DeKalb County Board Chairman to oppose DeKalb TIF agreement

Mark Pietrowski Jr., DeKalb County board chairman, waits to make a point during a Oct. 24 DeKalb County Planning and Zoning Committee meeting. Mark Busch – mbusch@shawmedia.com

Mark Pietrowski Jr., DeKalb County board chairman, waits to make a point during a Oct. 24 DeKalb County Planning and Zoning Committee meeting. Mark Busch – mbusch@shawmedia.com

DeKALB – The DeKalb County Board chairman said he will recommend the county does not recommend county approval for the proposed City of DeKalb tax increment financing district.

The DeKalb County Executive Committee will discuss whether it would recommend approval for an intergovernmental agreement about the TIF district during its meeting Wednesday night.

DeKalb County Board Chairman Mark Pietrowski Jr. said he also shared his anticipated recommendation regarding the proposed DeKalb TIF district agreement with DeKalb Mayor Jerry Smith as a courtesy.

“We believe that there’s more that needs to be talked about,” Pietrowski said.

The announcement came after DeKalb County officials abstained from voting on the agreement with the city during a meeting between city officials and taxing bodies, or the Joint Review Board, on Friday, citing a Nov. 21 County Board meeting that will give further direction on how to vote. Other taxing body representatives from DeKalb School District 428 and Kishwaukee College also abstained from voting during the joint review board meeting.

Pietrowski said he will bring up reasons why at the Wednesday meeting and said more information on his rationale for the recommendation will be further discussed then. He said more related information also will be coming from the State’s Attorney’s office before the meeting Wednesday night.

The Daily Chronicle has not received any related materials as of 4:10 p.m. Tuesday.

DeKalb School District 428 officials previously raised concerns about administrative fees being incorrectly charged on various TIF projects. The amount ranges anywhere from $500,000 to $800,000 a year over at least the past decade, District 428 Superindendent Jamie Craven had said.

Craven had said the district’s lawyer came across the information after reviewing annual TIF reports from the city over the past few months. He had said administrative costs fit within the acceptable uses of TIF funds according to Illinois law, but school district officials had brought the information before the review board because they thought $800,000 was excessive for the city to transfer to its general fund for only administrative costs.

The committee also is set to discuss intergovernmental agreements regarding the DeKalb Sycamore Area Transportation Study and the DeKalb County sheriff’s new radio communications system, according to the agenda. The recommendations for the three agreements would go before the county board next week.

The Executive Committee meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Five Season’s room at the DeKalb County Community Outreach Building, 2500 N. Annie Glidden Road.

Mayor, officials: Future bright under new consultant

GENOA – Joseph Misurelli cast a long shadow at the first Genoa State of the City meeting, since he died two days before last Chritsmas.

“Joe made time for everyone. He listened. He cared,” Mayor Mark Vicary said of the city's long-serving late administrative consultant.

During the annual public luncheon at the Genoa City Hall on Tuesday, Vicary announced a new program that will honor Misurelli and his long commitment to Genoa, and provide an opportunity for Genoa residents to pay tribute to their own loved ones. The City of Genoa Tree of Honor Program will allow participants to purchase engraved golden leaves which will be displayed in the shape of a tree at Genoa City Hall.

A portion of the proceeds from the leaves purchased will be placed in the city’s tree fund to pay for the city to plant trees throughout the community.

Vicary described the time after Misurelli’s passing as a dark time for Genoa.

“The storm we weathered could easily have brought us down,” he said.

But, Vicary said, he was proud that, within two weeks of Misurelli’s death, the city had found a replacement in administrative consultant, Bill Nanek, who was hired at the beginning of 2018. Nanek provided an overview of the city’s finances Tuesday afternoon, detailing the ways the annual $7 million budget is divvied up between 17 separate funds.

Police receive 51 percent of the budget, with 17 percent going to streets and forestry, 13 percent devoted to garbage services, and 12 percent reserved for administration and finance.

“The city is dong a good job,” Nanek said. “I’m not finding there’s much, if anything, to trim.”

