Subject to city council approval, Marcia Sweigert, an interior designer from DeKalb will fill the vacancy in the position of City Clerk which has been open since the September 2014 resignation of former City Clerk Liz Peerboom.
Peerboom was elected to the position in the municipal elections in April 2013 as a write-in candidate. All four 2013 candidates for the elected City Clerk position were on the ballot as write-ins due to the city council’s cutting of the full time position with its $60,000 annual salary plus benefits to a part time $5,000 a year position without an office. The measure was made possible by former 3rd ward alderman Steve Kapitan’s abrupt resignation reportedly for failing to meet Open Meetings Act violations because he couldn’t take, transcribe and/or produce minutes for closed session meetings.
Most importantly Kapitan lacked the management skills or resources required to delegate those clerical duties to support staff. Perhaps due to naivete upon taking office he agreed to cutting his staffing budget to eliminate a full time position before he had acquired working knowledge or experience of the office.
When Kapitan resigned he received some $10,000 — the equivalent of two months’ severance pay plus continuation of benefits. The so-called unconditional resignation included among other conditions that Kapitan and the City of DeKalb zip their lips about the details of his departure. It was discovered after the official announcement of his resignation that city attorney Dean Frieders had met with then DeKalb County State’s Attorney Clay Campbell to discuss Kapitan before the voluntary resignation was tendered.
Some argue that Kapitan was only an enabler for the administration’s goal of eliminating the elected office which by its nature was independent of the mayor, council and city manager.
In 2006 the late Mayor Frank Van Buer perhaps frustrated with the independent-minded City Clerk Donna Johnson spearheaded a ballot initiative approved by the city council to ask voters in the form of a referendum:
Shall the City Clerk of the City of DeKalb, Illinois, be appointed by the Mayor, with the advice and consent of the City Council, instead of elected, and shall the term of office commence with the first regular meeting of the City Council in May, 2009?
Voters rejected the referendum by a 63%-47% margin with 8,711 ballots cast.
Donna Johnson retired in 2009 and Kapitan won a crowded (no write in candidates) contest for the open seat in that year’s municipal election. Each of the four candidates for the position circulated petitions to run for the office. The minimum signatures requirement for the City Clerk position are the same as those required for Mayor. In contrast candidates for the 7th ward alderman seat on the city council were required to get two signatures.
Kapitan “resigned” February 3, 2012. In May of the same year the city council directed staff to add discussion of another referendum to again eliminate the elected office. The ballot question for the November 2012 general election read as follows:
Shall the City Clerk in the City of DeKalb, Illinois be selected by the City Manager with the advice and consent of the Mayor and City Council, rather than elected?
That measure failed by an even wider margin — 71%-29% with 14,189 ballots cast.
But the administration had a plan for if the referendum failed. The council reduced the position to a part-time one, while making the appointed deputy city clerk a full-time job under the direct control of the city manager.
That appointed deputy clerk, Diane Wright, resigned shortly before Peerboom resigned and shortly after the new city manager, Anne Marie Gaura, was hired.
Peerboom voiced her frustration with the senior city staff and the mayor and council’s disregard for her office in a Facebook conversation when she announced her resignation.
“I knew that I would have battles, but I could not have imagined how much I would have to battle every day. They break all kinds of rules and tell me that I don’t know what I’m talking about when I raise a concern,” Peerboom wrote. “They don’t like me because I call them on it.
I don’t have an office or even a desk, so that tells you what they think of the position,” said Peerboom. “I feel like I failed the voters, but the road blocks they [the City] put up were too much for me.”
Sweigert will serve as the appointed City Clerk at least until after the April 7 election. The term of the new elected clerk will begin in May. No one filed petitions to run for city clerk by the deadline. Write-in candidates have until Feb. 5 to file.
Kapitan filed a petition and is a candidate for 3rd ward alderman in DeKalb. He is opposed by Mike Marquardt.
Note: See page 5 of this Committee of the Whole agenda for more information on the duties of the City Clerk.