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Government

City, state codes show path forward with DeKalb clerk is unclear

Mayor Jerry Smith speaks during the DeKalb City Council meeting Monday.
Mayor Jerry Smith speaks during the DeKalb City Council meeting Monday.

DeKALB – A look at city and state municipal codes show DeKalb Mayor Jerry Smith may not have the authority to remove City Clerk Lynn Fazekas from her position, although Smith said that is not necessarily his intent in the wake of Fazekas’ refusal of his request to resign.

Fazekas was asked to resign by Smith on Monday, who said he was speaking on behalf of an approving City Council. Fazekas later refused.

Smith said Wednesday the matter will be more fully discussed at the City Council meeting Aug. 12 and that he was acting on the consensus of the council, which discussed Fazekas’ role in executive session Monday. First Ward Alderwoman Carolyn Morris has said she opposed Monday’s decision.

When asked if the council has a plan now that Fazekas has refused to resign, Smith said no. He said the public is mistaken in its belief that the executive session was called to discuss Fazekas, since the topic of conversation was a city employee.

“There is not a plan in place,” Smith said Thursday. “From what I understand, Illinois municipal law says that since the position is an elected one, even though she was appointed, we cannot remove her,” Smith said. “That was not the intent necessarily.”

Because the city of DeKalb is a home rule entity, DeKalb’s Municipal City Code normally would supersede Illinois law. However, because the DeKalb Municipal Code does detail removal of a city clerk, the state statute applies.

According to 65 ILCS 5/3.1-35-10, the state law governing municipalities, the mayor who appoints an officer has the authority to remove said officer if he is “of the opinion that the interests of the municipality demand removal.” The action could be shut down by a two-thirds majority vote by the City Council, according to the statute.

Another statute complicates the matter, however.

According to 65 ILCS 5/3.1-20-05, if a vacancy occurs in the office of city clerk, if a replacement is appointed by the mayor with council consent, the appointed person holds the office until the unexpired term ends.

Fazekas was appointed by Smith and sworn into office in August, after the resignation of former City Clerk Susanna Herrmann in May 2018.

Smith said attempts to remedy the situation were made before Monday’s discussion of resignation.

“There were a couple conversations I had with [Fazekas], with [City Manager] Bill Nicklas, with deputy clerks,” Smith said. “I felt I was doing the right thing, and I tried my darnedest to make this thing work.”

Smith has said Fazekas was “impeding” the city’s ability to conduct business since she keeps the city seal, which is used to stamp and legitimize permits, licenses, resolutions and other documents, locked in her office. Fazekas has said she believes city and state codes say only she can use the seal, and that she has asked at least twice for the code to be clarified better, and for the topic to be placed on City Council agendas in the past month to no avail.

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