Next, Management Assistant Alyssa Seguss, presented the building projects that have come to Genoa in the past year or will be arriving in the next year. Most noteworthy, the Riverbend subdivision— which was abandoned, unfinished, roughly a decade ago, during the Great Recession—will be getting a new lease on life.

Seguss said the city has been approached by a developer about finishing the so-called “zombie subdivision.”

“If completed,” Seguss said, "this development would increase the city’s population by 10 percent.”

For reference, the city’s population, as of 2017, was 5,220.

Public Works Director Rich Gentile and Police Chief Robert Smith gave brief updates before the meeting’s close. Gentile outlined the department’s recent spending, noting that the Public Works department had spent $100,000 to build an equipment storage building where large equipment will be kept during the winter months. Smith outlined the Police Department’s recent hires, stating that one part-time officer had been bumped up to full-time, one auxiliary officer had been promoted to part-time and three new auxiliary officers had been hired.

The meeting closed with remarks from Vicary, who said the city was very pleased with the current state of things, especially considering how 2018 began.

“We’re simply beaming from ear-to-ear with the success we’ve had this year,” Vicary said, throwing a smiley face emoji up on the projector, “despite a rough start.”

County nursing home project may be delayed

DeKalb County Administrator Gary Hanson talks about the fiscal 2019 budget during the county's finance committee meeting Oct. 3 in Sycamore. Katie Finlon – kfinlon@shawmedia.com

DeKalb County Administrator Gary Hanson talks about the fiscal 2019 budget during the county's finance committee meeting Oct. 3 in Sycamore. Katie Finlon – kfinlon@shawmedia.com

SYCAMORE – The DeKalb County administrator said the Nursing and Rehab Center expansion project may be delayed due to zoning issues with the City of DeKalb.

The update comes after the county Public Building Commission met Tuesday morning at the DeKalb County Administration Building’s Conference Room East, 110 E. Sycamore St.

DeKalb County Administrator and commissioner Gary Hanson said the county was under a planned unit development when the facility was first built about 20 years ago. He said the county now has to amend zoning for the property in order to add on to the existing building.

Hanson said the county will submit the application for the zoning amendment to the city this week. At the moment, he said, he’s not sure what the timeline will look like regarding city approval.

“But it could impact the schedule for construction,” Hanson said.

Hanson said construction for the project can’t get started until the zoning is approved, but the commission also approved construction bids during the Tuesday meeting. He said the master contract will go to construction manager Ringland-Johnson out of Cherry Valley with a $12,587,000 bid.

“That needs to be in place anyway” so that the county will be geared up to start construction once zoning through the city is approved, Hanson said.

Hanson said that was the only action item that came out of the Tuesday meeting. Other discussion matters covered in the meeting included a contractor asking for more money for exceeding the amount of hours worked for the DeKalb County Jail expansion and the county just waiting for an HVAC unit for the public safety building after approving a $118,840 bid from One Source about a month ago.

Young voters say NIU polling place not sufficient

DeKALB – ​Northern Illinois University graduate student Kevin Barton, 23, from Collinsville, wanted to vote in the community he calls home, but when he tried to register at the NIU polls during Tuesday's midterm election, he faced unexpected hurdles.

“I was in line about a half-hour [at the NIU Holmes Student Center], and had only moved 10 feet, but then a lady came through telling everyone that any previously registered voters in the state of Illinois were not able to re-register and vote at the student center," Barton said. Barton's friend urged him to go back to the polls and try again, because the information he had been given was wrong.

"I went back and ended up waiting for another two hours to vote," Barton said. "When I got into the poll room, they had run out of ballots and had to print more, which took 30 more minutes."

Doug Johnson, who was re-elected for a second term as county clerk and recorder, said election officials "went way beyond the call of duty and law to accommodate students," and that "it's not something we have to do."

Photos by Mark Busch – mbusch@shawmedia.com, and provided (Caption: Northern Illinois University sophomore and first-time voter Cassandra Kamp (center), 19, from Bartlett, talks Friday at the Campus Life Building, about student voter turnout and the difficulties that the long lines at polling places on campus presented.) NIU students were promised the opportunity to vote early on Election Day, and register same-day at the Holmes Student Center and the Barsema Alumni and Visitor's Center. [Mark Busch – mbusch@shawmedia.com]

Photos by Mark Busch – mbusch@shawmedia.com, and provided (Caption: Northern Illinois University sophomore and first-time voter Cassandra Kamp (center), 19, from Bartlett, talks Friday at the Campus Life Building, about student voter turnout and the difficulties that the long lines at polling places on campus presented.)

