The Dearborn Civil Service commission engages in heated debate Thursday about a motion to fire the city’s human resources director, Val Murphy-Goodrich (right). Clockwise from left are Commissioners Jim Pietz, Margaret Schaefer, Kathy Mackie, and Michael Berry followed by Celina Juszczyk of the Human Resources Department, Murphy-Goodrich and City Attorney Kim Craig.
By J. PATRICK PEPPER
DEARBORN — The normally staid proceedings of the Civil Service Commission exploded last week with accusations of political meddling and calls for at least two people to resign from their positions with the city.
The imbroglio ignited at the end of the commission’s regularly scheduled meeting Thursday when Commissioner Margaret Schaefer made a motion to fire city Human Resources Director Valerie Murphy-Goodrich.
Schaefer said she contacted Murphy-Goodrich earlier in the week requesting her resignation. Because Murphy-Goodrich didn’t submit the resignation prior to the commission’s meeting, Schaefer made the motion to fire her, she said.
“As a commission member I have asked Val Murphy-Goodrich to resign her position as HR director,” Schaefer explained. “She has declined that. I assume I am asking for her termination of employment.”
Murphy-Goodrich, whose position is appointed by the commission, asked commission Chairwoman Kathy Mackie to postpone taking action because it wasn’t on the meeting’s agenda, meaning that people who wanted to speak on the matter could be deprived of the opportunity.
“I’m asking for your indulgence, should you wish to continue (with her termination), of putting it on the agenda for the next meeting,” Murphy-Goodrich said.
Mackie not only was receptive to Murphy-Goodrich’s idea, she expressed shock at Schaefer’s motion.
“I didn’t hear anything about this until now, and I am very disappointed with Commissioner Schaefer,” Mackie said.
Mackie then went on to question whether reporters who were in the audience had received permission to record the proceedings. She called one reporter to the microphone to identify himself and then asked two other people who were recording to state their names for the record.
Commissioner Michael Berry told Mackie that the public proceedings could be recorded per the state’s Open Meetings Act, and said the press has a right to attend.
“They have a right,” Mackie replied. “However, with the last comment that was made by Commissioner Schaefer, I think something stinks, and I don’t like it.”
Murphy-Goodrich’s husband, Steve Goodrich, then stepped up to the microphone to address the situation. He said it was a “sad spectacle” that the politics of the City Council had come to influence the commission, a body that is supposed to be free of political influences.
His comments alluded to the controversy surrounding the commission since March, when Council President Thomas Tafelski outed former commission member Marjorie Powell for failing to take her oath of office. Tafelski has said he noticed the discrepancy when he was going over a roster of the commission and subsequently raised the issue with the city Legal Department.
However, others say it was a politically motivated response to a decision by the commission that Tafelski didn’t like. The commission is an unpaid board that oversees nonadministrative employment decisions within the city. Its five members comprise two mayoral appointees, two City Council appointees and one appointee by the commission itself.
Irrespective of motives, the revelation resulted in Powell’s seat being vacated and left the commission without a fifth member. Since then, three of the remaining commission members – council appointees Schafer and Jim Pietz and mayoral appointee Michael Berry – have expressed concern that Murphy-Goodrich inappropriately may have steered the committee when members voted to reappoint Powell in the first place.
The general complaint was that Murphy-Goodrich didn’t make them aware that they could appoint whomever they wanted and presented Powell, one of her fellow Rotary Club members, as the only option.
Despite the concerns, Schaefer could not get support for her motion to fire Murphy-Goodrich and withdrew it. Then things got tenser.
“Is that supposed to make things better?” Mackie said, looking at Schaefer sitting directly next to her. “Margaret, you knowingly ran for a political office which is directly related to our charter – that you are not supposed to be involved in politics,” she said, referencing Schaefer’s winning bid to be a Republican precinct delegate subsequent resignation from that post after being informed of the conflict.
“Yes, you resigned, but we are supposed to be a nonbiased, nonpolitical group, and I am very, very disappointed,” Mackie said.
The room became an echo chamber. Schaefer reiterated she was withdrawing the motion, and Mackie again asked if that was supposed to make things better. Again, Schaefer said she had withdrawn the motion.
“I am very disappointed,” Mackie said, her voice reaching crescendo as she scolded Schaefer. “I move that Margaret Schaefer be removed from the commission because she knowingly ran for a political office, won the political office and then resigned.”
Berry tried to bring some order back to the meeting and requested a three-month hiatus before the commission makes any further decisions – on Schaefer or on Murphy-Goodrich.
“I think this is getting out of hand right now,” he said. “We could use some cooling-off time.”
Mackie agreed to the hiatus and withdrew her motion to remove Schaefer. The commission then voted unanimously to approve the hiatus.
Murphy-Goodrich declined comment after the meeting. Schaefer did not return a telephone call seeking comment for this story before press time.