Belleville

August 18, 2014

Police notified about rift over new employee in clerk's office

The Belleville Police Department was called to City Hall on Monday because of a disagreement over the city clerk's appointment to a position in his office -- a job the mayor said the clerk did not have the authority to fill.

Belleville City Clerk Dallas Cook sent a memo Aug. 12 to Mayor Mark Eckert and city employees notifying them of his decision to appoint Michael Hagberg as assistant city clerk, effective Monday.

Hagberg is a Belleville resident who regularly attends City Council meetings and speaks during public participation periods. Hagberg ran for alderman of Ward 5 in the April 2013 election and lost to incumbent Phil Silsby.

The Teamsters Local Union 50, which comprises the clerical workers in the Clerk's Office, said Cook violated the union bargaining agreement by filling the job with someone who's not in the union.

Cook said the city's ordinances allow him to appoint someone to the position and city leaders never should have approved a union contract that was at odds with city code.

The union filed a grievance last week that states Cook eliminated a bargaining unit position, changed the job posting and bidding procedures and ignored a practice established for 40 years.

Union president Scott Alexander said Cook can correct the situation by posting the position for competitive bidding as set forth by the collective bargaining agreement.

Cook said Hagberg planned to join the union within 31 days.

Hagberg arrived at City Hall about 7:30 a.m. Monday and was told to leave by Peggy Hartmann, an administrative assistant in the city's Human Resources Department.

Hagberg waited in the foyer of City Hall until Cook arrived and he let Hagberg into the Clerk's Office, about 8 a.m.

Hartmann then called the Belleville Police Department and said there was someone behind the counter at City Hall who is not an employee and is refusing to leave. An officer did show up but did not make Hagberg leave.

Cook said Monday afternoon that Hartmann made a false report to police by exaggerating the situation in the Clerk's Office. He asked the Police Department to investigate the incident.

Cook said he heard from Alexander, the union president, on Monday morning, stating that the union employees will not train Hagberg or treat him like a city worker.

"Departments throughout the city have refused to acknowledge him as an employee," Cook said. "IT refused to set up his email. So basically he hasn't had the ability to do anything."

As a result, Cook said he will not have Hagberg work on Tuesday.

"I'm asking him not to return until we resolve this matter, but his appointment absolutely still stands," Cook said.

This is the third time the assistant city clerk position has been open since Cook took office in April 2013. The two previous assistants took jobs in Belleville Township and the City Treasurer's Office.

Eckert believes that Cook's appointment at least needs City Council approval.

Eckert said Cook ran on transparency and complains that City Hall is not transparent enough, but Cook was not cooperative or upfront in his appointment of Hagberg.

Cook should have at least consulted with the mayor's office, the city attorney and the union to find out how to make an appointment in accordance with the contract in place, Eckert said.

For these reasons, Cook's decision was met with push back by some at City Hall.

Cook said the disagreement over the position underscores a political conflict Cook has with the mayor. Cook identifies as an independent and Eckert leads the Belleville Good Government Party.

Since the election, Cook has accused the mayor of interfering in the duties of the City Clerk's Office. Eckert said Cook's accusations are false.

Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at jlee@bnd.com or 618-239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BNDJLee.

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