NIU students were promised the opportunity to vote early on Election Day, and register same-day at the Holmes Student Center and the Barsema Alumni and Visitor's Center.

Students say the campus needs more polling places to better address the overflow of same-day voter registration, which they say should be expected, and alleviate long lines. Others claim voter suppression. The County Clerk's office says it was business as usual.

Xavier Mata, 22, a senior public health major from Chicago, also registered the day of the election.

"I waited about 2 1/2 hours to vote at the Holmes Student Center," Mata said. "I went right after my class ended at 2:50 p.m. and wasn’t out until about 5:30 p.m."

Voter turnout for the midterm elections reached that of recent presidential elections in the county, according to a previous Daily Chronicle report. NIU Student Association Legislative Director Ian Pearson said despite concentrated efforts by the student government to spread voter awareness, lines were still congested.

(Caption: DeKalb County Clerk and Recorder candidate Carolyn Morris is shown advising students in the voting process)

"We partnered with Illinois Public Interest Research Group to do early vote and 'Get out the Vote' efforts," said Pearson, 20, a junior political science and nonprofit and NGO double-major from Rockford.

Pearson said that "as college students tend to do," some waited until the last minute to vote, but said Tuesday's lines would have been worse if there had not been an increase in NIU early voter turnout.

"We saw a four times increase in midterm turnout since 2014," Pearson said. "Around 2 p.m. [on Tuesday], there were lines out of the [Holmes Student Center] which wrapped around the entire second floor."

(NIU senior Tristan Martin, 22, from Somonauk, talks Friday at the Campus Life Building, about student voter turnout and the difficulties that the long lines at polling places on campus presented.)

The lines for early voting at the Holmes Student Center were long at times as well, said Tristan Martin, 22, a senior majoring in political science who commutes from Somonauk. The county operated an early voting polling place on campus until the day before Election Day.

Martin thought it would be easiest to vote at NIU's early voting location, but tried three different days because he encountered lines every day. He ended up voting Tuesday morning back in Somonauk because the wait at NIU was too long.

"I went [to the Holmes Student Center] the Thursday, Friday, and Monday before the election, and every time, the line extended out of the room, around the corner, and down the hall," Martin said.

A trio of Democratic candidates who fell short in their election bids, Court Schuett, Carolyn Morris, and Liliana Orozco, were on campus – "as citizens" Orozco insisted, to encourage voter turnout – and expressed concern that NIU polling congestion was emblematic of voter suppression.

"When you know that, however, many students are living on campus and all might change their registration on Election Day and you don't provide enough staff at that location to at least keep the wait down to 30 minutes, that is plain-and-simple systemic voter suppression," Morris said.

DeKalb County is the only county in Illinois that offers same-day voter registration for students, said Johnson, county clerk and recorder who won re-election Tuesday. Students need only show a valid student I.D. and provide proof of address to register.

In fact, voters statewide can register to vote same-day through grace period registration, meaning election authorities can designate certain polling places in their jurisdictions, which voters can utilize to register to vote and vote on the same day, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

"Wait times are over-exaggerated, and just the Democrats trying to blow up a story," Johnson (shown) said.

Johnson said between four and six election judges were on hand at the NIU polling places, an election judge who was at the Holmes Student Center declined comment.

"I don't think the lines at voting locations during election times are unusual," Johnson said. "DeKalb County had lines during the [2016] presidential election, and nobody bellyached on that one."

Pearson said there are a couple of takeaways from Tuesday's election.

"Automatic voter registration, once it gets fully implemented, will alleviate some of this, also if the budget can allow for it, we need another precinct or voting place on campus because if this had been an issue just this year, I would not be concerned, but we had a lot of these same issues in 2016," Pearson said.

