Belleville landlord alleges 'electioneering' at council meeting

News-DemocratOctober 8, 2013 

AP GRAPHIC

— Belleville city employees of the Teamsters Local 50 union were accused at a City Council meeting Monday of "electioneering" during work hours before the Belleville Township election last month.

Rick Brown, a Shiloh resident and Belleville landlord, said during public participation that a worker in the city clerk's office sent an email to about 20 city employees about the Belleville Township election on Sept. 18.

"She used a city computer on city time to contact people so they could vote in a bloc for Joe Hubbard," Brown said. "It looked like a city convention at the township election."

Voters overwhelmingly elected Hubbard, over Ralph Hult, as Belleville Township trustee.

The email, with a 3:38 p.m. Sept. 17 time stamp, notifies union members of a group meeting at the Teamsters Hall. The email also states that members could leave together to go to the election site to cast their votes.

The union employees and a Teamster Local 50 representative could not immediately be reached for comment.

Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert said after Monday's council meeting that he does not believe the employees violated any city rules or state election laws.

The email merely encourages employees to exercise their right to vote, and does not mention a candidate's name or an endorsement, Eckert said.

Belleville City Attorney Garrett Hoerner said after the council meeting that he will continue to research the matter based on the comments Brown made Monday night.

City officials were already aware of the email and union employees have the right to organize meetings during work hours, Hoerner said.

"It's common for union members to converse on union matters using work email," Hoerner said.

After Brown's comments, Belleville resident Rose Wilson commented that if Brown found fault in city employees organizing to vote, then he should also find a problem with city officials participating in political demonstrations on city time.

Wilson said after the meeting she was referring to City Clerk Dallas Cook's attendance at a July rally outside the St. Clair County Building.

"The rally was during work hours and I feel he should have been reachable during that time as an elected official," Wilson said. "What he does in his private time is his own matter."

Cook spoke at the rally, which called for the resignation of Chief Judge John Baricevic and drug testing for judges.

Organizers planned the rally after Associate Judge Joe Christ died of cocaine toxicity and former Circuit Judge Mike Cook was charged with heroin and weapons offenses.

Dallas Cook said after the meeting Monday that he felt like he was representing the city at the rally to raise awareness of heroin and drug abuse in the county.

The day of the rally, Dallas Cook told the crowd that it made him sick to imagine that his children might one day live in a world with no trust in public servants. He told attendees to vote for candidates who have their interest at heart.

Dallas Cook said Brown raised concerns that need to be investigated.

"The intent of the union was to protect current insurance benefits at the township," Dallas Cook said. "They wanted to elect someone who would keep their benefits. The union had a stake in the deal."

Also on Monday, the City Council:

* Approved a $28,000 bid from Hank's Excavating and Landscaping for demolition of a building at 18 S. High St.

The city in July bought the building from John Conkright, who owns Ben's downtown, to turn the space into 35 parking spots as part of the existing lot.

The building formerly housed the Sukha Yoga Center, which is now at 8 S. Church St.

"We're very happy in our new home, so thank you, Belleville," Sarah Fraser told city leaders on Monday after she got council approval for a sign installation at the new center.

* Approved a special liquor license permit for Papa Vito's at 4205 N. Belt West.

*Approved to list for sale a city-owned home at 515 S. 17th St. for the appraised value of $48,500.

*Voted not to allow a variance for a rear rental unit at 134 N. Douglas Ave., which is zoned single-family.

Resident Scott Kronenberger told aldermen before the vote that he had lived there for years and asked that city leaders not punish good landlords.

Ward 1 Alderman Ken Kinsella said constituents have asked him to keep the area zoned single-family.

*Approved a use variance for a pet rescue operation at 639 Royal Heights Road. Victoria Beaver will be allowed to keep her four personal dogs at the site and up to two rescue animals there on a temporary basis. The city's code currently allows three dogs.

* Approved the extension of a contract with Grass Roots for grass cutting until December 2014 with no increase in pricing.

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

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