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Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Court Upholds City’s Partial Delegation of Clerk’s Duties

Recently, an Appellate Court issued an opinion in a case testing the limits of home-rule authority under the Illinois Constitution. In Fazekas v. City of DeKalb, the court upheld the dismissal of a case brought by a City Clerk against the City, holding that the City had the authority to create a new position to supplement the efforts of the Clerk to fulfill her duties.

In October 2019, the City enacted an ordinance that created the office of executive assistant, appointed by the City Manager. The City Council justified the new position by noting that the City Clerk was a part-time position and that City residents would benefit from full-time availability of clerical assistance that would be provided by this new executive assistant position. The Clerk sued the City, arguing that the new ordinance violated Article VII, Section 6(f) of the Illinois Constitution that provides as follows:

“A home rule municipality shall have the power to provide for its officers, their manner of selection and terms of office only as approved by referendum or as otherwise authorized by law.” 

The court held that the Clerk did not meet her burden in establishing that there was a clear constitutional violation because  the creation of the new office did not alter the “manner of selection” or “terms of office” for the position of City Clerk and so it did not violate the Section 6(f) exception to home-rule authority.

The court rejected the Clerk's argument that the position basically eliminated the City Clerk's position, finding no evidence that the Clerk's duties were completely supplanted by the executive assistant position.

The court also rejected the Clerk’s argument that the ordinance violated the Illinois Municipal Code. The Clerk claimed the ordinance violated the statute that provides that the mayor and city council can appoint new officers “necessary to carry into effect the powers conferred upon municipalities,” because the new executive assistant role was unnecessary given the duplicate duties between it and the City Clerk position. The court disagreed, finding that the City's justification for creating the new position — that the public would benefit from the availability of clerical assistance during all regular business hours — was sound legislative judgment that a court would not disturb.

The court only commented briefly on the Clerk’s last argument that the ordinance violated the voting rights of DeKalb residents. Because the court had already concluded that the position of City Clerk had not been eliminated or altered by the ordinance, it held that there clearly was no adverse impact on the electorate’s right to vote for that office.

Post Authored by Erin Monforti and Julie Tappendorf, Ancel Glink


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