DeKALB – After almost two hours of rocky deliberation, the City Council is just one vote away from changing the city clerk’s office from an elected to an appointed position, although not all council members are on board.
“It’s not unanimous,” Fazekas said after the meeting. “There could still be further developments. Despite having requested and been promised a meeting in which I could contribute my part, I have been shut out. I don’t necessarily think that a full-time clerk is what we need.”
Through a 5-3 vote (with 1st Ward Alderman Carolyn Morris, 2nd Ward Alderman Bill Finucane, and 5th Ward Alderman Scott McAdams voting against) the council passed two ordinances on the first reading; one to clarify duties of the office in the code, and another to make the position appointed instead of elected. Attempts to waive the second reading failed on both ordinances, despite the same 5-3 vote, because waiving the second reading requires supermajority approval from six of eight aldermen, according to the city’s code. The resolutions will be up for a second round vote Aug. 26. If they pass, Fazekas said she would still remain in her role through the remainder of her term, which expires April 2021.
Finucane’s proposed amendment to the ordinance, to leave the position elected but clarify working hours and other aspects of the role, also failed when he proposed it. McAdams, Finucane and Morris all voted to approve the amendment, while the rest of the council did not.
“I am perplexed, frustrated and disappointed that it has come to this,” Mayor Jerry Smith said before the vote, voicing his support for City Manager Bill Nicklas’ proposal but dismay at a whirlwind of public sentiment. “I am now at odds with one of my most trusted friends and my own alderman, Bill Finucane. I genuinely feel that his publicly released proposal is nothing more than a Band-Aid of sorts.”
Residents voice concerns
A number of residents voiced their concerns before the vote, and were largely opposed to changing the position from an elected to an appointed role, citing the need for the role to be in the hands of the people and two past referendums on the issue that failed to change the elected nature of the role.
Mark Scott offered pointed comments, calling into question Nicklas’ motivations behind his ordinance proposals.
“How much power do you need?” Scott asked, referring to Nicklas’ previous years serving as DeKalb city manager in the 1990s. “You couldn’t do the job the first time and now you’re back?”
Steve Kapitan, who served as city clerk from May 2009 to February 2012, said he would not “take sides” during the discussion.
“It is this issue of an underpaid, part-time clerk instead of a full-time position with respectable pay,” Kapitan said. “Please defeat this ordinance and respect the will of the voters.”
Before the vote, Nicklas urged the council to stand behind Deputy Clerk Ruth Scott, who also works as an executive assistant in his office, and to hold Fazekas accountable.
“The victim is not the city clerk who fomented this tempest by standing above the local laws,” Nicklas said. “If the council does not approve the ordinances, there will be two victims: the first is a clerk’s office that is responsive to the public. The other is our dedicated deputy clerk who has chiefly borne the embarrassment that now clouds the office she has quietly served for years.”
Smith has said the push to remove Fazekas was a response to her “impeding” city business because she keeps the city seal – actually a black box with three different hand stamps – needed to legitimize permits, licenses, resolutions and other documents, locked in her office. Fazekas has said she is limited by the part-time nature of her role, and the municipal code.
DeKalb’s city code states that in the clerk’s absence, the deputy clerk can perform the same clerical duties “as if done by the city clerk personally.”
Morris also asked Nicklas to provide numbers showing how many businesses were actually impeded by Fazekas withholding the city seal.
“I feel like we’ve heard from so many different perspectives, but have not heard from the two people we’re discussing,” Morris said. “I wonder if we aren’t prematurely creating an ordinance that is not well thought out. What is our real goal here with doing this?”
Scott declined to comment after the meeting, and she did not offer comment during the discussion. At the request of Nicklas, she said there have been at least 32 customers who were affected by Fazekas not being in the office during City Hall hours and not allowing Scott to use the seal in her absence.
Third Ward Alderman Tracy Smith said he didn’t know why city clerk business could not be conducted when the clerk is not there.
“What if something happens to the clerk?” Smith said. “Cannot the city business go on? Is that not the right thing to do? I’m ashamed we’re at this point. I am ashamed.”