The village clerk’s role was under scrutiny by the Oak Park village board during its virtual Sept. 14 meeting, as the board discussed the responsibilities of the elected administrative official, its benefits and full-time status as applicable to the next person to hold the office. Village Clerk Vicki Scaman, whose term ends April, would not be affected by any changes. Scaman has said she will not run for reelection as clerk and is, instead, running for village president.
“I’m finding this agenda item and its background completely inadequate,” said Trustee Susan Buchanan. “It seems like there’s some agenda behind this that we don’t know about.”
While the board agreed that the full-time position should retain its current responsibilities, it was divided regarding the salary paid to the village clerk, with the female trustees staunchly against decreasing it and the male trustees more favorable to a reduction.
Scaman read 28 public comments resoundingly against reducing the clerk’s role, including one from former village clerk Teresa Powell. No public comments were submitted in favor of decreasing the clerk’s duties, hours or salary.
“I don’t intend to diminish the role at all or reduce the contact between the clerk and the taxpayers as is,” said Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb, who requested the village clerk’s compensation be added to the meeting’s agenda.
The duties of the village clerk include, among others, monitoring the process of fulfilling or rejecting Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, preparing for and supervising village elections, attending all village board meetings, including executive sessions, and compiling minutes.
Trustee Jim Taglia said he was in favor of keeping the clerk’s duties the same, mentioning that he has had no complaints from citizens interacting with Clerk Scaman, whom he said has done “a very good job in her term.”
Scaman’s praises were also sung by Trustee Deno Andrews, who called her “a model clerk.”
“I’m not in favor of changing any of the duties and responsibilities of the clerk,” said Andrews. “I think the clerk should have the same benefit package as any other employee of village hall.” Andrews was in favor of potentially reducing the salary paid to the clerk.
Trustee Simone Boutet was curious about the number of FOIA requests the clerk has received to date. The total, according to Scaman, is over 1,300.
Scaman said she would like the clerk’s office to collaborate with that of the village manager to help reduce the number of FOIA requests the village receives and help build trust in the public so citizens wouldn’t need to use FOIA to get information. Perhaps through an online portal with all past FOIA requests and responses available to the public.
The board voted unanimously not to change the clerk’s duties.
Things got heated when talking about reducing the clerk’s compensation and hours.
Abu-Taleb suggested keeping the same benefits package for the clerk but decreasing the clerk’s salary to $50,000 per year.
On April 2005, the clerk’s salary was established at $70,123 and subject to 3 percent increases starting in 2006 and ending in 2008; the position is also full-time.
“This level of salary, people might run for the position for the salary and I don’t think that’s what you want to incentivize a public service role,” said Trustee Dan Moroney, who supported the decrease.
Moroney believed the clerk should retain the same responsibilities and duties but that the role could be done at a part-time capacity, although Scaman told the board she often works six days a week.
Boutet disagreed, saying the board couldn’t tell the clerk to do the same amount of work in fewer hours. She was not in favor of reducing the clerk’s salary to $50,000 annually, while the clerk’s deputy made $60,000 a year.
“For me it’s not about saving the money; it’s about making it a public service role,” said Moroney.
The number of hours worked did not bother Taglia, who said it was similar to what trustees work.
“We put a lot of hours in too. There’s a lot of effort that gets put in; I think that’s an expectation,” Taglia said. He said reducing the clerk’s salary was “something that should be considered.”
Buchanan again expressed suspicion that there was an ulterior motive behind the discussion.
“I want to know what we’re talking about here. There’s something going on here that’s not being said and I’m just going to assume that the village clerk’s role is being discussed as being cut and I’m not sure why,” said Buchanan. “I don’t get it.”
Buchanan also stated she’d like to see the salaries and benefits packages of village clerks in similar communities as compared to the Oak Park village clerk.
Boutet agreed that something felt amiss.
“We’re not talking about across the board salary cuts. But one role, it doesn’t ring well. It doesn’t sound to be in good faith,” said Boutet, who also wanted to see the benefits and salaries of other clerks for comparison.
Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla wanted to know why they were discussing diminishing an elected position whose role was entirely rooted in establishing and preserving greater transparency between the public and government.
“Why are we taking a coordinated hit on this position?” Walker-Peddakotla asked.
Walker Peddakotla told the board “over 100” Oak Park police officers make more than the village clerk and suggested decreasing their salaries.
“This is about who do we want representing us in public office. If this is a full-time role, it needs a full-time salary,” said Walker-Peddakotla. “We’re taking a coordinated hit at the village clerk and it’s absolutely unacceptable.”
Scaman said that, in her position, she spends a lot of time taking care of citizens, directing them to the right departments, helping them understand where to go to get information.
Andrews said the village needed to make cuts due to the economic crisis posed by COVID-19. He said the current salary was “aggressive” considering the benefits associated with the role.
“I don’t think the clerk’s role should be drawing that level of compensation package,” said Andrews.
Walker-Peddakotla found it telling that the men on the board were in favor of decreasing the salary of the clerk, a role she said was historically held by women, while the women were against decreasing.
“Thank you, toxic masculinity and patriarchy!” she said.
The mayor opted to table the conversation, so that the village manager could return to the board with more information about the clerk’s compensation and that of people in comparable roles.