More clerk controversy as DeKalb City Council criticizes ‘inaccurate’ records

Welcome to the City of DeKalb sign along Route 38 in DeKalb, IL on Thursday, May 13, 2021.

DeKALB – The DeKalb City Clerk is again under fire this week after aldermen criticized once more his minutes taken at public meetings, calling them inaccurate and troublesome for city record-keeping.

In what’s become a regular at DeKalb City Council meeting, aldermen this week were tasked with approving submitted minutes taken at past council meetings for city record. They approved, 7-0, the minutes submitted by recording secretary Ruth Scott, who also serves as administrative assistant in the city manager’s office, and was a former deputy city clerk. City Clerk Sasha Cohen’s minutes were not accepted by the council after what aldermen said were inaccuracies in the records. Cohen did not attend Monday’s meeting.

Scott was appointed as official recording secretary to the council Nov. 8.

The council voted, 7-0, on Monday against a motion to approve the city clerk’s provided minutes from the Feb. 28 City Council meeting. Minutes for the March 14 council meeting and a March 14 joint meeting of the council and city’s Finance Advisory Committee were not submitted by Cohen, but were submitted, and approved, by Scott. Third Ward Alderman Tracy Smith was absent from the meeting.

Second Ward Alderwoman Barb Larson said Cohen’s submitted minutes also included inaccuracies, such as votes by aldermen who were absent from the meeting, and lack of details related to council discussion.

“Besides being sparse which they’ve been in the past, they’re incorrect,” Larson said of Cohen’s minutes. “So the votes are wrong.”

First Ward Alderwoman Carolyn Morris said the value of notes recorded by the city’s clerk exist “to form history of community as make it.”

“And with inaccurate record made by the clerk, we cannot know what has been done by the council,” Morris said.

Although the city of DeKalb broadcasts, video records and archives its public meetings via YouTube, Morris said she does not want the council to rely on another conglomerate to maintain local government record.

“It is critical that we own our own record of what we’re doing here,” Morris said.

It’s not the first time aldermen have called into question the clerk’s performance since he took office in May 2021 or questioned his absences during public meetings. Aldermen took issue in February and in August with what they said were chronically late meeting minutes, which is a violation of the Illinois Open Meetings Act.

The part-time DeKalb clerk’s position, which is a four-year term with an $8,000 annual salary, is largely administrative. Duties include administering elections, keeping minutes at city meetings and authenticating documents using the city seal.

Barnes said the clerk didn’t reach out to any city elected officials or staff about his absence from the Monday meeting.

“So I have no idea what that’s about,” Barnes said. The mayor said Cohen told him via online messenger he planned to reach out to council members about his attendance but “has not done so.”

“So I have no idea where he is or what he’s doing,” Barnes said.

When reached for comment later Monday, Cohen said he was absent from the meeting because he was sick. He said he returned from a trip to Europe a week ago and felt ill since. He said he took a COVID-19 test in Portugal and thinks he has a cold, so decided “better safe than sorry.”

“And with there being a recording secretary, I didn’t think it was smart to risk exposing other attendees to whatever this is,” Cohen said.

According to a Facebook Messenger message provided to the Daily Chronicle, Cohen contacted Barnes via the app at 5:22 p.m. Monday ahead of the 6 p.m. council meeting to notify him of his absence and offering “apologies for the late notice.”

During the council meeting, Barnes requested the body to add an executive session to the agenda related to personnel matters. The council added a closed executive session for personnel matters also on March 14 again at the mayor’s request. It’s unclear what the executive session was planned for, or if the two sessions were related.