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
The compensation ordinance that will apply to our next city clerk has NOT received final approval. So there is no, or at least not yet, a “hefty raise” for the clerk as claimed by the newspaper today. It was only first reading. They only reveal this fact in the final sentence of the article.
The issue is scheduled to come back before the City Council for final consideration Oct. 24.
Until then, all compensation numbers are placeholders, and a lot could conceivably happen between now and then.
The mayor’s compensation is $22,500 and is not expected to change. The clerk’s compensation is $5,000. The proposed rise in compensation for the clerk is only up to $8,000.
What SHOULD happen is that council members, at the very least, take a look at how the office of the mayor and the office of the city clerk are the same. The mayor’s position is an elected, citywide, officially part-time position with statutory powers. The city clerk is an elected, citywide, officially part-time position with statutory powers. They have to get the same number of signatures to get on the ballot. They go to the same meetings and they sign the same documents. Continue reading No, Daily Chronicle. The DeKalb City Clerk has Not Received a Raise
On Monday, the city council discussed the compensation ordinance that will go into effect upon installation of the city’s elected officers in May. This was just the first reading. Passage is expected during the regular council meeting on October 25.
Council at this point is on track to continue to deprive us of another election for city clerk. This body plans to pay the next mayor $22,500 per year, the next clerk $8,000.
Members seem intent on keeping the clerk a part-time position, based on a vague notion of protecting themselves from “liability,” which we know does not exist because the city has never gotten into trouble for violations of open meetings and open records laws before or after they ruined the office of the clerk.
No, the reality is that the liability works the other way. You see, while council has lots of leeway when it comes to assigning duties and setting compensation, any ordinance that passes must be reasonable. And we know that DeKalb ordinances having to do with the clerk are demonstrably unreasonable because they’ve interfered with elections of the clerk. Continue reading Council on Track to Deprive Us of Another Election
No closer than 180 days before newly-elected city officials take office next May, the city council must, per state law, set compensation for them via ordinances. This could happen tonight, at the next regular meeting, or possibly in early November if all else fails.
Compensation is set now in order to help eliminate the conflict of interest that would be created by a council’s setting its own pay, or that of a clerk they like personally. It’s supposed to be about the jobs, not the personalities involved. Continue reading DeKalb Council Will Discuss Compensation of Elected Officials Tonight
DeKalb city clerk Jenny Johnson does not know where the official seal of the city is located, or even whether it is secure.
We found this out last Saturday, when she held a meeting to inform citizens of her current role, and to gather information about what we envision for the future. A dozen citizens attended, most of us members of the informal citizens’ committee called Citizens for Restoration of the DeKalb City Clerk.
Ms. Johnson explained that because of her part-time status, which she says is forced by low compensation of $5,000 per year, she felt compelled to transfer her authority over the city seal to a deputy clerk to avoid being continually on call to sign/certify/attest.
Unfortunately, the people she’s deputized are actually employees of the city manager’s office. Essentially, then, the city seal is under the control of the city manager’s office, a non-transparent arrangement that brings a slew of questions to bear about the custody and handling of official documents and use of the seal.
Yes, we’re talking about the loss of real-life “checks and balances” and what that might mean. Continue reading Questions Regarding Custody of City Seal & Handling of Documents
In a recent letter to the editor, Misty Haji-Sheikh asked — and answered — who is supposed to ensure that DeKalb ordinances are enforced. Why? Because she found out there is an ordinance that is not being enforced.
The mayor, city manager and city attorney all have legal duties regarding ordinances. Since the ordinance 2015-30 is to hold at least quarterly meetings (these must be on the same day as the City Council after 1 p.m.) for discussion was passed as ordinance more than 14 months ago, can the mayor, city manager or city attorney explain why no required meetings have been held? Why aren’t they faithfully discharging their duties?
The ordinance, in part, says (my emphases):
Discussion, Planning and Vision Meetings: In addition to all other meetings contemplated herein, the City Council shall conduct at least four special meetings, with one such meeting occurring no less than quarterly, for the purposes of discussion, planning and visioning.
If the ordinance language had been written as “may” instead of “shall,” the meetings would be optional. “Shall” means they are not optional. (Find the rest of the ordinance in the Municipal Code, here, in 2.05(b)).
Now, this wouldn’t even appear on my radar today, but for a member of the City Barbs Facebook Group having posted video of Monday’s council meeting, towards the end of which the mayor defends not having the meetings required by ordinance. He calls these meetings “goals.” He then lists all the council meetings he’s attended over the past 14 months and declares, “The suggestion that the city has not been engaged in strategic planning is nothing short of ridiculous.” Continue reading DeKalb Mayor Vigorously Defends Council’s Breaking of Its Own Law
This happened on Monday.
