Conflict revolving around whether or not to keep the DeKalb City Clerk position elected or appointed, the clerk’s use of the City seal, office hours of the clerk and more have been rising since early June.
Lynn Fazekas was appointed by Mayor Jerry Smith to the elected seat of City Clerk in August 2018 after Susanna Herrmann resigned in April 2018. Before becoming City Clerk, Fazekas ran for mayor in 2008 and City Clerk in 2013. She also helped maintain a blog, City Barbs, that critiqued politics and policy within DeKalb.
In June, Fazekas sent a report to Smith regarding the state of the City Clerk position. She gave recommendations such as a salary increase for 2021 that “might improve retention of city clerks and the functioning of that office,” the letter reads.
Since January 2012 there have been seven different City Clerks besides Fazekas, and five of them resigned, according to an Aug. 12 City Council agenda.
City Manager Bill Nicklas disagreed with her progress report that was sent to Smith.
Smith said during an Aug. 12 City Council meeting that the two disagreed “over the litany of City Clerk, elections and appointments over the past many years meant for the long term of that position.”
Following the report, Nicklas requested an executive session after the July 22 City Council meeting as a result of Fazekas not making the City seal available for Deputy City Clerk Ruth Scott in Fazekas' absence.
Smith said after the executive session he was directed to ask for Fazeka’s resignation. Smith said she declined his request to resign and will remain in office until 2021 at the end of her term.
Since early August, the council has read numerous ordinances meant to clarify the clerk's duties.
Two ordinances were read at the Aug. 12 council meeting. One ordinance was to clarify the duties of the City Clerk in the code, and another was to make the position appointed by the mayor instead of elected.
The ordinances were made because Fazekas didn’t keep open office hours during other administrative departments’ hours while also not permitting the Deputy City Clerk to use the City seal in her absence, according to the Aug. 12 City Council agenda.
In the Aug. 12 agenda, Nicklas’ summary reads, “Fazekas has failed to fulfill her statutory duties and has impeded the business of the city.”
Nicklas said 32 customers have come in within the last few months and couldn’t get a stamp for a contract, license or other needs because the seal was unavailable.
On Aug. 19, Fazekas said she removed Scott as deputy clerk, according to a Facebook post on the City Barbs Blog. She said Scott remains an executive assistant to the City Manager.
“I took this action as a security measure,” Fazekas said in the post. “I do hope to deputize again when appropriate.”
First Ward Alderperson Carolyn Morris, Second Ward Alderperson Bill Finucane and Fifth Ward Alderperson Scott McAdams voted against the ordinances.
Multiple residents also expressed their disapproval of the ordinances during public comments. Residents said having an elected city clerk would be better for the citizens instead of having the mayor appoint one.
This isn’t the first time there has been a debate on whether the City Clerk position should be elected or appointed. In 2006 and 2012, referendums were made to make the seat an appointed position. Both of those referendums failed, according to an April 25, 2012 Northern Star Article.
By the Aug. 26 council meeting, Smith and Nicklas no longer wanted to make the clerk an appointed position, instead deciding an elected position is more appropriate.
“After meeting with State’s Attorney Rick Amato, it was very clear that passing the ordinance would put us on thin ice,” Smith said.
The ordinance that would change the clerk to an appointed position was tabled.
The other ordinance included keeping the position elected, having anyone who served as the deputy clerk remain a city employee under the management of the city manager and ensuring the deputy clerk has their own seal.
Fazekas said she had major objections to the ordinance because passing it would mean removing statutory duties from the position by taking away her power of delegation.
“It is incumbent upon the council to get the local ordinances in line with those statutory powers and those include how the city seal is designated, how the deputy clerks are appointed and how the deputy clerks are supervised,” Fazekas said.
Fazekas said she was willing to go back to the drawing board if that’s what it took.
The council decided to hold a workshop at the Sept. 9 committee meeting to assess the future of the clerk's office.
Workshop and further ordinances
At the workshop discussion revolved around whether to restore the position to a full-time role.
Fazekas said she encourages anyone to create a referendum to debate the full-time and part-time position for the City Clerk.
“In advocating for the elected clerk, which I am, I would like to see a bridge to 2021 and the overwhelming public opinion that an elected clerk in DeKalb is a full-time clerk,” Fazekas said. “I truly believe that is what the people want.”
Most council members agreed that the clerk should remain an elected position and the city seal should be more accessible.
At the Sept. 23 council meeting, a revised ordinance passed its first reading with a five to two vote. This ordinance has the clerk remain a part-time elected role and would designate the City Seal to both the clerk and the executive assistant, who would be allowed to use it in the clerk's absence. The ordinance could also eliminate the deputy clerk seat while the duties would be designated to whoever fills the role of Executive Assistant to the City Manager.
Morris and McAdams voted no, while Third Ward Alderperson Tracy Smith was absent.
Morris, who was tasked with finding a compromise at the Aug. 26 meeting, said the ordinance up for a vote was the opposite of what she submitted.
She said her submission didn’t include anything regarding the executive assistant or sharing of the seal. Morris said her submission updated portions of the ordinance and allowed the clerk to choose their own deputy.
“By diminishing the role of City Clerk further to what is a de facto appointed clerk’s role, which is not what our residents want, and by virtue of this, is undemocratic,” Morris said.