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DeKalb eyes referendum for clerk post

Published: Tuesday, March 27, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT

DeKALB – DeKalb residents may be able to vote in November on whether they want the city clerk position to be elected or appointed.

The vote would be in the form of a referendum on the November general election ballot. Even if an appointed DeKalb city clerk position failed to pass by referendum, the city clerk position may be reduced to a part-time elected position. In that case, the appointed deputy clerk position, which is now part time, would be moved to a full-time position.

DeKalb City Council members have directed the city staff to explore the consideration after former City Clerk Steve Kapitan vacated the seat Feb. 3, citing personal reasons for his resignation. City Attorney Dean Frieders has said the resignation came after Kapitan failed to comply with aspects of the state’s Open Meetings Act.

The council in February voted to appoint former Deputy City Clerk Diane Wright to fill the open position through the end of Kapitan’s term. The seat is up for election in April 2013.

After a vote Monday during the DeKalb City Council Committee of the Whole, council members gave staff direction to construct an ordinance to reduce the city clerk’s salary to a part-time level.

Although the city clerk is an elected position, home rule cities such as DeKalb can hold a referendum to change the office from elected to appointed. The same matter was on the ballot in 2006 but failed.

To get the question on the Nov. 6 ballot, council members would need to approve a resolution by Aug. 20.

Sixth Ward Alderman Dave Baker said he supported the resolution in 2006 because he remembers a city clerk from 30 years ago who only “showed up for the paycheck.”

Mayor Kris Povlsen said the city clerk position has evolved over the years. He asked whether the city wanted an elected official taking care of day-to-day operations, noting the skills needed for a good city clerk are complicated.

“I think it’s a no-brainer for me,” he said.

Fourth Ward Alderman Brendon Gallagher listed several municipalities, including Elgin, Schaumburg and Hoffman Estates, that hire or appoint city clerks. He expressed concern with oversight of the city clerk as an elected official.

“There is no check and balance in that particular position,” he said. “It’s elected. You’re a population of one that runs your own ship. … I don’t like a position where there is no check and balance.”

Gallagher said the $63,000 salary made the city clerk position lucrative for candidates, as evidenced by the five people who ran during the last election. He questioned whether a city clerk should spend as much time dealing with Freedom of Information Act requests; Wright said the city received 150 of those requests last year. Frieders suggested those requests be handled by someone in an assistant position.

Like Povlsen, 1st Ward Alderman David Jacobson is concerned about electing someone who is not qualified for the position.

“It is possible for a public opinion contest or a beauty contest, if you will, to take precedence in some years,” he said.

Third Ward Alderwoman Kristen Lash threw her support behind a part-time elected clerk who oversaw the office, but she didn’t support full appointment of the position.

City Manager Mark Biernacki said if voters want the clerk to be elected, the position likely will be full time.

In other business, Committee of the Whole members unanimously approved giving city staff direction to negotiate a contract with Irving Construction as construction manager for the new police station. The matter will go before the full council before the contract is approved.

The city received 13 proposals and three were selected for interviews – Irving Construction, LAMP Construction and Leopardo Companies. After a special meeting Thursday, the committee narrowed the search to Leopardo Companies and Irving Construction.

Leopardo Companies submitted a bid for $1.23 million for a 13-month contract; Irving Construction submitted a bid for $972,500 for a 15-month contract.

The total budget for the project is not to exceed $12 million. The general manager will be required to submit a guaranteed maximum price of approximately $10 million once the design is complete.

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