With the ongoing investigation of Crawford County Highway Commissioner Dennis Pelock not yet concluded, the termination of highway department office employee Sherry Jazdzewski three weeks ago appeared oddly timed.
Jazdzewski had served as the highway department’s administrative assistant and bookkeeper. She was terminated by two supervisors in the department’s Seneca office at noon on Tuesday, Sept. 18.
In terminating Jazdzewski, Highway Department Office Manager Deanna Smith and Patrol Superintendent Todd Myers cited instances they said constituted “negligence in performing job functions.” Upon her termination, Jazdzewski was asked to leave the building.
The terminated office worker contacted her union representative Miguel Morga, a State Representative for AFSCME Council 40. Morga asked that the county conduct an informal hearing as outlined in the county ordinance governing termination.
Morga said that in firing the highway department employee the county cited two instances of negligence in performing job functions.
One of Jazdzewski’s responsibilities was to review the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout on a weekly basis for bid advertisements, according to Morga. She would then clip the ads and save them in a folder for documentation, when the highway department would seek compensation from the state for municipalities’ roadwork. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s Local Roads Improvement Program compensates local government for half of the cost of road improvements. Jazdzewski missed clipping a notice of bid ad from the Village of Soldiers Grove, according to the highway department and that constituted “negligence in performing job functions.”
Morga explained that while not clipping the ad was a mistake, it was not a major mistake. It in no way put the Village of Soldiers Grove’s funding at risk and at worse would’ve resulted in a warning letter from the Wisconsin of Department of Transportation that the bid notice ad was missing, according to the union representative.
In another instance, Jazdzewski was working on a project to send bid information to contractors and did not complete the work by the end of the day. The fact that she did not complete the task by the end of the day and reported her progress to the office manager rather than the commissioner himself also constituted “negligence in performing job functions,” according to the county.
Jazdzewski disputed the county’s version of events concerning the incident. She said that she was never given a time by which the work had to be completed.
Morga noted that the materials needed to complete the bid information for contractors wasn’t provided to the highway department employee until 2 p.m. of the day she was working on it.
Crawford County Board Chairman Pete Flesch disputed the notion that there were only two incidents that led to the termination. He said it more of a “series of things” that led to the termination. Flesch specifically indicated that there were two other things that led to the firing.
Both Jazdzewski and Morga object to the termination based on the instances cited. They both note that the county is not following its stated progressive discipline policy, which outlined a verbal warning, written warning, suspension and then termination. Morga emphasized that negligence in performing job functions is an offense that directly comes under the county’s progressive disciplinary policy.
Morga asked at one point that Jazdzewski be given an informal hearing on the termination. The Crawford County Board Personnel Committee selected Crawford County Board Chairman Pete Flesch as the decision-maker for the hearing. After hearing the details of the termination, Flesch ruled the termination was justified.
At the informal hearing, Morga raised the question of progressive discipline and the county’s lack of following the proscribed steps.
Bonnie Wendorff is a Madison-based labor attorney with Nieder and Boucher, who is representing the county. She argued at the informal hearing that the progressive discipline policy is optional for supervisors to follow and employees can be fired for any offense at the discretion of their supervisor.
Later in an interview with the Independent-Scout, Flesch also emphasized that it is written in the county’s policy that “it is not mandatory to go through all of the steps” for termination and that circumstances allow for not following the progressive discipline policy.
“I can’t say whether this termination has anything to do with the fact that the (highway) commissioner is under some investigation,” Morga said in an interview with the Independent-Scout. “But at a minimum, her termination shows just how ridiculous municipalities are getting when it comes to the aftermath of Act 10 and stripping the collective bargaining rights for public employees.”
Jazdzewski is appealing Flesch’s decision to uphold the termination to a formal hearing with an impartial hearing examiner selected from outside of the county. That hearing will probably occur in mid-November, according to Morga.
Jazdzewski said that she believes her termination was retaliation for other reasons. She indicated a conflict between her husband, Tom Jazdzewski, and county supervisor Gerald Krachey may be involved. Tom Jazdzewski is the Wauzeka Township Chairperson and Krachey is a Wauzeka Township Board Supervisor. As a county supervisor, Krachey is also the Crawford County Board Personnel Committee Chairperson and a member of the Crawford County Board Highway Committee.
Sherry Jazdzewski called the situation “very complicated.” She referred any further questions to her union representative Miguel Morga.
“I’m still in the process of fighting this,” Jazdzewski said. “I’m hoping to get my job back. I don’t want to jeopardize that….This is already a bad thing for us. We’re just trying to get through this.”
Jazdzewski said she was not certain her termination was related to the investigation of highway commissioner Dennis Pelock, “but we have reason to believe it does.”