a concession," Trump tweeted late Friday. "It was taking care of millions of people who were getting badly hurt by the Shutdown with the understanding that in 21 days, if no deal is done, it's off to the races!"

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Associated Press writer Alan Fram contributed to this report.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Zeke Miller has covered the White House and politics in Washington since 2011. Follow him at http://twitter.com/zekejmiller

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