By ZEINAB NAJM
HEIGHTS — Former Police Chief Mark Meyers began the process to appeal his February termination, citing it was involuntary and in violation of state Act 78 of 1935.
Meyers was terminated by Mayor Bill Bazzi and Human Resources Director Margaret Hazlett during a private meeting Feb. 24. Bazzi then announced the appointment of new Police Chief Jerrod Hart.
The city maintains it had the authority to terminate him.
A hearing was held March 24 at Meyers’ request in front of Act 78 Police & Fire Civil Service Commission Secretary Stephen Lobkovich and Commissioner Stephen Popp.
Resident Rachel LaPointe live streamed the meeting on her Facebook page. Popp started the meeting by saying that as the commission, the hearing was being held based on Act 78.
“Act 78 says all full-time paid members appointed in the fire and police departments are entitled to the Act 78 provisions,” he said. “So, we are basing that hearing on this. There are no exclusions for anybody that is full time and paid in the fire and police department based on Act 78.
“Until there is evidence presented to us that, that is not the case that something supersedes this law right here, we are going to follow through with our hearing.”
Representatives from the city were not in attendance at the meeting, but were notified through the proper manner with a certified letter. Popp said the city responded saying they were not going to attend the hearing and that they wanted to cancel the hearing.
Commission President Martin Crandall was supposed to run the hearing but was terminated from the commission March 23, Popp said. Lobkovich said he didn’t know if they were allowed to discuss the termination, and that it was a separate issue.
Meyers presented his side of the appeal starting with his history, stating he was hired in August 1997 under Act 78, just as every police officer has been since Act 78 was adopted by Dearborn Heights residents in 1978.
Following Act 78, the Dearborn Heights Police Officers Association collective bargaining agreement — the police officer bargaining agreement — ended the Dearborn Heights Police Supervisors Association collective bargaining agreement, Meyers said.
“I have tested and promoted through every single rank of this department in conjunction with both of those CBAs and Public Act 78,” he said. “This includes deputy chief and chief positions.”
Meyers went on to cite an article from the Dearborn Heights Police Supervisors Association which reads, “There shall be automatic progression for the rank of deputy chief to chief without further testing, and the union waives the right of and for its members for testing for the rank of chief.”
In May 2020, Meyers was promoted by the then-Mayor Daniel Paletko, and not appointed, which falls within the rules of Act 78, Meyers said.
Next, Meyers detailed his termination when he met with Bazzi and Hazlett.
“They thanked me for my service and that my services were no longer needed, and that I was being removed from my position,” Meyers said.
When he asked what was the cause for his termination, Meyers was told they had the legal right to remove him from the chief position.
“At that day — in the eyes of the city, I believe my employment was terminated without cause,” Meyers said. “I then went to Act 78, section 38.514. In that section it discusses the process to appeal this. According to this section, I followed the rules that are currently in place for Public Act 78 within five days of my separation. It reads in each case where a person sought to be removed desires to file a written answer shall be furnished to the civil service commission and entered upon its record.”
Meyers said he hasn’t received written cause or charges for his dismissal other than what was provided to him at the Feb. 24 meeting where he was told he was being relived of my duties.
That led to his request of the hearing.
“I believe at that time … a certified letter was sent to the mayor’s office asking for a list of those charges and notifying them of this meeting,” Meyers said.
As of the March 24 hearing, Meyers said he had not been provided any type of reason, cause, written notification or anything that is required according to Public Act 78 as part of the process to suspend, remove, discharge him from his position.
“I am here before you today saying that I have followed every provision of Public Act 78,” he said. “At no time have I ever been told, historically through my own knowledge, through past practice of this city that I was an appointed official without Act 78.
“Every single police deputy chief and chief has fallen under Act 78 and promoted to the rank knowing at time of promotion they were protected under Act 78 and the form of the CBA that extended the testing and promotion process.”
Meyers said he believes the city is relying on a section of the charter — Section 5.11 — which speaks to excluding appointed positions including the police chief from the civil service system.
“I do not believe that is applicable given the electors of the city have adopted Public Act 78 police and fire civil service which includes employment of all ranks,” he said. This position was not appointed by the mayor, it was filled exclusively through Act 78 and the CBA. I never signed any agreements that I was appointed or an at-will employee.”
The section titled Civil Service System says that the city council has 180 days after the effective date of the charter to adopt an ordinance proving for a Civil Service System for all of the employees of the city except as otherwise provided in the charter.
Next, the section says, “The ordinance shall contain a provision providing for unclassified service and classified service and shall exclude all of the following officers and employees from the provisions of the Civil Service System, to-wit, all officers of the city whether elected or appointed, all part-time employees, all Board or Commission members appointed directly by the mayor and/or the council, the city Attorney, the city Engineer, the city auditor, the city health officer, the city assessor, the comptroller, the fire department chief, the police department chief and any other head of any other department of the city which are now or may hereafter be created whether specifically mentioned herein or not. The classified service shall include all other positions in the city.”
Following the hearing, Bazzi said Meyers was not part of Act 78, per the city charter citing Section 5.11. He said the city was not in attendance due to that reason, and again said the charter excludes the chief.
Bazzi also said the city advised the commission that the hearing shouldn’t have taken place.
“We follow the charter and we have it for a reason,” he said.
At the hearing, Meyers continued to detail his side, requesting his back pay and for his position with the Police Department to be reinstated as the rules of Act 78 require. He also said the city has met none of its obligations under Act 78, including not replying to the hearing.
“I leave that up to you and I hope you make the right decision,” he said. “At the end of the day, I’m trying to do what is best for me, my family, the citizens of Dearborn Heights and every member that has ever gone through Public Act 78 on the police and fire side, every member that will come through police and fire in the city of Dearborn Heights … but justice is what we’re looking for, and I did not received it under this process at this time.”
In his closing comments, Meyers said that on Feb. 24 he was able to obtain a hard copy of his personnel file with the city dating back to 1997. He said that in his years of service with the department he was never disciplined, counseled, warned or had any remedial training or never has been notified of any missteps and wrong doings.
He said he has one supervisory warning because he showed up 15 minutes late to work.
Popp asked for a copy of the letter from Paletko when Meyers was promoted in 2020 along with the work file, which Meyers agreed to proving both.
At the end of the hearing, Popp said a decision was possible that same afternoon by 2 p.m. but didn’t know if it would happen.
“We want to make whatever decision we make is the right one for you, the city and everybody and addresses our responsibilities to Act 78,” he said.
Popp said that both he and Lobkovich would be out of town the following week so the decision could be delayed if not made this week.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected].)