CRAWFORD COUNTY - Although there were a few pertinent questions asked at the Crawford County Board of Supervisors meeting held Tuesday, Dec. 19, the board voted 14-7 in favor of merging the county’s health department with the human services department.
The new entity will be called the Crawford County Health and Human Services Department in accordance with the motion to merge the departments made by Supervisor Wade Dull.
The new merged department will be managed by Dan McWilliams, who has been the administrator of the Crawford County Human Services Department. McWilliams will receive a $90,000 annual salary as approved at a previous meeting of the county’s personnel committee. His increased salary represents a raise of approximately $4,000 annually.
Although the merger of the departments was passed by the board, several supervisors had some questions about the situation.
Supervisor Don Stirling, a member of the health committee, told the board the proposed merger had not been discussed at health committee meetings. Stirling noted the committee had not had any input into the situation. Ironically, a health committee meeting was scheduled for the very next day, Wednesday, Dec. 20.
“I’m not convinced this is something that will benefit the county,” Stirling said. “There are claims that it will create greater efficiency, but I don’t see where that’s going to occur.”
Stirling noted that if the county is going to hire a public health official anyway, it wouldn’t make sense to have a supervisor being supervised by another supervisor.
“Dan McWilliams is a busy guy,” Stirling said. “We may have diluted his attention to his regular job.”
Stirling favored allowing a nurse to supervise the health department.
“I’m not sure we thought this out,” Stirling said. "It seems like we’re doing this under duress because we lost a supervisor (county health director Gloria Wall). I question whether this was really thought through and if we really want to do this on a permanent basis.”
Stirling said he didn't see the downside of making the action an interim move, while the county reviewed the situation. He emphasized that situation had not been discussed in the health committee.
Supervisor Gerald Krachey, the personnel committee chairperson, responded to Stirling by saying the merger of the two departments had been “discussed by the county for several years.”
Stirling said the matter had not been discussed for the past year-and-a-half.
Supervisor David Olson took issue with mixing the health department into the human service department, combining it with the 24 existing employees.
Dan McWilliams acknowledged Stirling’s concern that the matter had not come before the health committee. However, McWilliams cited the circumstance (of Wall’s dismissal/retirement) and noted that there was not time to get the matter discussed.
McWilliams said that he had some experience supervising nurses in the past. However, he explained that as an administrator he doesn’t necessarily qualify to do all the work of the people he supervises.
The department supervisor explained that his supervision would serve as an umbrella over both human services and health. He said the county health committee would remain separate from the county human services committee.
County Supervisor Mary Kuhn pointed out that the position of public health official has very specific requirements by law.
McWilliams noted the county would present applicants to the state to see if they are qualified. The administrator confirmed that Crawford County Public Health Nurse Michelle Breuer is the interim local public health official.
Only one possible permanent public health official candidate had been sent to the state for review at this point, according to McWilliams.
The board meeting began with a statement from Crawford County Board Chairperson Tom Cornford about the termination/retirement of County Health Director Gloria Wall and the termination of public health nurse Judy Powell.
“We are going to have a discussion in reference to the rumors and paper articles about the two nurses,” Cornford said.
“We had a complaint, an investigation, and two public meetings.
“A county employee came forward and was uncomfortable being required to prepare false records for vacation time. She knew they were false and was concerned about her job.
“This matter was referred to the (county) personnel committee who met in closed session and determined an investigation was necessary. The labor attorney was contacted and moved forward. We have done such a process before in other issues.
“The investigation included interviews with current and past employees of the affected department, as well as the two employees who were alleged to be actively involved with the work rule violations.
“The investigators concluded the work rules had been violated, and that the records were intentionally falsified over a number of years, and that the employee providing the clerical support was specifically directed by Gloria Wall to prepare the false reports for Judy Powell to submit. Powell actually kept two sets of records. One set showed her actual time and the other set the false time. The reports even had notes attached that the true reports were not to be submitted to the (Crawford) County Clerk.
“The committee examined the investigative reports created, the statements from the witnesses as well as the documents considered. Both employees had an opportunity to present information to the personnel committee on two occasions. Both of the presentations, as well as the discussion and deliberation on decisions was conducted in open session. So everything is public. The first was at the meeting where the investigative report was discussed and a preliminary decision made to terminate both employees for the allegation of falsification, which amounted to a breach of trust. The second was at a meeting both requested to review the first decision. At the second meeting, the committee affirmed its previous decision.
“At both meetings, Wall contended she was under the impression that she had the managerial discretion to order the preparation of the false records.
“Powell contended that preparing and presenting the false records was excusable because her supervisor had approved the practice.
“Both Wall and PowelL also argued that submitting false records was justified because Powell had trouble using her vacation time, claiming it had been initially justified by the extra work necessary because of the 2015 flood. However, in the past for that 2015 flood issue or other extraordinary events that made it difficult for employees to take vacation, accommodations had been made when it was brought to the county’s attention.
“The committee determined that the false reports were intentionally submitted with the intention of Wall and Powell to deceive, and to allow for Powell to take vacation time for which she would otherwise be entitled,” Cornford said in conclusion.
Previously, both Crawford County Health Director Gloria Wall and public health nurse Judy Powell have said in interviews with the Independent-Scout that an effort was made to have Powell take some unused vacation time immediately after a deadline for that vacation time had passed. Neither described keeping track of that amount of vacation time as falsifying records during those interviews.
When reached by phone Tuesday afternoon, Cornford confirmed there were options for discipline of work rule violations other than termination of employment. When asked why it was decided to discharge the employees, Cornford cited the severity of the infraction-falsifying records-and said there were documented instances going back three years.
However, when asked why it was appropriate to terminate county employees with good records who had worked for the county for 40 and 18 years respectively, instead of using other discipline for the work rule violations, Cornford declined to answer and ended the call.