By Rosemary K. Otzman
At the end of Monday’s regular city council meeting, Belleville Mayor Kerreen Conley said she thought she should remind voters why the Civil Service Commission language is on the Nov. 4 ballot.
“It’s been a long time since we approved that for the ballot and I want to remind the public why we did that,” Mayor Conley said, referring to the June 16 council meeting. “We talked about it at length then.”
She said the number of employees covered by the CSC is down to one and having the CSC is not efficient.
“It’s really an antiquated system for dealing with employees,” Conley went on.
She said, actually, CSC members are volunteers and not necessarily up to date on new laws. She said, then, there is the cost of maintaining decisions the CSC has made, which has impact on the citizens.
[Actually, the city council has failed to act one way or the other on the last two recommendations sent to them by the CSC.] Conley said the charter provides that the city manager is the personnel director.
The Civil Service Commission part of the charter says: “The city manager shall act as the Personnel Director and Secretary of the Commission and shall perform such duties and responsibilities as shall be determined by the Commission.”
Conley said because of the way things are working out the city won’t see a full-time person in the Public Works position and, “We’ll see what to do about a police chief.”
Currently retired Police Chief Hal Berriman has been filling in as police chief part time since April, longer than the 90 days permitted by the CSC part of the charter.
Employees covered by the Belleville CSC as it was approved in 1982, were anyone not covered by a union.
“This is not a personal attack on anyone,” Conley said, “just a more-efficient way to handle employees.”
She noted that city Clerk/Treasurer Lisa Long is the only person left under CSC. Long has worked for the city for 27 years, the last six as clerk.
When the ballot language was announced earlier this year, Conley said Long will become an at-will employee if voters approve removing the Civil Service Commission chapter from the charter.
Conley said people have asked her if there aren’t other things that need to be changed in the charter and she agreed there were since the charter is “antiquated.”
She said it’s a pretty big cost to redo the charter and so they won’t get into that now.
“I thought it was important to remind people why we put that on the ballot,” Conley concluded.
Belleville resident George Chedraue, an attorney and former council member, said there is a perception in the community that this is on the ballot “because of what happened to Gene and Keith,” referring to retired Police Chief Gene Taylor and retired DPW Director Keith Boc.
“What happened to Gene and Keith?” asked Conley, although she had been sitting in the council chambers when both had their appeal sessions on health care earlier this year before the CSC, which voted in favor of the employees.
Chedraue said the city manager went to the CSC “because Gene wanted to keep working” and they wanted him out.
Chedraue referred to the incident where City Manager Diana Kollmeyer demoted Taylor from chief to sergeant for six months before the CSC told her to reinstate him.
“For any other employee, there’s a grievance process outside the public arena,” Conley said. “When it’s before the Civil Service Commission, it’s a public meeting.
“It’s not uncommon for a person to be disciplined and that to be reduced [after a grievance is filed],” she said. “It’s a little more awkward for an employer and employee in public.
“I don’t know what you mean by the Keith issue,” Conley added.
Conley said the charter said it will use the “scientific method” and it’s gotten away from that and migrated from what it was.
Actually, the charter reads: “The purpose of the Chapter [on Civil Service] is to establish a civil service system based on merit principles and scientific methods …”
Chedraue questioned the financial implications that Conley had mentioned.
Conley replied the CSC dealt with work hours, compensation plan, positions and other things, but not the details of pay.
Conley spoke of the CSC in the past tense. There no longer are any CSC members since the mayor failed to replace the two members who resigned shortly after the Taylor and Boc hearings [Michael Loria and Roy Acho] and refused to reappoint 20-year member Don Bluhm, whose term expired May 31.
At the June 16 council meeting, Councilman Thomas Fielder said he doesn’t want people to think this charter change is a “stealth project” and when it gets closer to the election they should have a meeting with discussion so people in favor and opposed to the change can speak. But, no meeting was ever scheduled.
“The attitude shouldn’t be that the council is changing the charter,” Councilman Fielder said.
The chairman of the City Charter Commission in 1981-2 was Richard Smith who recently, along with the 20-year CSC member Bluhm, published a letter to the Independent urging city voters not to approve the ballot question that aims to remove the CSC from the charter.
In other business at Monday’s 40-minute public meeting, the council:
• Approved the request of the Canton Lions Club to fund raise on Main Street between Five Points and Third from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 24. The Lions Club supports the blind and hearing impaired. Bill Van Winkle said the Lions members are getting on in years and wanted to fund raise during good weather, before it gets too cold. “Belleville people are very generous to us,” he added;
• Approved on a 4-1 vote the Black Magic Ball on the Fourth Street Square on from 5-8 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 26, put on by the Belleville Community Chorus. Claudia Roullier was present to make the request. The request was taken off the last council agenda because no one from the chorus was present, as required. Beer and wine will be provided by Egan’s Pub. Councilwoman Kim Tindall always votes against serving alcoholic beverages on city property;
• Approved the 1-Mile Dash in Disguise by the Plymouth YMCA from 9 to 10 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 25, leading into the already approved CAF5 pancake breakfast at the Fourth Street Square. The costumed event starts at 9 a.m. at the Horizon Park gazebo. Karen Mida presented the event to the council and said, “We don’t have alcohol or anything” and the walk will be on the sidewalks, with reserve police officers on hand to guide walkers safely across Main Street at about Second Street;
• Approved Rodney Herald’s request for the Lunch Box to hold free hayrides on Halloween, Oct. 31, following the Trick or Treating downtown. They plan to give rides from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. from the Lunch Box parking lot on Liberty Street;
• Was informed the approved parking signs will be put up on one side of the streets in the Harbour Pointe subdivision by the end of the week. This is intended to control traffic, especially during Halloween, so emergency vehicles have room to enter and leave the housing complex;
• Heard council members praise the Zombie Run held the previous week end that was put on by two BHS New Tech students and the Belleville Downtown Development Authority and had more than 180 registered runners. Mayor Conley said the students put on a Zombie University before the race and taught participants what to wear and how not to scare people;
• Approved $205,144.40 in accounts payable, including the following departmental purchases in excess of $500: Alpha Psychological Services, new police officer evaluation, $695; Council of Western Wayne, membership dues of $3,406; Jack Doheny, sweeper repair, $1,001.25; Emergency Services Marketing, subscription fee, $725; Farmer Underwood, maintenance, water, $653.82; Hennessey, S-2 grant, water, $1,886.29 and sewer rehab, water, $943.50; Hydro Design, inspection, water, $3,450; Oakland Co. Treasurer, membership, police, $2,443.25; Osborne, foundations, cemetery, $610.70; and Wayne County Accounts Receivable, Dickerson Facility, police, $1,225;
• Heard former councilman Brian Blackburn and his wife talk of the need for street lights between Victoria Commons and Five Points, since it is very dark in the morning when teenagers have to walk from the subdivision to the high school along that route. The sidewalk between Davenport’s new plaza and the railroad tracks is unfinished and students are stumbling into mud puddles in the dark along that route. Fire Chief Brian Loranger said the park along that route is dark, also. Blackburn said they will contact School Supt. Michael Van Tassel about the problem and Mayor Conley said the city will look into it; and
• Went into closed-door session to discuss the status and strategy of pending union negotiations.
By Rosemary K. Otzman