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DeKalb referendum to bring focus on elected city clerk

Published: Monday, Oct. 29, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT

DeKALB – DeKalb voters will decide Nov. 6 whether the Office of the City Clerk remains an elected position or one that will be appointed by other city leaders.

A “yes” vote is a vote for the clerk to be appointed; a “no” is a vote for the clerk to be elected in April 2013.

City Manager Mark Biernacki said filling the appointed city clerk position would work in the same fashion as how the city appoints its police and fire chiefs.

The city manager would interview applicants and make a recommendation, and the council would then vote on that recommendation.

In April, the DeKalb City Council put that question on the Nov. 6 ballot as a referendum after former City Clerk Steve Kapitan resigned in February for failing to comply with the state’s Open Meetings Act.

Sixth Ward Alderman Dave Baker said he has long supported reducing the pay of the position and making it an appointed one, pointing to his support to a similar effort that failed in 2006.

“I argued to make the city clerk position $30,000 a year, and I was afraid we might have someone elected to the position who didn’t know how to turn on a computer,” Baker said.

If the referendum fails, the council could reduce the position to a part-time one, while making the appointed deputy city clerk a full-time job. The part-time elected clerk would receive only $5,000 a year, and would fulfill only the duties required by law, Biernacki said. The deputy clerk would handle all other duties.

If the referendum passes, the appointed clerk would receive full-time pay and benefits.

Mayor Kris Povlsen, who emphasized that he is prohibited from giving his views on the measure, said an argument he has heard in favor of keeping the clerk an elected position is that it serves as a watchdog on the rest of the city government.

“If the public feels its important to have a watchdog in that office ... the public has a right to vote on it,” Povlsen said, adding that he has no position on the question.

Another pro-elected-clerk argument Baker has heard was that an appointed clerk could be compelled by the city manager to change an alderman’s vote in meeting minutes. But with the council recording its public meetings, that argument no longer works, Baker added.

Because DeKalb is a home rule community, it can change an elected position like the city clerk to an appointed position via referendum.

City Clerk Diane Wright will finish Kapitan’s term in April.

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