Photos of the week Nov. 5 - 11

Check out some of the best shots by our photographers from the past week.

Angela Buesse, from Sycamore, casts her ballot while her son Owen, 16 months, tags along Monday at the DeKalb County Legislative Center in Sycamore. Buesse was taking advantage of the last day of early voting before tomorrow's election. [Mark Busch - mbusch@shawmedia.com]

Angela Buesse, from Sycamore, casts her ballot while her son Owen, 16 months, tags along Monday at the DeKalb County Legislative Center in Sycamore. Buesse was taking advantage of the last day of early voting before tomorrow's election.

[Mark Busch - mbusch@shawmedia.com]

An autumn snow makes for a mix of the fall and winter seasons as snow and leaves lay on the brick that paves fifth Street Friday in DeKalb.

[Mark Busch - mbusch@shawmedia.com]

A Kirkland firefighter pulls debris from a garage at at 209 West First Street in Genoa Wednesday as smoke billows from inside the structure.

[Mark Busch - mbusch@shawmedia.com]

Chicago Bears linebacker Khalil Mack gets fired up for a big third down play in his first game back from injury during the game against the Detroit Lions Sunday at Solder Field in Chicago.

[Mark Busch - mbusch@shawmedia.com]

Chicago Bears receiver Anthony Miller makes a catch and loses his helmet between Lion defenders during the game Sunday at Solder Field in Chicago.

[Mark Busch - mbusch@shawmedia.com]

Chicago Bears receiver Taylor Gabriel makes a diving attempt in the endzone during the game against the Detroit Lions Sunday at Solder Field in Chicago.

[Mark Busch - mbusch@shawmedia.com]

Republican Jeff Keicher, (center) incumbent candidate for the for the 70th District state representative seat, reacts as he checks the returns with some of his interns from Northern Illinois University Tuesday during an election night party at The Forge of Sycamore.

[Mark Busch - mbusch@shawmedia.com]

A Sycamore firefighter puts water on a blaze in a garage at at 209 West First Street in Genoa Wednesday.

[Sean King - for Shaw Media]

NIU defensive tackle Jack Heflin (98) sacks Toledo Rockets quarterback Eli Peters (12) in DeKalb Nov. 7.

[Sean King - for Shaw Media]

NIU guard Rod Henry-Hayes (22) grabs a rebound against Rockford guard Denzel Halliburton (2) in DeKalb Nov. 6.

[Sean King - for Shaw Media]

NIU forward Lacey James (4) drives to the basket against Rockford in DeKalb Nov. 6.

Vote for the Daily Chronicle Fans Choice Football Player of the Year

In addition to our staff-picked Daily Chronicle All-Area high school football team and Player of the Year, we want to hear from you, the local high school football fans.

We're offering up a Fans Choice Player of the Year. Our nominees: DeKalb’s Jaylen Hobson, Sycamore’s Grayson Burns, Genoa-Kingston Kollin Fugate, Hiawatha’s Miguel Delvalle, and Kaneland’s Drew Hahn.

Click here to vote!

'Opportunity ... foundation ... family': CHANCE program at NIU celebrates 50 years

DeKALB – On Saturday night, the staff, students and alumni of the CHANCE program at Northern Illinois University celebrated the program’s impact with a surprisingly massive party.

This year marks the 50th year the program has helped students from underprivileged backgrounds get a shot at a college education. While the original plan was to hold the anniversary celebration in the Barsema Alumni and Visitors Center, the event was moved to the Holmes Student Center due to an unexpectedly large turnout.

Key figures from CHANCE’s history gathered in the banquet hall to remember the origins and legacy of the program. Founded in 1968, CHANCE was the brainchild of NIU President Rhoten Smith and McKinley “Deacon” Davis, who Smith appointed to help recruit minority and low-income students to the university.

On Saturday night, NIU’s current president, Lisa Freeman, reaffirmed the university's commitment to Smith and Davis’ vision, announcing a new scholarship program, the CHANCE Program’s 50th Anniversary Fund, which will be fueled by alumni and community donations

“I am so proud of the CHANCE program. To me, it speaks to NIU’s core values. NIU was at the leading edge in 1968 when they recognized that talent is universal, but opportunity isn’t,” Freeman said. “And when Deacon Davis and Rhoten Smith said, ‘We’re going to make sure that students who have potential and talent have the opportunity to get a college degree,’ it was not the most popular idea.

