There were some different voices speaking to the DeKalb City Council on Monday before their latest discussion about the future of the office of City Clerk.
Cohen Barnes spoke as the president of the DeKalb County Economic Development Corp. Jerry Krusinski, whose construction company owns property that has 1,000 acres of property on the city’s south side where they are trying to land new major employers, did, too.
The message from them was pretty clear: The publicity surrounding the city clerk's office controversy is getting in the way of efforts to bring new businesses to the city. Fix this.
We second that. It seems nothing has been gained from this controversy. A new ordinance the city is contemplating is essentially a more spelled-out version of the way things were supposed to work before: The elected clerk works part-time, and a full-time employee who works for the city manager's office assists with their duties when they are not available.
This plan passed on first reading on Monday night. They should follow through with it two weeks from now. The clerk will retain status of an independent, elected official, and some independent authority, but an assistant will be on hand to help customers when the clerk is not available.
This personality-driven controversy falls largely at the feet of Mayor Jerry Smith and the council. They knew – or should have known – that Fazekas long had been a scathing critic of DeKalb's city staff members in general on her “City Barbs” blog.
In various posts, Fazekas said staff had not gotten a handle on “greed, ineptitude and money-grubbing behavior.” She described them as "clueless" and lazy. She wrote they behaved like "graceless children", and said they lacked professionalism and sometimes "lie to get their way.”
Even Fazekas seemed surprised at her appointment in August 2018.
Formely an advocate of cutting staff at city hall, she now argues that the city needs a full-time clerk. She's keen to exercise the power of the largely ministerial office, and perhaps reflecting her contempt for staff, wants to appoint her own deputy clerk.
Results so far suggest giving her any more authority would be unwise.
But Fazekas never pretended to be someone she is not. It probably should not be a surprise she has not worked well with City Manager Bill Nicklas. The inability of those two officeholders to come to some understanding has led to an escalation that led to some bitter emails and turned into a full-blown, council-level controversy.
There was a closed-door council meeting on July 22, at which the council agreed Smith should ask Fazekas to resign. Later that night, Smith and two other men sat down with Fazekas and asked her to quit. Fazekas said she considered it a hostile act, and refused.
The council voted to make the position appointed rather than elected, but DeKalb County State's Attorney Rick Amato intervened to stop them. So the city is now going to pass a more spelled-out version of the policy in place when all of this started. The absence of Alderman Tracy Smith on Monday ensured that this issue will drag on still longer – there were not enough votes to waive the second reading of the ordinance, so another vote must be held.
The council should drop the curtain on this sideshow at their Oct. 14 meeting. While DeKalb has real challenges to confront, there are a lot of good things going on, too – and with more attention and focus, there should be more to come.