Judge ousts oft-absent DeKalb city clerk from office

Sasha Cohen’s office forfeiture leaves DeKalb City Clerk elected role vacant; term would have ended in 2025

DeKalb City Clerk Sasha Cohen talks on the phone to someone regarding his being replaced as the person to accept candidate filings Monday, Dec. 12, 2022, at City Hall. Filing opened Monday at 8:30 a.m. and Ruth Scott, recording secretary to the DeKalb City Council, was on hand to accept the paperwork for candidates who were filing.

DeKALB – A DeKalb County judge ruled Thursday morning that DeKalb City Clerk Sasha Cohen has forfeited his elected office after failing to file statements of economic interest for the past two years, rendering his position vacant.

Chief Judge Bradley Waller issued his ruling after a DeKalb County attorney, representing the DeKalb County Clerk’s Office, argued that Cohen had violated the Illinois Governmental Ethics Act and repeatedly ignored his duty to DeKalb voters.

“Mr. Cohen has made no attempt to communicate with anybody nor has he made attempts to do his job,” said attorney David Berault of the DeKalb County State’s Attorney’s Office. “The citizens of the city of DeKalb deserve better. ... I would argue there is no question that the office has been forfeited.”

Cohen did not appear in person for the Thursday morning hearing. When reached by phone after the hearing, Cohen would not confirm whether he was present via Zoom, although a screen showing virtual participants did not appear to show the clerk’s name.

“I would like to thank the people of DeKalb for allowing me the chance to serve,” Cohen said in the phone interview. When asked whether he felt he had served DeKalb voters to the best of his ability, Cohen declined to comment. He also declined comment on Waller’s ruling.

Under the Illinois Governmental Ethics Act, elected and appointed officials are required to file a statement of economic interest – which discloses sources of income, business investments and property ownership, among other things – to their respective county clerk annually.

“I’m glad [he forfeited his office],” DeKalb Mayor Cohen Barnes said Thursday. “He has been collecting over $8,000 a year from the taxpayers of the city of DeKalb, and it’s about time we can use that money toward better purposes.”

The city clerk allegedly failed to file statements for 2022 and 2023, “despite numerous attempts to obtain compliance,” according to DeKalb County court records filed March 20. The DeKalb County Clerk’s Office sought to enforce state law requiring financial disclosures of elected officials. The Clerk’s Office stated in court records that multiple attempts to get Cohen to file his paperwork since 2022 were unsuccessful.

“I can speak for the entire professional organization to say that this has been a very sad chapter,” City Manager Bill Nicklas said Thursday. “It embarrassed the professionals who show up every day and do their best and do well by our citizens.”

The DeKalb County Clerk and Recorder’s Office mailed a letter to Cohen in March 2023 and June 2023 to alert him that he still needed to file his notice.

City of DeKalb Executive Assistant Ruth Scott also sent a letter with the economic interest statement form on July 18, 2023, to Cohen’s DeKalb address, which was returned undeliverable Aug. 4.

“Yet it is known that he lived at that address, as he requested a new Voter Registration Card be sent there on Sept. 27, 2023,” Berault wrote in court filings. “The county clerk then emailed Sasha Cohen on Dec. 13, 2023, at the email address he provided to her office in December of 2023. In that email, he was again told he needed to file his statement and given the form to utilize. He never responded.”

Statements of economic interest are required to be filed annually on or before May 15. Upon a late filing, the official also is required to pay a $15 late fee. A $100 late penalty is incurred for each subsequent day, documents show.

Since Cohen has failed to file his statements for 2022 and 2023, and allegedly ignored multiple attempts to correct that, he owed $1,615 per year, totaling $3,230 in late fines. Waller ruled Thursday not to impose those fines on Cohen, however. Berault also recommended a fine waiver since the the clerk had forfeited his office.

The clerk’s time in office was riddled with scrutiny including for his absences, record-keeping and controversial opinions about police. He offered a public apology in August 2021 for his slack in duties, pledging to do better. City records showed, however, that he missed more than two dozen city meetings between his May 2021 swearing-in and December 2022.

The DeKalb City Council voted to censure him in January 2023, alleging his consistent disregard for his elected duties.

He unsuccessfully sued DeKalb city officials in 2023, seeking relief for what Cohen alleged was the city’s attempts to bar him from performing his duties.

Waller threw out that lawsuit in February 2023.

Have a Question about this article?