Taking away the city clerk’s role in checks and balances

Jumping off my last post and recent discussion of it, I want to share a little more of the context in which I currently attempt to function as city clerk in DeKalb.

This time last year, I signed and sealed some contracts and all plats, ordinances, resolutions, and licenses. Hundreds of documents crossed my desk in my first months as DeKalb city clerk. But beginning last spring, following a decision to move a large portion of license processing from the finance division to the city manager’s office, others began signing licenses without my knowledge. These incidents snowballed after the request for my resignation last July, and with the city council’s October 14 passage of amendments to the clerk’s ordinances, the flow of documents slowed, then dried up altogether before the end of 2019.

Except for meeting minutes, I haven’t signed a thing since mid-December.

Continue reading Taking away the city clerk’s role in checks and balances

As DeKalb city clerk, I feel like a punching bag

***Update: Find discussion and comments in our Facebook group .***

When I read the other day the Daily Chronicle is still calling it a “rift” in describing what’s going on between the city manager’s office and me as city clerk, I realized I have to say more than I have before. It’s no longer a “rift,” if it ever was — that would imply equality of treatment. The relationship is more like I’m a punching bag for the city manager’s office.

To help illustrate, here are two of the latest email exchanges between the city manager and me. (I will also post copies of the actual emails at the end of this post.) Mind you, my emails addressed the city council only. I cc’d the city manager as a courtesy.

My message to the city council, December 6, 2019:

Dear Mayor Smith et al,

As some of you are already aware, in September I agreed to take on the process of preparing for the semi-annual review of executive session meeting minutes approval and release recommendations.

Having begun the process this week, I have discovered errors in the indexes that have resulted in executive session meeting minutes being released to the public that were not approved for release by council.

I have two requests to make to address these issues:

1. To remove, as soon as possible, published executive session meeting minutes from the City’s website until these errors can be corrected.

2. To amend the Council regular meeting agenda for December 9 by adding an executive session to discuss these minutes as provided for in 5 ILCS 120/2(c)(21).

Regards,
Lynn Fazekas | City Clerk

City manager’s reply, December 6, 2019:

Good afternoon,

As tiring and distracting as the City Clerk’s fabrications and thinly-veiled charges against Ruth Scott may be, they are–more importantly—creating the basis for an employee harassment charge which will be substantial and embarrassing to the City at a time when we are within sight of some transformational growth. As your chief administrative officer and development director, I ask that we discuss these unfounded allegations in executive session where the truth can be dispassionately shared, and then get back to what the public has asked us to do.

As an historian and a keen observer of the American political scene since the early 1970s, I have been witness to many national public figures who have sadly appealed to base emotions by plucking some imagined dark thread of corruption and laying it on the shoulders of persons whose dedication is a constant reminder of their own inadequacies. Before January 1, I thought I had seen everything, and I also thought I would never see, on a local level, the conspiratorial thinking that animates the City Clerk. As there seems to be no relief from her presence until the spring of 2021, I trust that we will collectively find ways to hold her to the duties that the Council approved on October 14, and also hold her to what is commonly understood as professional decency and discretion.

In the weeks and months ahead, I hope we can focus on the main thing.

Best,
Bill

Continue reading As DeKalb city clerk, I feel like a punching bag

Clerking and blogging

On Monday, unlikely as it may sound, DeKalb city council might vote to appoint me to the office of city clerk.

No matter how it turns out, the fact remains that Mayor Jerry Smith has placed under consideration a person who can be a vocal critic of this administration. That takes a bit of nerve. I was trying to think of the last mayor who might have done something similar, and came up with Mayor Frank Van Buer, who appointed the redoubtable Mac McIntyre to the city’s Finance Advisory Committee 10 years ago. Let’s give due respect, because this type of inclusion doesn’t happen every day.

What would happen with the blog? Contrary to current rumors, giving up the blog is not a condition of the clerk appointment — at least not overtly. The actual question was, “How do you reconcile the clerk’s position with the blog?” and my answer was, “I don’t.”