"They did this at a time when it was not safe, it was not fashionable, and the program has endured for 50 years.”

At least two individuals who helped uphold Smith and Davis’ vision through those five decades were in the building Saturday. CHANCE’s current director, Dr. Denise Hayman, and Leroy Mitchell, who served as director from 1982 to 2008, were involved with the anniversary celebration.

Hayman and Mitchell highlighted the significance of dedicated counselors and motivated students.

“The counseling is the important component," Mitchell said. "It works because of the counseling. It would be a sin to bring 500 kids into the university and then turn them loose and say, 'Good luck.’ So, the counselors, from the very first day, work with those young people."

Hayman agreed, and added that the CHANCE program has often shown that students are capable of defying conventional wisdom.

“What NIU has done is kind of defy the myth; a lot of times people think that you need to have the highest ACT score and the highest grade point average,” she said. “And that’s important, but there’s also students that are motivated if they’re given an opportunity and a chance to come to college and to earn a college degree and this exemplifies that.”

Farouk Olaywola is one of those students. The 2017 graduate said CHANCE played a decisive role in his success.

“It was definitely opportunity, definitely foundation, definitely family. It just kept providing me with hope. Because if I didn’t have this opportunity, who knows if I would have gotten into college,” Olaywola said.

Cherish Jackson, who sat next to Olaywola throughout the banquet, agreed. She was the first person in her family to “go off to college,” that is, go to a university without first putting a few years in at community college. She now has double masters degrees, in business administration and international management.

“Growing up, coming from Chicago, a lot of just thought, ‘Go to community college because that’s all that you’re worth,’ " Jackson said. "So, being able to come to a university and spread my wings and grow into the woman I am today, meant the world, and I wouldn’t have been able to be this far in my life if CHANCE hadn’t given me that opportunity to open up my eyes and my mind."

Endorsements such as those would have “meant everything” to Rhoten Smith, according to his son, Tyler Smith, who was in attendance at the celebration.

“Both he and Deacon, I know, would be thrilled to see that the seed that they planted has grown into what it is today. It’s really remarkable,” Smith said. “They started it, but then you had to have all these people continue it and nurture it, and make it grow. And so there are hundreds of heroes of the CHANCE program.”

And many of them were in the Holmes Student Center on Saturday night.

'I went and did a job': DeKalb County vets humbly accept recognition

SYCAMORE – The air outside was cold and brisk, but the spirit inside was warm and genial, as the community gathered to honor veterans.

“We honor the contributions of service members, who vanquished cruelty ... and replaced it with a light that is the symbol of liberty and freedom,” said Timothy Timmer, past commander of both the Sycamore American Legion and Sycamore VFW.

The annual ceremony, forced into a courtroom on the second floor of the DeKalb County Courthouse because of freezing temperatures and blowing wind, drew more than 30 people. A dozen of them are veterans of the Vietnam War, Korean War, Operation Desert Storm, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the Cold War.

“Who is a veteran? Basically, it’s somebody who served in the armed forces …” Steve Walz said. “You do not have to serve in combat to earn this distinction ... you just have to serve our country.”

Walz, 71, a Vietnam War veteran, reminisced about the shared experiences of servicemen and women: enduring tests of physical fitness and mental toughness; learning to march and to salute; and coexisting with scores of strangers-turned-roommates.

“Slowly, though, we started to become soldiers and work as one cohesive unit,” he said.

Walz paid respect to all veterans, regardless of gender, race, or religion; regardless of age, tour of duty, or combat experience.

“I’m not a hero. I went and did a job. … I found out who I was and what I was capable of,” he said. “They say that [those who served during] World War II is the Greatest Generation, but all those who have served since, especially in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, are pretty darn good, too.”

Timmer, who emceed the ceremony, asked the veterans in attendance to stand; no veterans of World War I or World War II were present, but five veterans of the Cold War, five veterans of the Vietnam War, one veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq stood for applause.

