The DeKalb County State’s Attorney believes voters need to approve making the DeKalb city clerk an appointed position and says he may take court action to stop the city council from changing the office if they don’t do so themselves.
Our sister station WLBK reports that in a letter sent Friday, State’s Attorney Rick Amato tells DeKalb city officials “there is no legal basis to avoid another referendum should you seek to change the City Clerk to an appointed position.” Two previous referendums failed.
Amato is weighing in after he says he was “contacted by numerous citizens and elected officials” about the city clerk issue. He says he “felt it necessary to point out that it is simply improper to bypass failed referendums and force a result through ordinance.”
The letter was posted on Facebook by City Clerk Lynn Fazekas, and Amato confirmed to WLBK that the letter came from his office.
Amato says state law would allow the city council to change the city clerk from an elected office to appointed position by itself if at least part of the council was elected at large, meaning voted on by the entire city. However, DeKalb’s aldermen are elected not by the entire city, but rather just the residents in their wards.
Amato’s legal opinion goes against action started by the council on Monday when they voted five to three to give first reading to an ordinance that would change the clerk to an appointed position. A final vote on the change is set for the council’s Aug. 26 meeting.
In his letter, Amato requests that the council table the ordinance or that the city, at least, give its legal basis for the move. If the city does neither, Amato says his “office may be left with no choice but to file a Declaratory Judgment action in the Circuit Court, whether by quo warranto or otherwise, so as to challenge the authority of the City to take these actions against another elected official.”
The state’s attorney’s letter is the latest development in a controversy that first surfaced publicly after Mayor Jerry Smith asked Fazekas to resign. Smith said Fazekas was asked to step down because she has been locking up the city seal, preventing some city business from getting done. Fazekas refused, arguing it is the clerk who is responsible for the seal.
In the letter, Amato also says “there are strong indications” that the council violated the Open Meetings Act when it discussed the city clerk during a closed session at their July 22 meeting. Amato says the audio of that closed session should be released to the public.