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Olson: Early decisions for Rey, council huge

Published: Saturday, June 8, 2013 5:30 a.m. CST • Updated: Wednesday, June 12, 2013 11:47 a.m. CST

With DeKalb City Manager Mark Biernacki stepping aside Friday, who will be the city of DeKalb’s new most powerful civil servant?

It’s an important question. The City Council – seven aldermen and a voting mayor – set policy for the city, but in cities such as DeKalb, Sycamore and Genoa, it’s the city manager who runs the show.

The city manager runs the city on a day-to-day basis. He compiles the budget, which in DeKalb for the fiscal year that begins July 1 includes about $30 million in general fund spending. The police and fire chiefs, along with the other city department heads, all report to him.

Put it this way: If the city manager lives in town (and the city manager should always live in town), his street often is one of the first to be plowed when it snows.

Biernacki is leaving, after nine years in the top job and 24 years working with the city. He announced in February he’d be leaving, saying that a new mayor and largely new council members deserved a new manager with “new ideas and new energy.”

The move certainly clears the way for new Mayor John Rey and new Aldermen Bill Finucane (2nd Ward) and Bob Snow (4th Ward), to have an impact on the future direction of DeKalb.

Rey says he didn’t suggest that Biernacki look at future career options.

“I spoke with him, getting myself up to speed with city issues,” Rey told me this week. “I told him I saw myself as the next mayor, and I was very interested in working with him. I didn’t know what his career decisions were at that point nor was I interested in forcing any type of decision on his part.”

After Biernacki’s departure, Assistant City Manager Rudy Espiritu will take over in the interim. Rey said the search for a permanent replacement, which he expects will include internal as well as outside candidates, should take about three to four months.

“I look for a seasoned, experienced person who has worked in a muni setting, ideally with university-city experience,” Rey said. “Good communication skills and the ability to relate to a diverse population will be important.”

Hiring a new city manager will be one of the most important decisions – if not the most – that the council will make with Rey as mayor. There is a renewed emphasis on collaborating with the folks at Northern Illinois University, where new President Douglas Baker will be arriving soon, along with a new NIU police chief yet to be named.

With the housing market appearing poised to come back and new economic development opportunities likely on the horizon, DeKalb and the rest of the area could be primed for another period of expansion in the years ahead.

The city will need a dynamic manager, someone who can manage the competing demands of the job and help move the city forward. Let’s hope the council finds the right person.

At the park district: There’s also been some kind of change at the DeKalb Park District.

Only a couple of months after the election in which Per Faivre, Keith Nyquist and Don Irving won seats on the five-member park board, Executive Director Cindy Capek doesn’t appear to be working there.

It was clear that there was going to be a change in direction when the new members took office. All three gave indications during the election that they weren’t happy with the direction of the district, particularly when it came to plans to build a new pool and the clear-cutting that ComEd pulled along the district’s nature trail.

The pool rebuild plans are on hold now, while the district explores teaming up with Sycamore on a new pool. Then the park board held a special Friday meeting May 24 to discuss personnel matters and asked Capek not to attend.

The next week, she wasn’t working at the district’s Hopkins Park office.

The park board members haven’t had anything to say about the situation, and park board President Phil Young told me this week that was still the case, although he expected to say something about it soon.

Capek is still listed as the executive director – and the district’s Freedom of Information Act officer – on the park district’s website, but dial her extension and it takes you right back to the automated operator. When we called a cellphone number for Capek last week, another park employee answered and declined comment.

Capek had no comment when we contacted her. She works without a contract at the park district.

Of course, she could be on leave for some other reason, too. The park board has a meeting Thursday, and maybe there will be more clarity on the situation then.

We’ll keep you posted.

A brief, sad history: It’s too bad that a commercial portraying an interracial family is a big deal in 2013.

But an avalanche of racist comments posted about a Cheerios commercial featuring a white mom, a black dad and their child drew torrents of racists remarks on YouTube this week, leading the company to ask that they be turned off. General Mills, which makes Cheerios, is not pulling the ad.

It’s a shame, but perhaps it’s not that surprising, considering that interracial marriage was illegal in 16 states until 1967. People didn’t suddenly come around on the issue, either. The Supreme Court decided it for them.

On June 12, 1967, in the landmark civil rights case of Loving v. Virginia, the court found in favor of Mildred Loving, a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, who had been sentenced to a year in prison for the crime of … being married.

The couple married in Washington, D.C., but were arrested for living as husband and wife in Virginia in 1958.

Although the 46-year-old ruling invalidated laws against interracial marriage, it took until 2000 for the last state, Alabama, to overturn their invalidated law against it. In a statewide referendum, 40 percent of Alabama voters wanted to keep it in place.

Progress can take a long time.

• Eric Olson is the editor of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841 ext. 2257, email eolson@shawmedia.com, or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.

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