DeKALB – Although 1st Ward Alderwoman Carolyn Morris was tasked with finding a compromise for an ongoing spat between the city manager and city clerk’s office, Monday’s meeting ended in a frosty stalemate, as the City Council debated the future of the position, including whether to restore it to a full-time salaried role.
City Manager Bill Nicklas reiterated his support of his executive assistant, Ruth Scott, who served as the deputy city clerk.
“So now you want to add on to the people’s budget another position to do what’s already being done?” Nicklas said in a fiery appeal to the council. “You’re the sovereign authority here. This is not a council-manager-clerk form of government, this is a council-manager form of government. I’m happy to stay out of it, and I have, until Ruth couldn’t get the seal. Now we’re in the headlines again. We’re kicking the can down the road here.”
Morris began Monday’s discussion (nothing was up for a vote) after two weeks of being an intermediary between City Clerk Lynn Fazekas, Scott, Mayor Jerry Smith, Nicklas, and others in the city. After an Aug. 26 meeting in which the council – responding to public support of Fazekas – postponed a vote that would have redefined her duties in the DeKalb Municipal Code, Smith tasked Morris, who opposed changing Fazekas’ position, to lead the ongoing discussion.
The topic has been an issue of City Hall contention for more than a month, as a rift between the two offices was made public after Nicklas and Smith initially said Fazekas was “impeding” city business by keeping the city seal, used to approve documents, locked up when she wasn’t in her office.
Fazekas has said she is limited by the part-time nature of her role, but has since amended her office hours to include 10 hours a week, including one hour each on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Morris suggested some disarray in the city is caused by a lack of any full-time elected officials.
“Because not a single one of our elected officials is a full-time employee, we fail to have any check or balance on the city manager’s office,” Morris said, adding she’s facilitated a weekly Friday meeting between Fazekas and Scott.
Nicklas responded by saying if the council wanted to get rid of the city manager, they could do so according to the code with 48-hours notice.
“What you don’t have a check on is a person who’s elected for four years and by statute only has to show up to get sworn in,” Nicklas said. “That’s the truth, you know it’s the truth. I just want to put to rest this idea that we have to balance the city manager. You can do that at the next meeting if you want.”
Morris said she believed her discussions helped by “leaps and bounds of progress” between Fazekas and Scott, whom Fazekas referred to several times Monday as “former deputy clerk.”
“I think we have peace, and an environment that’s no longer toxic,” Morris said.
Fourth Ward Alderman Patrick Fagan disagreed.
“We’re right back where we were,” Fagan said. “I’m not getting the lack of trust. I don’t care who the boss is. I think [full time] is not going to come out of our budget. That’s going to be taxed on the back of our taxpayers. We can’t cut anymore.”
Sixth Ward Alderman Mike Verbic said he had a hard time believing the clerk’s duties could not be completed in 20 hours.
When asked by 2nd Ward Alderman Bill Finucane for her input, Fazekas said she believes DeKalb voters want a full-time clerk, and said she wants to be in control of her deputies.
“The biggest stumbling blocks are associated with powers: the power of the city seal and the power to supervise one’s own deputies,” Fazekas said.
Finucane replied that the state statute says the deputy clerk should be able to use the city seal, which Fazekas said she would not object to if only she were able to be in charge of the deputies.
In his closing report, Fagan appealed to the council to remember its priorities, especially in the wake of the Aug. 26 meeting during which DeKalb Tenants Association members called on the city to advocate for better living conditions for certain landlords.
“My main concern is, people in DeKalb say to me ‘I’m tired of listening about the clerk’s position,’ ”