DeKALB – Conflict between DeKalb City Manager Bill Nicklas and Clerk Lynn Fazekas had been simmering for months before boiling over in July, emails from City Hall show.
The emails, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, show thatmultiple attempts since June 3 to initiate a dialogue between Fazekas, Nicklas and Mayor Jerry Smith have failed. Emails also show the ongong conflict involves a common third party: the deputy city clerk, Ruth Scott, who also is Nicklas’ executive assistant.
Fazekas has complained she is not being allowed to meet with her deputy.
On July 2, in response to another request from Smith for a face-to-face meeting to “get to the bottom of this,” Nicklas said he didn’t think a meeting would be productive.
“This is not personal with me, as it is with her,” Nicklas wrote. “Lynn is just failing to do her job and has failed to be a colleague and a team player. Her demeanor is consistently sour and unprofessional, and her focus is not on her work. Ruth is carrying her and is ready to quit. We can’t afford to lose such a dedicated and knowledgeable employee at this time.”
Meanwhile, Fazekas said she has spent her almost 10 months on the job without hearing any complaints, or being otherwise made aware of internal conflict until June. She said she only began to notice conflict when she attempted to get Nicklas to circulate a progress report she put together in June.
“I still have no idea of the specific issues between the city manager’s office and the clerk’s office,” Fazekas said in an email response Monday. “My deputy is not allowed to meet with me, and at this moment, I am investigating the possibility that she has been instructed to sign all licenses and permits in contravention to our arrangement and without notice from anyone.”
During a closed executive session of the City Council on July 22, Smith said most council members agreed he should ask Fazekas to resign as clerk, an elected, part-time position to which Smith appointed her in August 2018.
Smith has said the decision was a response to Fazekas "impeding" city business because she keeps the city seal – actually a black box with three different hand stamps – needed to legitimize permits, licenses, resolutions and other documents, locked in her office. Fazekas has said she is limited by the part-time nature of her role, and the municipal code. DeKalb's 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."
In his July 2 email, Nicklas said that out of respect to the mayor he had not “brought this sideshow” to the council in closed or public session, and said if Fazekas did not answer to the council or mayor, he would have fired her in March.
“I’ve laid off some really good professionals and she somehow survives just because we are afraid of some nasty blogs that will follow,” Nicklas wrote.
Before she became clerk, Fazekas ran the government watchdog site City Barbs Blog, and still posts on the site occasionally, particularly in the wake of her being asked to resign in July.
Fazekas said she has asked Nicklas and Smith at least three times to place the issues on a council agenda, to no avail.
FIGHT OVER PROGRESS REPORT
In an email chain beginning June 3, Nicklas wrote Fazekas in response to her asking him to pass a city clerk progress report she wrote up to the City Council. Nicklas said he wanted to first discuss “errant conclusions” in the report with her.
“Your stopping my deputy from circulating the report crosses a line,” Fazekas wrote in a June 3 response. “It also brings out a conflict of interest between the two offices that I chose not to address in the report.”
Nicklas replied the same day, telling Fazekas that Scott is not her employee, but a city employee who is the full-time executive assistant to the city manager’s office, and reports directly to the city manager by her job description.
After several days of attempts to set a meeting, Fazekas emailed Smith on June 6 declining to talk.
In her Monday statement, Fazekas said she had not received a response from Smith about what city business she has affected. She said an attempt to set up a meeting between her and Scott was canceled July 30.
"Deputy Scott emailed me that she had canceled the meeting, saying she had been advised the City Council 'would be the arbiter of these
matters,' " Fazekas said.
The council will discuss the position’s role at Monday’s meeting.