“We not only remember those who served and are still living, but those who have passed on,” he said.

Members of the Sycamore American Legion and Sycamore VFW posts, who were outside on the courthouse lawn, performed a gun salute; a bugler then played “Taps.”

Tammy Anderson, who served seven years in the Air Force preceding and during the Gulf War, said Veterans Day is “a way to remember and respect all veterans.”

Anderson, who now is the superintendent of the DeKalb County Veterans Assistance Commission, at first stayed away from government service after she got out of the military.

“But I wanted to do something that meant something,” she said. “I always say the two jobs I’m most proud of are my service and [my job with the Veterans Assistance Commission].”

DeKalb County offering Master Naturalist training

DeKALB – University of Illinois Extension invites adults of all ages to join them for the 2019 Illinois Master Naturalist program.

The classes will take place from 5 to 9 p.m. Mondays at the Russell Woods Forest Preserve, 11750 Route 72 in Genoa, starting March 18 and ending May 20. The training will feature instructors from local natural resource agencies and organizations as well as state Extension experts, and will highlight and provide instruction about our area’s rich natural heritage by hosting classes in different locations.

As a Master Naturalist, you will learn about ecosystems and interrelationships of plants and animals that make up our natural world. You also will learn how to assist with land management and to share your knowledge with others in your community. The goal is to encourage participants to seek out lifelong learning opportunities to further their development as a naturalist.

Master Naturalist participants agree to serve 60 hours of volunteer service within the first two years of their initial classroom experience. Volunteers then can continue their certification with 30 volunteer hours and 10 continuing education hours annually. Volunteer opportunities in your county are extremely flexible and tailored to fit your personal interests, abilities and time restraints.

For information and to apply to become a certified Illinois Master Naturalist, visit web.extension.illinois.edu/bdo or call the DeKalb County Extension Program Coordinator at 815-758-8194.

If you need a reasonable accommodation to participate in this program, contact the Extension office at 815-758-8194.

Make a Difference DeKalb County kicks off 9th meal pack for Feed My Starving Children

SYCAMORE – More than 5,000 volunteers will pack more than a million meals at The Suter Co. this weekend for children around the world who otherwise could die of starvation.

Tim Suter, event organizer for the Make A Difference DeKalb County Feed My Starving children mobile pack, said he volunteered for the event when it was first held in 2010 at Cornerstone Christian Academy in Sycamore. He said this is the eighth year he has hosted the event at his company at 1015 Bethany Road in Sycamore.

As he waited for the first round of volunteers to arrive Thursday, Suter said he keeps doing it because he has passion about the cause. He said it bothers him to know that 6,000 children now die annually of starvation and related causes, something almost unfathomable in a land of abundance like the Midwest.

He said that number was 18,000 children a year when the local effort began.

"We want to keep doing this until that number is down to zero," he said.

Suter said this year's goal is to pack 1.3 million meals to send to about 70 countries all over the world. Without these prepackaged dry meals, which contain rice, vegetables and other foods, a lot of malnourished children in povery-stricken countries will simply have nothing to eat, he said.

Greg Howells said he and his wife Sherri, both of Sycamore, founded the local event with the global effort in 2010. Almost 2,000 volunteers helped pack about 575,000 meals during the first mobile pack event, he said, less than half the 1.3 million meals volunteers packed last year.

Howells said they wanted to start the annual event nine years ago after volunteering for the organization and being inspired after visiting countries like Bolivia, Guatamala, El Salvador and Haiti during several mission trips with his church over the years.

"I've seen severe poverty first-hand, for sure," Howells said. "So it really just kind of broke our hearts to know at that time 18,000 kids were dying of starvation every day."

Howells said volunteer slots are pretty full for this year's event, but anyone who wants to help can keep checking Make A Difference DeKalb County's website at makeadifferencedkc.org/volunteering.

Suter said volunteers from several groups, including schools, participate every year. A lot of times, children as young as five years old help in what is usually their first volunteer opportunity, he said.

"It brings the community together," Suter said. "We're teaching others to serve, but mainly we're feeding kids who need these meals."

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