Belleville Township trustee is sworn in despite attorney's advice

News-DemocratJune 21, 2013 

— A new Belleville Township trustee was sworn in Friday afternoon despite the township attorney's stance that the appointee does not meet the criteria for the position.

Belleville Township Clerk Dallas Cook swore in Ralph Hult about 3:30 p.m. Friday at Belleville City Hall.

Cook, who also serves as Belleville city clerk, said it is Township Attorney Brian Flynn's opinion that Hult does not qualify, but the Township Board approved Hult's appointment. Anyone who contests that decision will have to do so in court, Cook said.

Flynn said that if Hult attends the next Township Board meeting as a trustee, then Flynn will report the incident to the St. Clair County State's Attorney and state Attorney General's offices for review.

"I think we'd kind of have a rogue board at that point," Flynn said.

Flynn said the board's vote is void because township code requires the new trustee to be a member of the same political party as the person who leaves the position.

The board appointed Hult, an independent, to the position once occupied by the late Paul Klingler.

Klingler, of the Belleville Good Government party, died of illness in May after he was re-elected in April.

Hult is married to Belleville Ward 2 Alderwoman Melinda Hult. She attended the swearing-in ceremony.

Ralph Hult, a retired officer of 23 years with the Air Force, has never served in political office.

"It's something I feel I need to do," Ralph Hult said. "I want to serve the community and that's exactly what I plan on doing."

Ralph Hult also said that once in office, he plans to learn more about the role of the township layer of government, and look closely at whether township services and funds are distributed fairly to residents.

Ralph Hult's swearing in was scheduled earlier in the week but was delayed because of Flynn's information, Cook said.

Ralph Hult said he was advised by a personal attorney that the board's action on Tuesday stands.

After the swearing in, Cook said "I do believe this is the right step."

Cook said Flynn attended the township meeting and Flynn did not inform the board at the time of the vote that the action could be invalid.

Flynn researched the matter after the township meeting and then informed officials of what the code said.

Flynn said Friday that whether or not he brought up the issue during the meeting, the law is still the same and the board has to follow it. Flynn also is assistant city attorney for Belleville.

It was not clear Friday if Cook has the authority as township clerk to swear in a new trustee, if the swearing in has to occur at the Township building and if others on the Township Board plan to challenge these actions.

Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert, chairman of the Good Government party, said he is disappointed that Cook is not following Flynn's legal advice and held the swearing in without informing everyone on the Township Board.

"It really seems like a sneaky backdoor way of doing business," Eckert said. "(Cook) wants to say he's an independent and wants transparency. This is the most untransparent action I've seen. It's not public. It's behind closed doors."

On Tuesday, board members first considered former trustee Mary McHugh, of the Good Government party. She lost in the April election.

Township Supervisor Dennis Korte Sr. and Trustee Joyce Laux voted yes for McHugh; Trustees Joy Schreiber and Joe Swierczek voted no. Cook then voted no.

The Board then approved Hult with a 3-2 vote. Korte and Laux voted no.

Korte and Laux are part of the Good Government party. Schreiber, Swierczek and Cook are independents.

Cook said he wants to eliminate the township form of government, especially Belleville Township because its borders are the same as Belleville city boundaries, and the overlap wastes taxpayer dollars.

Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at jlee@bnd.com or 239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/BNDBelleville.

Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at jlee@bnd.com or 239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/BNDBelleville.

Belleville News-Democrat is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service