Belleville

August 20, 2014

Union drops grievances against Belleville city clerk

City clerical employees on Wednesday dropped a union grievance a day after alleging that Belleville City Clerk Dallas Cook harasses them.

Scott Alexander, business agent for Teamsters Local Union 50, said he and Cook resolved issues mentioned in a grievance -- which asked for a $25,000 settlement -- that Alexander filed on behalf of three union workers in the Clerk's Office.

"We came to an agreement we were all OK with and decided to move forward," Alexander said.

Alexander referred comments to the three union workers in the Clerk's Office when asked whether the employees continue to feel that Cook is "making disparaging comments about employees' personal character, screaming and hollering at times about both work and non-work issues."

Cook has said the allegations are false.

Cook said Wednesday he believes the grievance was filed in retaliation after he appointed a non-union member, Michael Hagberg, to fill an assistant city clerk vacancy.

"I'm disappointed they went to that extent to hurt my character," Cook said. "These allegations were drummed up so there would be a newspaper article. It was a dirty, political attack to hurt me and my father."

Cook's father, former Belleville mayor Rodger Cook, is running for St. Clair County treasurer in the Nov. 4 election.

The union dropped the grievance after Cook agreed Wednesday to accept Jennifer Starnes, an employee in the city's Engineering Department, as the qualified bidder for the position.

"The fact those allegations were dropped only goes to show that it wasn't factual," Cook said. "It was done to force my hand and hurt my character."

Cook said he accepts Starnes in his office and believes she is qualified for the job.

Cook initially informed city officials of his intent to appoint Hagberg, a resident who ran for Ward 5 alderman in the April 2013 election. This prompted the union to file a first grievance last week.

Cook continues to believe he had the right to appoint an assistant city clerk, in accordance with city ordinance. He asks that the City Council works to resolve the discrepancy between the ordinance and the collective bargaining agreement.

The union agreement states the assistant city clerk position is a union position and any job opening should go through proper posting and bidding procedures.

Cook said he did not want to fight the union grievance because it would cause further damage to his reputation and cost taxpayers money.

The assistant city clerk position should not be a union position anyway, Cook said, because it is a management position and places the assistant in a position where he or she has to manage union peers.

When Hagberg reported to the Clerk's Office for work on Monday, a human resources assistant reported to police that a non-employee was behind the counter at City Hall and prompted at least five officers to respond.

Cook and some aldermen have said the employee made a false report and they continue to ask for an independent investigation into the matter.

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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