DeKalb’s council is made up of seven aldermen chosen by ward and a mayor. Aldermen seemed interested Monday in establishing a rule that would call for at least four aldermen to be in favor of a measure before it could pass.
On most questions brought before council, a simple majority vote is all that’s needed, and the mayor doesn’t (or at least isn’t supposed to) vote. Council already needs to have four in most situations.
What this potential proposal would do is impose the requirement of a super-majority vote on council if even one alderman is absent. And in the scenario of the non-voting mayor and four aldermen, unanimous votes would be required to get anything done. And for what good reason?
This is, in short, not smart. It’s a bad solution for a non-existent problem. It rarely happens that even two council members are absent for any council meeting. What’s more, one situation where we might anticipate the absence of several council members would be a special meeting to deal with an emergency. To be shackled with a super-majority or unanimous vote requirement could have awful implications when time is of the essence for decision-making.
No, as long as the quorum of five is met for conducting the city’s business, leave the voting rules for aldermen alone.
That being said, there is a structural problem with DeKalb’s voting rules. Continue reading The Mayoral Vote is the Problem When You Have Odd Aldermen
DeKalb used to have in-house legal counsel, but now has contracts with individuals and firms to supply legal services.
One of the legal service providers is Dean Frieders of Frieders Law, LLC, who supposedly works for DeKalb three days per week.* Frieders is required by his contract with the city to supply all of his own staff for the $208,000 per year that we pay him. If any employee of City of DeKalb were to work for Frieders in any capacity, it would constitute a violation of that city contract.
Trouble is, DeKalb still employs a full-time legal assistant, and it looks like she works for Frieders. I say this because her actual job description requires her to assist legal counsel as well as the city manager. Continue reading What’s the Deal with DeKalb’s Legal Assistant?
We know from our recent examination of the doctrine of incompatible offices that compromising the loyalty of an elected officer is prohibited. A person holding elected office cannot hold any other role — as employee, appointee, or a second elected office — that could reasonably be expected to conflict, or even appear to conflict, with the first elected office. A person occupying elected office has one loyalty, and that’s to the electorate. Nobody else is the elected person’s boss.
In DeKalb government, this is true of city council members and the city clerk. Both are elected positions and nobody should buy the story that any of these elected officers are also employees of the municipality, for to do so invites perversion of the original intent of an elected office.
As we saw in the post about incompatible offices, however, DeKalb holds itself to no such standard, but instead chooses to create confusion by pretending that the city clerk’s position comprises a dual role, that of officer and employee at the same time.
Moreover, some of the offenses committed against the doctrine of incompatible offices are way worse than the confusion sown verbally by city staff. For reasons we will examine at a later date, the corporate authority (city council) of DeKalb has in recent years approved ordinances in line with an appointed clerk instead of an elected one. In a very real way, the corporate authority has usurped the statutory powers placed with the elected city clerk and vested them in the city manager. Continue reading DeKalb Voters Think City Clerk is an Elected Office. DeKalb’s Ordinances Say Otherwise
DeKalb isn’t particularly good at observing boundaries. One example is that DeKalb’s contracted attorney is allowed to sit with the city council during planning sessions as an assistant in setting strategic priorities. In other words, a contractor gets to step out of his assigned role to provide unfettered input into public policy that the public itself never gets to enjoy.
But while the attorney’s extra privileges are plenty objectionable from an ethics standpoint, the most egregious errors in failing to maintain separation of roles have arguably come about in DeKalb’s dealings with the city clerk’s office beginning in 2012, when clerk Steve Kapitan was forced to resign. Here’s what city staff said about it at the time (my emphases):
[City manager Mark] Biernacki explained that because of Kapitan’s unique situation as both an elected official and city employee, certain confidentiality rights are in place.
“The city, as the former employer of Mr. Kapitan, has certain obligations to keep his personal records confidential,” said city attorney Dean Frieders…
City of DeKalb again combined the roles of city employee and city clerk when Diane Wright was appointed in Kapitan’s place later that year, yet also kept her administrative job with the city (again, my emphasis):
With recent changes in City Hall staffing, a proposal has been developed to provide more efficient use of City personnel to perform administrative functions for the City, by utilizing the currently serving Acting City Clerk in a dual role as City Clerk and Executive Secretary.
These moves are problematic specifically because citizens of DeKalb have voted twice in the past 10 years to retain their municipal clerk as an elected position. While certainly “unique” and possibly even “efficient,” these elected official-city employee hybrids are not allowed under Illinois law. Elected officers are intended to serve only one master, and that’s the electorate. Continue reading City of DeKalb and Its Incompatible Offices