DeKALB – Former DeKalb City Clerk Steve Kapitan said he lied to the City Council and quit his elected office last year under the threat of legal action while he was coping with a new diagnosis of attention deficit disorder.
Kapitan, who is among four write-in candidates registered to run for city clerk in April, on Monday recounted the events that led to his resignation in February 2012.
Since his resignation, Kapitan has received treatment, and aldermen reduced the pay and the intended responsibilities of the elected position, so Kapitan said he is confident he can do the job.
“I didn’t have the courage to publicly reveal my condition [last year],” Kapitan said. “I’ve had a year to address the issue and have the confidence to say it.”
A GROWING BACKLOG
Kapitan said he was diagnosed with ADD in August 2011 as he failed to create minutes for many of the City Council’s closed session meetings, which are strictly regulated by the Open Meetings Act. Kapitan said he would often find himself putting off more important tasks to do less meaningful busy work.
“The psychology of why one does that – it’s sort of avoiding a responsibility when it’s there. But it’s not due to a lack of time,” Kapitan said. “It’s that you allow other things to come up to distract your attention from something that’s a priority.”
DeKalb City Attorney Dean Frieders said City Council members spent months discussing the issue. DeKalb Mayor Kris Povlsen said the council was doing its best to help Kapitan.
“He didn’t get his work done,” Povlsen said. “We were supportive as long as we felt we could be.”
Both Povlsen and Kapitan said city leaders mentioned getting another person to help with the minutes, but it was not seriously considered.
POSSIBLE LEGAL RAMIFICATIONS
At a closed meeting in January 2012, Kapitan held up a stack of papers before the council and city staff and said that he had completed all of the minutes. It was a lie that was revealed a couple of days later.
“I misled them,” Kapitan said. “I was hoping to get caught up with them before the next meeting.”
At that point, Frieders said the council directed the city attorney to discuss possible solutions with the state’s attorney’s office, whose attorneys believed Kapitan was violating the Open Meetings Act. Frieders said both city staff and council were worried.
“We were concerned that the City Council knew of the violation, and if they knew about it, could have created potential criminal liability to the elected and appointed members of the city,” Frieders said.
As this was happening, Kapitan said he first sought counseling for his new diagnosis and soon discovered that wasn’t enough to address his symptoms. He was prescribed medication, but the dosage was gradually increased, so he wasn’t feeling effects of his medicine yet in the middle of January 2012.
The day he started his full dosage was the day after he resigned.
During the week of Jan. 30, 2012, Kapitan was given an ultimatum – quit, or the state’s attorney would file charges for violating the Open Meetings Act on Monday. At the time, Kapitan didn’t know that a violation was a Class C misdemeanor – punishable up to 30 days in jail and a $1,500 fine.
Until that meeting with City Manager Mark Biernacki and Frieders, Kapitan said no one had ever suggested – and he had not considered – resigning. But, city staff had a resignation letter prepared for him at that meeting, which he initially declined to sign.
Biernacki said the city administrator nor the city attorney typically should not dictate to an elected official how to do the job, but they needed to protect the city from the legal liability.
“Regardless of the circumstances that led to the inability to complete the closed session minutes, we knew a legal liability was going to be placed on us Monday morning, and we had to act,” Biernacki said.
Kapitan offered to cover any costs for the city attorney’s time and indemnify the city for any losses his actions caused. On Feb. 3, 2012, Biernacki told Kapitan a majority of the aldermen declined Kapitan’s offer. So, Kapitan signed a letter announcing he was resigning voluntarily, and he received two months’ severance pay.
After Kapitan’s exit, aldermen asked local voters to make the city clerk an appointed position, rather than an elected office, through a referendum in November. When the referendum failed, aldermen voted to reduce the clerk’s salary to $5,000 a year. A deputy clerk position will become a full-time job with benefits and likely will be assigned to handle most of the clerk’s duties not prescribed by law.
No one filed candidate petitions seeking the clerk’s seat, but Kapitan and three others – Lynn Fazekas, Liz Cliffe Peerboom and Leonard LeGrand – have registered as write-in candidates. Fazekas discusses DeKalb issues on her blog, City Barbs, while Peerboom is the village clerk of Maple Park. LeGrand worked in different departments within the DeKalb government from 1991 to 2010.
Kapitan, who also works part-time at Jewel-Osco, said he takes responsibility for his actions. He acknowledged that some might see the ADD diagnosis as an excuse, but said people know he is a hard worker.
“People that observed me at city hall when I was there as a clerk for three years – they saw I put in time after hours,” Kapitan said. “They knew I wasn’t a slacker.”