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Gippert files ethics complaint against Forest Park mayor

By Kathy Jefcoats

kjefcoats@news-daily.com

FOREST PARK — Mike Gippert, mayoral candidate and retired public works director, filed an ethics complaint against Mayor David Lockhart Wednesday morning.

The complaint, filed in the city clerk's office, alleges Lockhart violated two sections of the city charter and one section of the city's code of ethics provisions. The allegations concern giving directives and orders to personnel, which violates sections 2.15 and 2.44 of the charter, according to Gippert's complaint.

The first allegation directly involves Gippert. He alleges that Lockhart ordered then-City Manager John Parker to terminate Gippert. Parker retired Friday after his third stint as city manager.

"(Lockhart) told Mr. Parker that he did not want me to draw another paycheck from the City," stated the complaint. "There existed no emergency situation at the time said order was given by the Mayor. The ordering of John Parker to terminate me is a violation of Section 2.44 of the City Charter which prohibits any member of the Council from giving orders to a City employee, except in emergency situations."

That allegation is also part of a two-page anonymous document left in front of City Hall last month. Lockhart denounced the missive as "trash" and "lies" but Gippert said at the time that that allegation was true.

Lockhart was able to use city surveillance cameras to identify two women who left a box filled with copies of the document. He then filed a libel suit against them. He added Gippert as a defendant after Gippert defended the women in an interview with the Clayton News Daily. Gippert also acknowledged he was the one who gave the women a copy of the document, which had been left anonymously on his front porch.

Gippert and the women have denied writing the missive.

In the complaint, Gippert alleges in May Lockhart ordered Jan Young, an executive assistant to have Human Resources Director Christine Terrell to advertise for Gippert's position after he announced his retirement. Gippert alleges the act to be tantamount to usurping the authority of the city manager.

"There existed no emergency situation at that time," said Gippert.

In June, Gippert alleges, Lockhart ordered Management Analyst Angela Redding to have the promotion of Regina Ivey to deputy finance director rescinded by Terrell and for Terrell to re-advertise the position. Gippert said Ivey was promoted by City Clerk and Finance Director Mike Blandenburg, a move approved by Parker.

Gippert said Wednesday he just wants to see justice done.

"He's going against the Code of Ethics for the city of Forest Park," said Gippert. "He needs to be held accountable for his actions, which are unbecoming of a person in the mayor's position."

Lockhart, who is a lawyer, should have known better, he said.

"You would think for a lawyer, he'd have read the charter prior to running for office," said Gippert. "It is online."

Lockhart denied all the allegations, saying he specifically told employees that he would not issue orders, so there would be no misunderstandings.

"I sent out an email to all department heads, telling them that no matter what I say or what it sounds like I'm saying, I'm not giving orders," he said. "Orders come from the city manager."

Lockhart said he did not usurp anyone's authority.

"I deny all the allegations in that complaint," he said, "as far as they are violations of the code of ethics."

He also expressed disappointment in the action.

"We are coming to the end of staffing changes and I hoped to start seeing positive news coming from Forest Park," said Lockhart. "If Mr. Gippert is going to run for mayor, I guess, step one, expect more controversy. I'm disappointed about that."

Although anything can happen between now and August when qualifying begins for municipal races, Lockhart said he plans to run for re-election.

"As it stands today, yes, I plan to run," he said. "But that could change. I lost my crystal ball years ago."

Procedurally, the complaint will go to the ethics committee, one of the members of which is Joe Wimberly, stepfather to Ward 1 Councilman Tommy Smith. The committee will then meet to appoint a hearing officer to take testimony and evidence. The hearing officer makes a recommendation to the city council, which votes on what action to take, if any.

The city held an ethics hearing in spring 2011, which resulted in the ousting of Ward 2 Councilwoman Karen-Brandee Williams. Part of the allegations against Williams was that she ordered city workers to perform certain duties.