Belleville resident Rose Wilson told City Council members that she is “disturbed” by the way City Clerk Dallas Cook allows his friends into his office, while Cook replied, “Anybody in the public is welcome in my office at any time.”
The exchange between Wilson and Cook took place during a City Council meeting last week.
“I am very disturbed by the issue and the fact that there is a pattern developing,” Wilson told the aldermen. “It’s been noted that frequently other people have access to this office. Frequently.”
“This is a crazy dream of one person to try to hurt me. That’s OK. I understand,” Cook said in reply.
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In December 2013, Wilson also told aldermen about her complaints about Cook.
In interviews following last week’s meeting, Wilson and Cook further explained their positions.
Wilson, who said she has been attending City Council meetings for nearly 30 years, including when Cook’s father Roger Cook was mayor in the 1990s, said she is concerned that private financial information of residents who write checks for their trash and sewer bills may be viewed and lead to a case of identity theft.
Cook said Wilson owes his office an apology and said his office doesn’t handle checks like this.
“Mrs. Wilson stated that we get all the checks. No, we do not. We do not cash any checks or receive any,” Cook said. “That’s all in the treasurer’s office.”
Wilson also said she was concerned that Michael Hagberg, a former City Council candidate and friend of Cook, was allowed in the clerk’s vault.
For his part, Hagberg told the council that he did not see any private information. He declined further comment on the advice of his attorney.
Cook said Hagberg only viewed public information about Tax Increment Financing records. Cook said Hagberg visits the office about once a month.
“I’m totally for public involvement, so someone like Michael, to me, is an asset to the city,” Cook said. When people like Hagberg ask for records about the city, Cook said he does what he can to help them understand the city’s business.
“As long as that document can be legally provided to that person, or can be legally viewed by that person, meaning it doesn’t have any private information, then I do everything I can, above and beyond, because he took his time to come here, out of his day to come and be involved. I think that’s what we want. That’s what we need.”
The clerk’s vault mostly contains records such as minutes from City Council and Belleville Township meetings, copies of all the city ordinances, TIF records, annual reports and contracts with the Illinois Department of Transportation, Cook said.
In August, Cook decided to appoint Hagberg as his assistant, but Hagberg was only there one day. Cook said Hagberg did not have access to any city computers on this day.
Hagberg was not a union member, and a city union filed a grievance against Cook. The union dropped the grievance and Cook agreed to hire Jennifer Starnes as his assistant. She previously served in the city’s Engineering Department.
Cook, who was elected in April 2013, said he had the right to appoint an assistant city clerk, in accordance with city ordinance, but the union agreement states the assistant city clerk position is a union position.
When Hagberg reported for work, 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.