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Editorials

Our View: Stop electing DeKalb clerk, or make job full-time

DeKalb's new Fire Chief Jeff McMaster is sworn in by City Clerk Lynn Fazekas at the end of the DeKalb city council meeting Jan. 28.
DeKalb's new Fire Chief Jeff McMaster is sworn in by City Clerk Lynn Fazekas at the end of the DeKalb city council meeting Jan. 28.

It’s no longer necessary for DeKalb voters to elect a city clerk. If they choose to continue to elect one, though, the position should be restored to a full-time job.

The current setup has resulted in continual turnover and few real choices for voters at the ballot box.

Six different people have been clerk since the City Council reduced the role to a part-time position in 2013. Candidates who have run for the post have been write-ins. In 2015, the only person who filed to run as a write-in withdrew before the votes were counted.

The position has been a source of controversy. One clerk quit in disgust at how the office had been marginalized; another resigned only weeks into their appointment.

The latest controversy involves Clerk Lynn Fazekas, who to her credit has stuck with the job for almost a year. After a closed meeting of the City Council on Monday, Mayor Jerry Smith asked Fazekas to resign. Officials say she has kept the city seal, used to certify official documents for city business, locked away where deputy clerks can’t get to it in her absence.

Fazekas works about 10 hours a week on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. People who come to City Hall when she’s not there may find they can’t have the seal applied to permits or licenses.

That’s not a good outcome. Depending on which state law you read, the mayor might have the authority under the law to remove Fazekas, or he might not.

Regardless, an office with such bureaucratic duties should not occupy this much attention.

The best way to avoid these episodes in the future is to stop electing a clerk, and let a city employee handle the clerk's duties, which include keeping meeting minutes, filing official documents and receiving election petitions and being the “keeper of the city seal,” among other duties.

Applying the seal makes documents official. It’s a formality, although it could be exercised as a veto of sorts. In 2009, for example, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White refused to apply the state seal to certify the scandal-tainted appointment of Roland Burris to the U.S. Senate.

If the clerk’s job is to be keeper of the seal, Fazekas would seem to be within her rights to keep it any way she chooses. If people don’t like the way she runs the office – and those who experience unnecessary delays in doing business with the city do not – theoretically she could be voted out at the next election.

That doesn’t work when the office is one that few people seem to want, and that she's only serving in part-time.

So the council should put the question to voters again: Should the clerk continue to be an elected office in the city?

If they still want to elect a clerk, make the office relevant again by restoring it to full-time. This is less common than the part-time model, but it seems to work in nearby Sycamore, where the office serves as a key reference point for people interacting with local government. In the 2017 election, there were multiple candidates for the office and the winner, Mary Kalk, is still on the job.

Making the role more important would result in some actual choices for voters at the ballot box – if they insist on electing a clerk.

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