Depositions ordered in Civil Service Commission lawsuit

By J. PATRICK PEPPER
Times-Herald Newspapers

DETROIT — Some of Dearborn’s top officials will be questioned under oath in a lawsuit alleging that the city selectively enforces its oath-taking protocols, a Wayne County judge ruled last week.

City Council President Thomas Tafelski and City Clerk Kathleen Buda are among those who will face deposition, along with Human Resources Director Valerie Murphy-Goodrich and Civil Service Commissioner Kathy Mackie. Also facing deposition is the plaintiff in the case, Joanne Arrick, and the person at the center of the suit, longtime Civil Service Commissioner and former City Council President Marjorie Powell.

The suit, filed late last month, alleges the city did not give Powell the same consideration it has given to other city appointees who didn’t take their oaths of office within the 10-day window prescribed by the city charter.

Powell was reappointed to the commission in May 2009, but never took her oath. Tafelski brought the matter to light in May after he discovered the discrepancy while going over a roster of commission members.

City Attorney Debra Walling said at the time that there were two options to remedy the situation: either the commission could reappoint Powell, or the council could vote to extend her oath-taking window.

The latter was the preferred course of action, Walling said, because it would prevent any claim that decisions made by the commission while Powell wasn’t officially a member were null and void. Moreover, reappointing Powell would confirm that her position was in fact vacant, and would raise questions of when her term should expire, Walling reasoned.

But the commission took the matter to vote anyway and ended with a 2-2 split, meaning the motion to reappoint failed, and that her seat technically remained vacant. At a subsequent meeting, the council was asked to extend the oath-taking window and voted 4-2 against it.

Arrick, a Dearborn resident and friend of Powell’s, filed the suit under a legal doctrine that, in general, allows any person to file a lawsuit demanding their government show by what authority they took a specific action.

Arrick’s attorney, Morris Goodman, who also is a friend of Powell’s, said in a previous interview that he found the timing of Tafelski’s discovery curious, as it happened just days after the Powell-chaired commission denied an employee transfer Tafelski had sought. Goodman said at the time that he wanted to question Tafelski about when he knew of Powell’s oath status, and whether he was using that fact as retaliation against her. Also on Goodman’s deposition list is Buda.

Tafelski declined to comment Thursday, citing the ongoing litigation.

City attorneys meanwhile, will question Arrick, Powell, Mackie and Murphy-Goodrich. The depositions are scheduled for Oct. 19, and a hearing on those depositions is scheduled for Nov. 9.