CRAWFORD COUNTY - One thing is clear neither Crawford County Health Department Director Gloria Wall nor Crawford County Public Health Nurse Judy Powell is currently working for the county health department.
Wall confirmed last week that “I have been retired,” following the actions of the Personnel Committee of the Crawford County Board at a meeting held Tuesday, Nov. 14.
At that meeting, two members of the county board’s health committee, Don Stirling and Wayne Jerrett Jr., were invited to attend. It was reported by people present at the meeting that a vote to terminate Powell was held and that it passed with Jerrett abstaining and Stirling voting no.
Details of the meeting are sketchy. Minutes are not approved as of November 28. Another meeting of the county board personnel committee was scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 29.
Crawford County Clerk Janet Geisler returned from a weeklong vacation on Monday, Nov. 27. The county clerk said the minutes of November 14 meeting could not be released until they are approved and she expected they would be at the meeting this week.
Geisler said the meetings had happened so fast that she had not had time to get the minutes prepared before the next meeting.
When directly asked the current employment status of Wall and Powell, the county clerk declined to comment. She referred those questions to Crawford County Chairperson Tom Cornford and Crawford County Personnel Committee Chairperson Gerald Krachey. Neither Cornford nor Krachey has returned phone calls and messages left at their residences seeking a clarification of the situation.
Additionally, personnel committee members Gari Lorenz and Brad Steiner have also not commented on the situation despite repeated attempts to contact them and messages left on residential phones.
Two county board members did take calls last week. They were County Supervisor Carl Orr (Dist. 6 PdC) and County Supervisor Wayne Jerrett Jr. (Dist. 12 Haney, Scott & Barnum).
“I’m not at liberty to make a comment,” Orr said. “The decision has not been finalized.”
Jerrett, who serves on the county board health committee, described his participation in the county personnel committee of Tuesday, Nov. 14.
Jerrett explained he had “no idea” what was going to happen at the meeting. As a member of the health committee, he was invited to attend the meeting along with fellow health committee member Don Stirling.
Jerrett said he was handed a piece of paper with two or three sentences on it and the names of two people. The county board member said that was the extent of his knowledge of the situation.
When a vote was called for to terminate Powell, Jerrett abstained. Stirling voted no.
“It’s pretty hard to decide how to vote when you’re handed a piece of paper with three sentences on it,” Jerrett said in explaining his decision to abstain.
“I really can't say nothing more,” Jerrett said. “I don’t know what it’s all about.”
Jerrett repeated that all the information received about the situation was three sentences on a piece of paper that he received at the meeting.
On Tuesday, Nov. 28, County Supervisor Larry Kelley (Dist. 12 Seneca & Lynxville) returned a phone call and spoke about the situation involving the two health department employees. Kelley made it clear that he would speak only about things that were part of the public record.
The personnel committee member confirmed that Crawford County Health Department Director Gloria Wall was retired and public health nurse Judy Powell “no longer works for the county.”
Kelley also confirmed the chronology of the meetings that addressed the health department personnel issue.
The issue was initially raised at a special personnel committee meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 18, where the committee discussed the situation involving Powell and Wall and a vacation taken after a deadline. As a result of the discussion, the committee voted to place the two women on paid administrative leave, according to Kelley.
At the regular meeting of the county board personnel committee on Wednesday, Oct. 25, the committee declined to discuss the situation at the health department, when it came up on the agenda.
At a special meeting of the personnel committee on Friday, Nov. 10, there was a discussion of what was a potential violation of work rules by Wall and Powell while they worked at the health department, according to Kelley. The committee then voted unanimously that there had been a violation of work rules. Wall and Powell were informed at this meeting of the potential disciplinary action that might be taken. That action was delayed, when the women requested an informal review of the decision.
On Tuesday, Nov. 14, the informal review was conducted within the required two-work-day limit, according to Kelley.
At this meeting or review, Gloria Wall presented her request for retirement and it was granted. The committee maintained that Powell had violated work rules and decided she should be “discharged,” according to Kelley.
So what’s the basis of dismissing, or “retiring” in one case, these two longtime public health nurses? The issue appears to be Powell taking her vacation time past the deadline with the permission of her supervisor Wall.
Judy Powell explained as an 18-year veteran of the Crawford County Public Health Department, she is entitled to 151 hours of vacation. As the year and a three-month extension on the deadline approached, she had only used 60 of her 151 hours. She approached Wall with the problem.
The Crawford County Director of Public Health told the public health nurse to take her remaining vacation time even though it was past the deadline. Wall also told Powell to keep track of that vacation time.
Powell took the remaining hours of vacation and recorded them as directed. She believes it may be that log of her vacation time that the personnel committee took from her desk drawer at the office.
For her part, Wall said that she believed she had the right to waive the vacation past the deadline because it falls under doing what is necessary to run her department.
Wall also noted that Powell is an extremely hard worker that she relied on in the department, which had two other nurses and a receptionist. One of the nurses is actually contracted to do full-time work for the county department of human services, but technically is in the health department.
“When you have a lot of work to get done you give it to Judy,” Wall explained. “Judy is a workhorse. It’s amazing the amount of work she can finish in a short amount of time.”
That could have led to the problem with the unused vacation time.
Wall acknowledged that on more than one occasion, when Powell asked to schedule a vacation, she asked if Powell could wait until a very busy project was finished.
Powell listed several major projects, including long-term plans, that the health department completed recently getting their house in order for a possible retirement of Wall sometime in the future. Among the health department’s five-year projects completed last year are the 140 Plan, Community Impact Plan and the Community Health Assessment.
Since most county officials to date have been unwilling to discuss the situation, it is impossible to say how the county’s discipline system dictated firing Powell for misreporting her vacation.
Personnel committee member Larry Kelley explained that most work rule violations follow a progression of warnings and punishments, “unless the violation warrants other action.” The county supervisor noted that most every disciplinary system carries a “rejoinder that the severity of the violation can move it to the top” of the disciplinary procedure.
“If you punch out your boss, you’ll be fired,” Kelley said. He noted that he used that situation only as an example and it was not present in this matter.
In discussing the matter, Powell said that at one of the meetings a member of the personnel committee said the county regarded the vacation matter as theft.
Is taking an earned vacation time past a deadline with the permission of your supervisor theft? That’s the question that may need to be answered.
The punishment seems disproportional to Powell, Wall and several others with knowledge of the situation.
The veteran public health nurse seems as angry by the allegations against her as the action taken against her.
“I am not a criminal,” she said at one point in discussing the matter.