Whatever success I’ve enjoyed as a blogger has depended in large part upon people’s not being afraid to talk to me. My assumption is that effectiveness as the city clerk involves the same level of trust.

If appointed, then, City Barbs blog would go into other hands or on hiatus, and a trusted group of moderators would manage the Facebook group.

But maybe there would be clerkblog.

DeKalb can become “business friendly” when this city manager is gone

DeKalb city council had another goal-setting session Tuesday evening.

It was a good session, as was last month’s, but at one point I had to laugh, and it was during the perennial make-DeKalb-more-business-friendly discussion.

I dearly wish more council members truly understood that friendliness is impossible under city manager Anne Marie Gaura. Unless you are one of a favored few, you run into a culture that not only disregards the basic tenets of good service, but systematically finds ways to make the going harder.

Alderman David Jacobson tried to explain this again Tuesday. He talked about “the hoops you have to jump through, and the games you have to play” as a local business owner.

Likewise, I’ve become an expert in the travails of the general public, and the latest example involves council’s establishment of a state-mandated “TIF interested parties registry” for the proposed new downtown TIF district. The TIF Redevelopment Act only requires that the city adopt “reasonable registration rules,” which this crew took as an opportunity to create something decidedly unfriendlier than what came before. Continue reading DeKalb can become “business friendly” when this city manager is gone

Reasons to allow the city manager’s contract to expire

City council is expected to vote tonight on a resolution to “amend” city manager Anne Marie Gaura’s employment agreement, which currently expires at the end of this year.

My main concern with the vote itself is that it involves the removal of the expiration date from the contract, even though the DeKalb Municipal Code says the city manager “shall serve and hold office for a term of office specified by virtue of an employment agreement.” For this reason alone, I urge a “no” vote on the resolution.

But there are performance issues as well. Here are some of the major ones, in my opinion.

1. Failure to cooperate with, and render assistance to, elected officials. These are responsibilities required by the Municipal Code (3.08(b)). Yet Gaura deprived city clerk Liz Cliffe Peerboom of the basic tools of the job, including a desk and computer. She has also failed to comply with city council members’ requests for financial information, and brazenly ignored a residency requirement in recruiting an IT director.

2. Inability to produce a budget that covers the basics. Gaura has presented budgets that always include new hires to her inner circle at the expense of other needs. Our five-year outlook is so grim that finance advisory committee members have pledged to keep working on the fiscal 2018 budget into fiscal 2018, in order to try to make adjustments that will nudge the trajectory into more solvent territory. DeKalb has also struggled with deficiencies in internal accounting controls during Gaura’s tenure, according to the city’s auditors.

3. Damaged relations with residents, business people, and even another unit of local government. In a series of unforced errors, Gaura has had to walk back actions that took the community by surprise. The unlawful assembly and commercial inspection ordinances, for example, popped up on council agendas without previous community discussion and caused a great deal of dismay and distrust, not to mention the resources wasted in having to go back to the drawing board.

4. Inability or unwillingness to rein in staff. Gaura’s failure to set boundaries with her administrative team has allowed a range of unprofessional behavior, from the city attorney’s inappropriate participation in policy discussions, to the FOIA officer’s calling citizens liars with impunity. Staff do not even pretend at professional objectivity anymore, but rather have become a sales team for pet projects. They engage in hard-sell tactics and sometimes lie to get their way.

We can do better, DeKalb.

Feel free to join City Barbs on Facebook with your two cents.

What Kind of Municipal Elections Does City of DeKalb Have?

City of DeKalb candidates for municipal offices in the spring elections are not all using the same ballot petition forms.

For example, of the four mayoral candidates, three of them are filing as “independents” and one of them filed a “nonpartisan” form. A similar pattern has occurred with the aldermanic candidates.

