By BOB OLIVER
DEARBORN — City Council President Thomas Tafelski has written to Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette to investigate whether Corporation Council Debra Walling violated the city charter by engaging in political activity while on the clock for the city.
Tafelski said Walling authored a prepared statement regarding candidate endorsement that Councilwoman Nancy Hubbard began reading during the Oct. 8 city council meeting.
The city charter states that “while on duty, no political activity shall occur during working hours by public officers or employees.”
In a statement regarding the incident released on Oct. 14, Tafelski said “It is clear from audio and video of the Oct. 8 meeting that Ms. Walling provided Ms. Hubbard, at her city council seat, an envelope containing a statement regarding political activity.”
He added that he thought that the envelope contained verbiage compelling Hubbard to violate the city charter “without her consent.”
Tafelski said he did not blame Hubbard for any wrongdoing in the incident.
“I admire the public service of retiring Councilwoman Hubbard and cannot take serious issue with the remarks she started to make, considering the very difficult position that she was placed in,” Tafelski said. “She has, in fact, for more than 60 years, been on the frontlines of helping build a great community as a volunteer, city employee and, of course, an elected official.”
The incident in question occurred at the conclusion of the Oct. 8 meeting when Hubbard said she had “something to read” and announced that a group called Let’s Reclaim Dearborn had distributed an email that said she was endorsing certain city council candidates that she was not endorsing in the November election.
“This group did not tell me about its intentions and used my good name to try and mislead Dearborn voters,” Hubbard said.
Hubbard began to discuss who had contacted her for endorsement when Talefski cut her off then by stating that a city council meeting was not the place to discuss election endorsements and that it was against the rules established by the city’s Ethics Commission.
“I’m sorry, but this is political in nature and we are at a governmental function,” Tafelski said.
The issue was deferred to Walling, who stated that she had been made aware of the email Hubbard received and decided to look up the rules in the city charter regarding election comments made by someone who is not on the ballot.
Hubbard, who has been on the city council since 1990, is not seeking re-election and will leave when her term ends in December.
“I don’t know what she (Hubbard) is about to say, but I thought she was just going to mention the fact that whatever is going on on the Internet with respect to this particular piece is false,” Walling said. “I don’t know what else she is going to say.”
Walling admitted that the discussion was “unusual” for a council meeting.
“It’s highly unusual,” Tafelski answered. “We have to be careful. We have to have some integrity up here as a governing body.”
The day following the meeting, Tafelski said he planned to file an ethics grievance against Walling because he believed her to be the author of the statement read by Hubbard.
Walling has denied any wrongdoing in the incident.
“I did not write that for Councilwoman Hubbard and she did not ask me to write anything for her,” Walling said. “I fully admit to being handed that folder as I was walking into the council chambers to put it on Nancy Hubbard’s desk, but I did not write anything.”
Walling stated that the folder she placed on Hubbard’s desk was handed to her from Police Chief Ronald Haddad as she was walking into the council chambers.
Walling added that she had been in contact with Hubbard that morning about the email but was not in the office that day.
“I got a copy of (the Let’s Reclaim Dearborn message) in my private email and I was concerned that she may have been a victim of some sort of identity theft,” Walling said. “I called her and she was not even aware of it. I wanted to make sure that somebody wasn’t misappropriating her image.”
Walling said she informed Tafelski she did not write the statement and that she was not in the office on Oct. 8. She added that her integrity as corporation counsel was very important to her, as was having the confidence of the entire city council.
Tafelski called the incident a “glaring breach of ethics” and said he was filing an ethics complaint “based upon the behavior and actions by the city attorney, Debra Walling, as well as by others — soon to be named — within the administration of Dearborn Mayor (John) O’Reilly (Jr.).”
Tafelski added that he contacted the state Attorney General’s Office about investigating the incident because the Ethics Commission, which normally would investigate the case, is under the domain of the Law Department. Walling is the head of the Law Department.
(Bob Oliver can be reached at [email protected])