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DeKalb city attorneys respond to Open Meetings Act investigation

DeKALB – City attorneys are sticking with their assertion that the DeKalb City Council did not violate the state Open Meetings Act, and have responded to an inquiry by the Attorney General’s Office.

In a letter sent Aug. 14 by city attorney Matthew Rose to Assistant Attorney General Teresa Lim, Rose addressed the investigation started by DeKalb resident Mark Charvat after Charvat sent in a letter alleging that the city had violated the act by meeting in a closed session to discuss an elected official. Rose also sent a verbatim recording of the July 22 closed session, during which he says the council met to discuss Ruth Scott, a city employee who works as the deputy city clerk and executive assistant to the city manager.

“Contrary to Mr. Charvat’s allegations, the city council did not hold a closed meeting on July 22 to discuss the city clerk,” the letter states. “As demonstrated by the verbatim recording and draft minutes of the closed meeting held on July 22, 2019, the city council discussed Ruth Scott’s desire to resign her employment with the city due to workplace conflicts with the city clerk.”

On July 22, the City Council held a closed executive session after which DeKalb Mayor Jerry Smith said he was directed by council consensus to ask DeKalb City Clerk Lynn Fazekas to resign, which she refused. The Open Meetings Act prohibits discussion of elected officials, and discussion of Fazekas violates that act regardless of her being an appointed clerk. Fazekas was not allowed to attend the closed session, although she previously has said she attends all sessions so she can take minutes, part of her duties as clerk.

The letter states that while the meeting “necessarily involved” a discussion of the city clerk, all conversation was limited to Scott’s role with the office. Scott has said Fazekas’ desire to keep the City Seal, used for approving city documents, locked up inhibits her ability to complete city business in a timely manner.

“But even if we assume for the sake of argument that Mark Charvat’s allegations are correct, the city council promptly remedied any alleged violation by discussion the city clerk’s performance during its next open meeting,” Rose said in the letter. “Moreover, there was no ‘final action’ taken during the closed session held July 22.”

In the letter, Rose asked that if the Attorney General’s Office determines the city did violate the Open Meetings Act, to limit repercussions.

“The city respectfully requests that either no relief is warranted or that any such relief be limited to making the city publicly disclose the verbatim recording and minutes pertaining to the closed session discussion,” the letter states.

On Friday, DeKalb County State’s Attorney Rick Amato also sent a letter to the city but declined to comment on the ongoing OMA investigation.

Amato said he’s been contacted by several DeKalb residents and elected officials in the past few weeks, and decided to weigh in after Monday’s preliminary first vote to remove the city clerk job, held by Fazekas since she was appointed to fill a vacancy in August 2018, from the ballot. The vote passed, 5-3, on first reading.

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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