There are differences. “Independent” signals that a municipality has partisan elections, but the independent candidate has decided on the independent label instead of a party label, and the independent can’t “get primaried” like the party animals can. “Nonpartisan” means there’s always just one election, no primaries, and nobody in it has a formal association at all.

Nobody ever “gets primaried” in DeKalb. Does that mean DeKalb has nonpartisan elections? Continue reading What Kind of Municipal Elections Does City of DeKalb Have?

Letter from Clerk Liz Peerboom on the State of the DeKalb City Clerk’s Office: ‘This is Your City. Take it Back’

Here’s a letter to the editor from Liz Peerboom, whose career as a deputy clerk and city clerk in two communities spans nearly 20 years. Currently the clerk for the Village of Maple Park, Peerboom was awarded the title Rookie of the Year by the Municipal Clerks of Illinois in 2011, in part for implementing improvements to meeting protocols, in-person customer service, and website user experiences. She was also lauded as a team player at the village hall.

Peerboom has served in DeKalb city government both as a deputy and as the elected city clerk, and DeKalb is still her home.

Editor:

When the City of DeKalb was founded in 1865, the City Clerk was full time. Of course, at the time, there were fewer residents and the Clerk did everything from the statutory duties to that of water billing clerk, payroll clerk and accountant. They even did birth and death certificates.

Fast forward to 2012, when the City of DeKalb found itself without a Clerk after then City Clerk Steve Kapitan resigned. The reaction of the City Council was to slash the budget for the City Clerk for the next election to $5,000 per year, making it a part-time position. That’s where I came in…

In 2013, I ran as a write in candidate and won the election. When I was sworn in, I was ready to work and bring the City Clerk’s office back to the office it had once been. Even though it was part-time, and I worked another part-time job, I came to meetings in the evening as required and came during the day to attest documents and oversee what I thought was my office. Right away, they moved me into an office with the Deputy City Clerk, and although it was small I made due because I was a team player. Then, when the Clerk’s office was moved down the hall to where it is now, suddenly I did not have a desk, but only a filing cabinet where I kept my recorder (used for closed session meetings) and the City Seal. The City Seal is used to attest documents and is supposed to be under the control of the City Clerk. Continue reading Letter from Clerk Liz Peerboom on the State of the DeKalb City Clerk’s Office: ‘This is Your City. Take it Back’

Petition to Restore the DeKalb City Clerk Now Available Online

If you haven’t had a chance to sign the paper version, here’s another option.

PETITION TO RESTORE THE OFFICE OF DEKALB CITY CLERK | Online Petition

You are welcome to stop by at the Facebook Group, too. We have an event coming up Sunday.

To communicate privately, email us at info@fixtheclerk.org

Hit the “city clerk restoration” tag for posts about this action.

Illinois Statutes Versus DeKalb Municipal Code in the Matter of the City Clerk

Just yesterday, we were comparing the positions of city clerk as practiced in Sycamore and DeKalb.

You can see from that post that Sycamore and DeKalb treat their city clerks very differently, though this was not true in the past.

To continue the comparison: Sycamore’s municipal code follows the applicable Illinois statutes, while DeKalb’s differs from state law in several ways.

To show this, I’m bringing back a table I published in April that describes how DeKalb’s municipal code differs from Illinois statutes in four important ways. DeKalb began deviating from the statutes following the resignation of clerk Steve Kapitan in 2012. Continue reading Illinois Statutes Versus DeKalb Municipal Code in the Matter of the City Clerk

Sycamore Versus DeKalb: Comparison of City Clerks

Once upon a time, City of Sycamore and City of DeKalb had duly elected, full-time city clerks. Sycamore still has one. DeKalb’s, however, was destroyed in 2013. Low compensation and transfer of powers to the city manager’s office have deprived us of elected clerks and clerk candidates ever since.

Whatever the city thought it was doing when it allowed this state of affairs, the reality is that DeKalb residents may soon be facing their third election in which zero candidates for clerk appear on the ballot. Continue reading Sycamore Versus DeKalb: Comparison of City Clerks