Audio of July 22 closed session shows DeKalb expected clerk to refuse resignation

'We have to be ready to publicly defend the ask'

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DeKALB – Audio from a closed City Council session July 22 shows that even while council members were planning to ask City Clerk Lynn Fazekas to resign, they were expecting that she wouldn't – and instead take her story public.

The recording, which was released Tuesday in response to a freedom of information act request from the Daily Chronicle, shows 2nd Ward Alderman Bill Finucane wondering what could be done without asking Fazekas to resign.

"Yes we can have the mayor ask her to resign, but then if she doesn't, and goes to the public with the fact that we asked her to resign, we know how a certain segment of the public is going to respond," Finucane said. "My point is we have to be ready to publicly defend the ask."

Growing tension between Fazekas and the city manager's office, including then Deputy Clerk Ruth Scott, who reports to City Manager Bill Nicklas, became public knowledge days after the closed meeting. Although Deputy City Clerk Ruth Scott's difficulties working with the clerk were the reason the meeting was closed, Fazekas was also a focus – although Nicklas repeatedly warned that her performance could not be the topic of a closed meeting.

After an attempt to make the clerk appointed rather than elected was thwarted, the council on Monday voted on a new ordinance spelling out that the city manager's executive assistant can also possess the city seal and exercise clerk duties in the absence of the clerk.

On the recording, Nicklas says he approached council with the matter because Scott threatened to quit because Fazekas was not allowing her to use the City Seal, needed to stamp documents. During the meeting, aldermen discussed Scott's position in relation to Fazekas', and six of seven (with 1st Ward Alderman Carolyn Morris opposed) gave Smith the go-ahead to ask for Fazekas' resignation that evening.

As Finucane and others expected, she refused. Fazekas did not immediately respond to request for comment Tuesday evening.

"Bill said to me that Ruth is in the awkward position of having to ask Lynn to attest the documents that stack up," Mayor Jerry Smith said in the July audio. "Ruth is embarrassed, frustrated, feels intimidated. In her mind, Lynn has created a toxic work environment and she is asking for our help. If there is not relief, I believe Ruth will resign."

Scott said Tuesday it's been a trying time for her, but she wants to stick it out because she likes her job.

"It bothers me that people are continuing to insinuate to the public, the staff, the council that I’ve done something wrong," Scott said. "I’ve been slandered and humiliated, and it’s not right. I love my job and I’ve been doing it for so long, this is my job. This isn’t just something I took on temporarily."

City senior attorney John Donahue gave the council three options in the July meeting: do nothing, ask Fazekas to resign or pass ordinances which would limit the power and duties of the clerk's office. Morris, who also expressed a desire to speak to Fazekas about the concern, suggested another option.

"The fourth option is making it a full-time position or making it a more substantial position," Morris said in the audio. "That's one of these options and I think that it's a little remiss not to think that."

Throughout the hour-long meeting, Nicklas urged council members to stick to discussing Scott rather than the nature of Fazekas' role because it is an elected position and cannot be discussed in closed session. He also said he did not want the conversation to go public since he didn't want to "embarrass Lynn like this."

Second Ward Alderman Bill Finucane wondered if Fazekas was in violation of DeKalb Municipal Code.

"Could, hypothetically, [Fazekas] be charged with a crime or at least an ordinance violation, an administrative hearing of some type about not sharing the seal? And would that publicly shame her into either releasing it or maybe potentially resigning?"

Smith, Morris and former 4th Ward Alderman Patrick Fagan discussed Fazekas' August 2018 appointment.

"I think that you chose Lynn for a reason," Morris said. "I think part of the reason you chose her was because we knew that she was sort of an aggressive person, who stood up for what was right."

Fagan said he wished they had not appointed her.

"There's a time I might regret a vote," Fagan said, who also argued Fazekas was not actually elected by "the people" but rather by "those in the room." "This is actually probably the only one I wish I could take back. I wish I could take that back and I want to go on record on that."

Fifth Ward Alderman Scott McAdams did not speak during the closed session audio except to give approval for Smith to ask for Fazekas' resignation. When asked Tuesday, he said he kept quiet July 22 for fear the council could be in violation of the Open Meetings Act.

Scott also said Tuesday that he approved of asking Fazekas to resign July 22 because he knew she would not, and hoped it would lead to a larger role for the clerk.

"I knew it would be wildly unpopular," McAdams said. "I saw this as a vindication. Let's get it out in public."