DeKALB - An appeal of a dismissed 2019 lawsuit brought against the city of DeKalb by former City Clerk Lynn Fazekas was rejected Wednesday. Fazekas’ lawsuit had alleged that city action related to the clerk’s office was unconstitutional.
Fazekas, who filed the lawsuit in DeKalb County Court on Oct. 15, 2019 and appealed its dismissal a year later, did not respond to request for comment by press time Wednesday.
In her original lawsuit, Fazekas contended the city violated Article VII, section 6 of the Illinois Constitution “by altering its form of government,” after a 2019 DeKalb City Council vote eliminated the deputy clerk position and gave the duties instead to a city employee, the executive assistant to the city manager. The assistant, Ruth Scott, was at the time also already serving as deputy clerk.
The lawsuit was dismissed in DeKalb County court by Circuit Court Judge Bradley Waller last year and appealed by Fazekas. Three Appellate Justices – Kathryn Zenoff, Robert McLaren and Donald Hudson – upheld Waller’s dismissal in the Illinois Second District Appellate Court in Elgin on Wednesday.
“The city appreciates the well-reasoned decisions of the trial court and appellate court, but it is unfortunate that city resources and taxpayer dollars had to be diverted to defending this matter,” city attorney Matthew Rose said in a statement Wednesday. “Thankfully, the city will continue to have the full-time Executive Assistant’s timely, efficient and professional administration of the city’s clerical duties.”
According to Waller’s original ruling, the city of DeKalb was within its authority to make changes to the clerk’s office. The court ruled such action didn’t impact voters’ power to elect a clerk. The court also ruled the city of DeKalb, which is a Home Rule authority, did not violate the Illinois Municipal Code or the constitution.
According to DeKalb County court records, Waller dismissed the lawsuit on Oct. 21, 2020, an action that was appealed by Fazekas on Nov. 16, 2020 and then sent to an appellate court in Elgin on Dec. 31 of last year.
DeKalb City Manager Bill Nicklas said he was “pleased with the result.”
“We expected that result,” Nicklas said. “We believe that she [Fazekas] is just trying to be a nuisance and cost the taxpayers a lot of expense.”
Nicklas said he was glad the “courts saw it that way, too,” that there was “no case.”
“We are satisfied the courts ruled reasonably on the city’s behalf,” Nicklas said.
2019 clerk controversy
The former appointed clerk was at the subject of a months-long controversy involving the clerk’s office and the city of DeKalb in 2019, spurred by debate over the rules of the part-time elected position and use of the City Seal, used to certify official documents.
[ DeKalb City Clerk spat grows: Clerk removes deputy, 2 hours later, City Manager reappoints her ]
Fazekas later filed a lawsuit in October of 2019 asking a DeKalb County judge to declare the changes to the powers of her office to be unconstitutional. Fazekas said at the time that “The city is under the impression that it is lawful. However, it is not, and that is the kind of thing we have the court for.”
The city of DeKalb clerk’s office has been the topic of debate since June 2019, as city emails obtained by the Daily Chronicle revealed a growing rift between Nicklas and Fazekas. Use of the City Seal was also a point of contention during that time. City officials reported that Fazekas would lock up the seal inside a box when she wasn’t in her office, prohibiting others such as the deputy clerk from using it her absence, since the elected clerk’s role is a part time position.
In response, Fazekas said that the clerk was the only one authorized to use the seal. After a closed session meeting of the DeKalb City Council on July 22, 2019, which was later declared a violation of the Illinois Open Meetings Act, former DeKalb Mayor Jerry Smith asked Fazekas to resign, saying her actions were impeding city business. She refused.
Fazekas, who ran the government watchdog site City Barbs Blog before being appointed to the role in August 2018 by Smith to fill a vacancy, did not seek reelection on the April 2021 ballot. She served the remainder of her team until exiting the office in May, and was succeeded by current clerk Sasha Cohen.