Belleville

August 19, 2014

Union accuses Belleville city clerk of harassing employees

The city of Belleville's clerical workers union on Tuesday filed a second grievance in a week against City Clerk Dallas Cook, alleging he makes "disparaging comments about employees" and threatens them.

Teamsters Local Union 50 is asking Cook to stop such action and for a $25,000 settlement to be divided among the bargaining unit.

Cook said the allegations are "100 percent false" and he has surveillance tape to prove he treats his employees with respect.

"The latest grievance from Local Union 50 is a prime example that the thuggery and corruption of Chicago politics has made its way down to St. Clair County," Cook said. "This action is being led by Mayor Mark Eckert, who is interfering with my office."

Cook, an independent, said the union is "slandering his good name." He vows to raise funds to legally fight "this evil machine," referring to Eckert and the Belleville Good Government Party.

Eckert said he has not interfered with Cook's office and called Cook's statements ridiculous and offensive.

"I don't know where he's coming up with these broad-brush statements of absurd things about my collusion with big-time corruption," Eckert said. "I didn't cause these grievances. It's his behavior. This young man is not taking care of his duties. He wants to blame everybody else but he needs to take responsibility for his actions and his office. I have not conspired against him. I have a full-time job leading the city and I'm embarrassed by what is going on the last few days."

The grievance by union President Scott Alexander, on behalf of the four union positions in Cook's office, states: "City Clerk Dallas Cook continues to harass bargaining unit employees by making disparaging comments about employees' personal character, screaming and hollering at times about both work and non-work issues."

The grievance also said Cook threatens to "send employees home who ask questions he doesn't know the answer to and also threatens termination to employees who do not agree with his methods of operating the clerk's office, etc."

Last week, the union filed a grievance stating Cook violated the workers collective bargaining agreement with the city for appointing Michael Hagberg, who is not a union member, to be assistant city clerk.

Under Cook's direction, Hagberg reported to work Monday, but a lack of cooperation from union and other city employees -- including a call to police -- forced Hagberg to stay home Tuesday.

The union has said Cook failed to follow proper job posting and bidding procedures.

And, the union will have a member report to Cook's office Wednesday to fill the vacancy.

A memo from Jim Schneider, director of human resources, states the city posted the position from Aug. 13-15 and four employees in the bargaining unit applied for the position.

Jennifer Starnes, who currently works for the city's Engineering Department, was the senior qualified bidder. Her pay would be $16 per hour.

Cook said he intends to have Hagberg fill the position. He plans to ask Starnes to leave if she shows up for work on Wednesday.

"I'll ask her politely to leave because I've appointed someone," Cook said, "but I will not call the police on her."

When Hagberg reported to City Hall on Monday morning for what he believed to be his first day of work, an administrative assistant from the Human Resources Department asked him to leave and ultimately called police.

At least five Belleville Police Department officers responded about 8 a.m. Monday to the clerk's office after Peggy Hartmann said a man -- who was not a city worker -- was behind the counter and refused to leave.

Listen to Peggy Hartmann's call to police

The officers left after Cook explained that Hagberg was there at Cook's behest, and Cook had informed city leaders the appointment would be effective Monday.

Hartmann's call to police prompted some aldermen to ask at a City Council meeting Monday night for an independent investigation.

Ward 5 Alderman Joe Hayden asked why police officers were called to act on a union and personnel issue under the guise of a distress call from City Hall.

The call pulls necessary police manpower from patrolling or responding to more serious incidents, Hayden said. And, an officer responding quickly to what was believed an attack at City Hall could have resulted in injuries to motorists and officers themselves.

Someone could have had a heart attack responding to a call of such magnitude, Hayden said.

The decision to call police may stem from an abuse of power by Eckert for interfering in another elected official's office, Hayden said.

Right before the call, Eckert told Hartmann to call police if any employees felt unsafe.

Eckert also spoke briefly on the phone with Cook before Hartmann called police. Eckert asked Cook to hold off on appointing someone until Cook discusses the matter with the City Council.

Cook refused because he believes city code gives him the right to appoint someone and the city's ordinances trumps a union contract.

A part of the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act states that union contracts supersede contrary ordinances related to wages, hours, conditions of employment and employment relations.

It's unclear whether the act relates to this situation.

Cook and Hayden, along with Ward 2 Alderwoman Melinda Hult and Alderwoman-at-Large Lillian Schneider, agree an outside agency needs to investigate.

Cook said the Police Department handled the incident on Monday in a professional manner and he has "all the faith in the world" in Police Chief Bill Clay.

But, Cook said he does not want to place Clay in a position of a conflict of interest where he has to investigate his own boss, the mayor.

Ward 2 Alderwoman Janet Schmidt said she has full faith in the integrity of the Police Department to handle such an investigation.

Cook filed a police report Tuesday with the Belleville Police Department stating that Hartmann falsely reported a threat and Eckert interfered in the City Clerk's Office.

Clay said he will investigate what happened Monday when police were called to City Hall.

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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