Oakland County's top assessor on leave amid probe of worker complaints

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Pontiac — The county's top assessing officer has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an internal investigation into employee complaints. 

David Hieber, manager of Oakland County's Equalization Department, was sent home from work last month over the unspecified complaints, said Bill Mullan, a spokesman for Oakland County Executive David Coulter. 

“Oakland County Human Resources Department has placed Equalization Officer David Hieber on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of a Human Resources investigation of employee complaints,” Mullan said. “No further information will be released while the investigation is ongoing.”

Hieber, who has worked for the county for 27 years — the last 19 years as equalization director — could not be reached by The Detroit News for comment. County officials in and outside of Hieber's office would not discuss the nature of the grievances.

Attorney Nakeisha Chaney, who said she is representing Hieber in his suspension, noted her client “can’t comment about an open investigation.”

“Mr. Hieber stands firm in the knowledge that he performed his job well, with integrity and with a deep respect and integrity for Oakland County, its residents and its employees," she said. 

Chaney declined to answer questions regarding what prompted the investigation or her client’s suspension.

The Equalization Department handles assessments and evaluations of all commercial, private and residential property for the purposes of county taxes. Hieber, whose annual salary is $138,323, supervises 83 employees.

The suspension comes as some previously unrepresented government employees in Oakland County have been signing up with UAW Local 889 to represent them in labor matters.

Oakland County Deputy Executive April Lynch said those signups began over a year ago and the county has been supportive of workers seeking to join unions. She said there have been about 700 new union members across 12 departments in the county clerk's office, courts, health and human services, sheriff's office, water resources commission, facilities and central garage.

Joe Rozell, director of elections for the Oakland County Clerk's Office, has been involved in the unionization of some county workers. He declined to comment on those efforts and told The News that the union also was "not interested" in talking about it. 

"I’ve spoken with the UAW International Representative and he indicated that the union has no comment," Rozell added in an email. 

Oakland County Undersheriff Michael McCabe confirmed Tuesday that two plainclothes detectives stood by in the county's equalization offices on Oct. 21 as Hieber was informed he was being relieved of duties. McCabe had no additional information on the matter.

The county in recent weeks conducted a "workplace culture survey" to identify any concerns workers in 21 county departments might have about their work environment, including leadership and whether they have heard racial, ethnic, or gender-based jokes, language, or remarks in their departments. 

There are about 3,300 employees in full-time positions in county offices and more than 1,000 more holding part-time jobs. About 40% of the county's workforce is not represented by any bargaining unit.

The 22-page, 55-question workplace survey was conducted from Sept. 27 to Nov. 5 and covered worker satisfaction and matters of racial, ethnic and cultural differences, including sexual orientation.

The survey was “100% voluntary and confidential” and workers remain anonymous, Lynch recently told The News.

Workers were given the option of completing the survey online while at work or after hours and also printing out the survey and submitting a paper copy of their responses, said Lynch, who oversees human resources for the county.

Mullan said a third-party vendor will conduct randomized employee focus groups in January. The data will be analyzed at the end of February and the beginning of March.

"Once we have the report following that analysis, it will be our launching point to create a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Action Plan," Mullan said. 

mmartindale@detroitnews.com

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