DeKALB – DeKalb City Clerk Lynn Fazekas was asked to resign by DeKalb Mayor Jerry Smith after an executive session of the City Council on Monday.
On Wednesday, she said she wouldn’t.
“I have to say, being asked to resign with so little information, I took it as a hostile act; I couldn’t help it,” Fazekas said Wednesday. “I like to try to be level-headed when I can, but it really hit me hard. [Smith] alluded to some sort of public embarrassment that might happen if I didn’t resign.”
In a statement Wednesday, Smith said the executive session held at the end of Monday’s regular council meeting was to discuss complaints made by city employees about the conduct and performance of Fazekas. The complaints were specifically regarding the city seal, a stamp used to authorize documents such as permits and licenses, Smith said.
He said he hoped to keep his conversation with Fazekas private to “provide a framework for moving forward.” Fazekas sent an email to area media Wednesday to clear up what she said were rumors about the matter.
“One of those complaints [was] that Clerk Fazekas has interfered with the timely performance of city business by keeping the city seal locked up in her office so that it is unavailable for use,” Smith wrote in his statement. “The seal is needed on a daily basis to stamp official city documents including licenses and permits. It is unacceptable for the city to deny our business owners and customers the documents they need to conduct their activities.”
Smith said the City Council came to a consensus during Monday’s closed session meeting that Fazekas was “impeding” city business. He said the matter will be discussed at the next the council meeting Aug. 12.
Fazekas said she was not allowed to attend Monday’s executive session but afterward was approached by Smith, who brought her into a conference room with 4th Ward Alderman Patrick Fagan – Fazekas lives in the 4th Ward – and senior City Attorney John Donahue.
Fazekas said she was not given any justification then for why she was being asked to resign Monday, and said she offered those in the room a “hard no,” refusing to resign.
City seal uncertainty
In Chapter 3 of the DeKalb Municipal Code, one of the city clerk’s responsibilities is keeper of the city seal, meaning that person is given responsibility to stamp, or verify, signatures on documents, resolutions, ordinances and other documents the mayor signs.
“It’s not the same as notarizing things,” Fazekas said. “I apply the seal of the city of DeKalb along with my signature to attest what others have done. So I’m attesting to the mayor’s signature. We both sign.”
The DeKalb city clerk serves a four-year term in a part-time role with an $8,000 salary and no benefits, according to city code. Fazekas said because her position is part time, she cannot always be there to sign documents.
In June, Fazekas sent City Council members and the mayor a City Clerk Progress Report, after which she said deputy clerk Ruth Scott sent her an email asking for more access to the city seal when Fazekas is not in the office.
In her progress report, Fazekas said she works anywhere from 10 to 34 hours a week, the latter being only in busy times such as candidate-filing periods before elections. She holds about 10 hours of office hours a week, she said, because she is limited by the part-time capacity of her role.
The city code states that in the clerk’s absence, the deputy clerk can perform the same clerical duties “as if done by the City Clerk personally.”
Smith said Fazekas’ decision to lock the seal in her office deviates from customs and practices routinely followed by other municipalities.
Fazekas said she feels the city clerk position has been reduced to a disposable one by the city.
The city of DeKalb has dealt with high turnover of clerks in the past few years, with eight individuals taking on the role since February 2012, including Fazekas’ predecessor, Susanna Herrmann, who resigned in May 2018. No clerk has served the full four years since 2009, Fazekas said.
“This is a city code problem. If they really want to fix this, they’ll have to fix the city code,” Fazekas said.
Fazekas was appointed to the role at Smith’s recommendation, approved by the City Council and sworn into office in August.