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Published: Thursday, 4/18/2013

Copeland won’t quit union job

County recorder seeks new term as business manager

Phil Copeland is applauded by his daughter Sarah Copeland, after being sworn in as Lucas County recorder by Toledo Municipal Court Judge C. Allen McConnell, right, at One Government Center in Toledo, Friday, January 4, 2013. Phil Copeland is applauded by his daughter Sarah Copeland, after being sworn in as Lucas County recorder by Toledo Municipal Court Judge C. Allen McConnell, right, at One Government Center in Toledo, Friday, January 4, 2013.

Four months after promising to step down from his job running Local 500 of the Laborers International Union of North America, Lucas County Recorder Phil Copeland has decided to seek another three-year term as the union's business manager while continuing as recorder.

Mr. Copeland's decision to try to retain his union job irked the union's vice president, David Fleetwood, who said it's wrong for Mr. Copeland to keep both jobs. On March 30, he informed Mr. Copeland he was going to challenge him for business manager in the upcoming union election.

Mr. Copeland promptly fired Mr. Fleetwood from his $95,000 job as business agent, which comes with a vehicle and telephone.

In a recording of the local's April 3 executive committee meeting provided to The Blade, Mr. Copeland explained to the rest of the board why he had “laid off” Mr. Fleetwood.

“He's running for business manager, and I ain't going to pay anybody to run for business manager against me, so I laid him off,” Mr. Copeland is heard saying. He told the members Mr. Fleetwood would have done the same if their roles were reversed.

Mr. Copeland, 67, confirmed Wednesday that he terminated Mr. Fleetwood as an issue of “trust and loyalty.”

“I sure did lay him off, because I couldn't trust him no more,” Mr. Copeland said.

Though he laid Mr. Fleetwood off, Mr. Copeland supported giving him two months’ extra tenure so he would qualify for a five-year severance payment. He also said he has loaned Mr. Fleetwood money on several occasions to make his house payments.

Mr. Fleetwood said he didn't think he would do the same thing if he had been in Mr. Copeland’s shoes.

“My trust and loyalty is to the local,” Mr. Fleetwood responded Wednesday.

Mr. Copeland, a Democrat, was elected to the county seat in November, defeating Republican George Sarantou, for the job that is responsible for recording mortgages, liens, and deeds.

The job is one that supporters of a county reform charter have said should be converted to an appointed position.

Mr. Copeland is paid $126,127 as Local 500's business manager and $71,286 as county recorder.

In December, Mr. Copeland told The Blade he would give up the union post even though the recorder's job is not a full-time position.

He said this week that he still has things he wants to accomplish as business manager, including building a training center near Local 500’s Ashland Avenue offices.

“I said I was going to retire but I didn't give a date. I said I still had some things I had to do,” including building a new training center, Mr. Copeland said this week.

Mr. Copeland had told The Blade four months ago: “I don’t have a date when I am going to retire. It might be a couple or few months after I take office."

Mr. Fleetwood, 53, said the local can't afford the nearly $2 million training facility that he said Mr. Copeland has in mind.

He said Local 500 needs a business manager who has the time to go out and visit job sites where its members work.

“The members deserve a full-time business manager, and you're downtown part of the day, you're cheating the members,” Mr. Fleetwood said.

Mr. Copeland disagreed.

“If you have to go out and do that work, you don't need the business agents. [The business manager] meets with contractors trying to get the members some work. What I'm trying to do is look ahead to our survival,” Mr. Copeland said.

Local 500 is scheduled to meet today for officer nominations, and is likely to vote later in the spring — typically on the Sunday before Memorial Day.

Contact Tom Troy at: tomtroy@theblade.com or 419-724-6058.

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