DeKALB – City Manager Anne Marie Gaura admonished DeKalb Mayor John Rey for using his city email account in November to solicit interest in the open 5th Ward alderman seat, but it’s unclear what – if any – further reprimand the alleged ethics violation warrants.
Gaura, who is the city’s ethics adviser, said she spoke with Rey on Monday after a resident’s Freedom of Information Act request showed Rey had sent an email on Nov. 14 from his city email account encouraging a citizen to run in the April 7 election.
Gaura saw it as political activity prohibited by the city’s ethics code and told Rey not to do it again.
“Ultimately,” Gaura said, “when it comes to filling an elected position, in my mind, it’s a political issue.”
The email surfaced as part of a Freedom of Information request from DeKalb resident Mark Charvat. Charvat said he wasn’t looking for anything specific, but checking in on city government when he filed the request for all emails Rey sent and received from Dec. 1 to 10.
Among those emails was one from resident Lynn Neeley dated Dec. 2. In the email, Neeley told Rey she was not interested in running for alderman, but would like Rey to appoint her to the Finance Advisory Committee.
The email trail shows that on Nov. 14, Rey had emailed Neeley from his city email account and encouraged her to run.
“I think you have an excellent skill set to serve as alderperson,” Rey wrote. “Would you like to meet over coffee to discuss this further?”
Rey explained the number of signatures needed for a 5th Ward petition and where Neeley could find a candidate’s guide.
For his part, Rey said he didn’t believe sending the email was a violation of the city’s ethics code because he was not endorsing or campaigning for a candidate.
He said the email was part of an effort he made in early November to recruit candidates for mayor-appointed commissions, he said. Races for the City Council are nonpartisan.
“My judgment was that it was not endorsing a candidate,” Rey said, “but encouraging individuals to get involved in municipal government.”
That’s not the way that Charvat or 5th Ward candidate Mike Haji-Sheikh see the issue.
“The fact that it was done with taxpayer resources on taxpayer time, I think, is a violation,” Charvat said.
In an email to City Attorney Dean Frieders and DeKalb County State’s Attorney Richard Schmack, Haji-Sheikh, who has been critical of Rey, contended the mayor was seeking candidates to oppose him. Rey’s email was sent a month before filing for the City Council seats had begun, so there were no official candidates at the time.
Haji-Sheikh is one of three candidates in the 5th Ward race, along with Kate Noreiko and Cameron Zelaya.
“If you want to talk to someone,” Haji-Sheikh said, “do it in private, go have a cup of coffee with someone. Don’t represent yourself as the mayor while doing it.”
Schmack said it was unlikely his office would become involved because the alleged ethics violation is not governed by state law.
The ordinance prohibits city officials from engaging in political activities such as campaigning or working on a campaign on city time.
Although the city law establishes Gaura as the city’s ethics adviser, it only gives her authority to guide city officials, not issue any penalties.
Gaura said she asked Frieders to review the city code to see who would be responsible for deciding if any penalties are necessary.
“I think this whole issue in regards to ethics should be clarified in the future,” Gaura said. “It is not defined as well as it could be.”