The appeal hearing of Sherry Jazdzewski, the terminated Crawford County Highway Department office employee, was suspended after about an hour last Wednesday, when the county’s lawyer realized she was missing communications about the appeal.
Bonnie Wendorff, the attorney hired to represent the county in the Jazdzewski’s termination appeal, seemed stunned when she realized she hadn’t received every e-mail from Jazdzewski concerning the appeal. She was forced to adjourn to the hallway at one point to confer with Crawford County Clerk Janet Geisler and Crawford County Board Chairperson Pete Flesch.
Wendorff was questioning Crawford County Highway Commissioner Dennis Pelock about an anonymous letter sent to county board members objecting to a policy being considered to regulate county employee’s personal cell phone use. Pelock said he had written the policy for the county and the attorney was attempting to prove that Jazdzewski had been the source of the anonymous letter about cell phone policy to the board, when Miguel Morga an AFSCME union representative assisting Jazdzewski at the appeal hearing rose to object.
Morga explained that the letter was not part of the hearing because the county had failed to respond to Jazdzewski’s request for a hearing on the written reprimand for allegedly being the source of the anonymous letter. Morga pointed out that Jazdzewski had requested by e-mail within five days of receiving the written reprimand that she be granted an appeal hearing as proscribed by county personnel policy.
The union representative also noted the county had responded by e-mail indicating that the request had been received, but failed to schedule the required hearing within two weeks as required by the county’s personnel policy.
The union representative asked rhetorically what would the county say if the employee were late in requesting the hearing—“too bad, but you missed the deadline.”
Wendorff, who had previously apologized on behalf of the county for failing to schedule an informal hearing on the termination itself as required by policy, insisted that she had never seen an e-mail requesting a hearing on the written reprimand. Then, Morga showed the attorney an e-mail response from the county confirming the Jazdzewski e-mail requesting the hearing had been received.
The attorney asked for a brief recess and retreated to the hallway of the Crawford County Administration Building outside the meeting room where the hearing was being held. After a discussion with Geisler and Flesch, Wendorf re-entered the courtroom and asked the recess be continued, so that she could consult with Morga about the situation in the hallway.
Upon re-entering the courtroom, Wendorff asked that the hearing be rescheduled for another date due to “a failure to communicate.” She said she had reached an agreement with Morga to suspend the hearing. She noted Morga and Jazdzewski were not prepared to respond on the topic of the written reprimand.
“We appealed and the county never responded,” Morga was quick to point out.
Either way, everyone seemed to agree with Wendorff's assessment when she said, “it can’t be done today.”
The hearing was rescheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 11 at 9:30 a.m.
Although the hearing was suspended, there were several interesting developments during the 55 minutes before it ended.
When the impartial hearing examiner Greg Lunde, Vernon County’s Corporation Counsel, sought to establish what level of proof would need to be established for justifying the termination of Jazdzewski. There was an immediate disagreement between Wendorff and Morga.
The county’s attorney argued that the level of proof for a justified termination was a “reasonable” or “rational” basis on the part of the county following Act 10’s abolishment of union contracts for county employees. However, Morga argued the higher burden of proof for termination known as “just cause” was the appropriate rule. The union representative went on to explain that following Act 10, the county drew up personnel policies and never included any other language to replace “just cause” as a necessary requirement for termination.
The union representative argued that without a language change, county employees should be able to assume that the language of the former union contract requiring “just cause” would still be in effect.
Wendorff argued the county was not required to state a new standard in their personnel policy and that “just cause” ceased to be the standard for termination when the union contract was abrogated by Act 10.
Ultimately, Lunde agreed with Morga’s argument that county employees had a right to assume the standard would remain “just cause” if no other language was provided in the county’s new personnel policy.
Some other interesting points about Jazdzewski’s situation at the highway department were revealed in Pelock's testimony. For instance, the highway commissioner stated that Jazdzewski was hired in 2007 as an administrative assistant and bookkeeper for the department.
In answer to a question from the Wendorff, Pelock said Jazdzewski was hired in 2007 and terminated in 2012. Her primary duties in the job were to do the payroll and work on the WDOT’s Local Roads Program, as well assist the highway commissioner in his duties. Additionally, Jazdzewski was assigned to help the office manager, Deanna Smith, and the highway department superintendent, Todd Meyers.
One of her biggest responsibilities, according to Pelock was to work on the Local Roads Program, a biennial program administered through the Wisconsin Department of Transportation that provides road funding for 11 towns and 10 villages in the county. Jazdzewski was assigned to make a file for each project.
Pelock said that Jazdzewski received annual evaluations, however none was done in 2012.
In an evaluation of the administrative assistant’s performance conducted on May 19, 2011, the issues identified for improvement by Jazdzewski were taking too much time to complete her work, failure to prioritize projects and inappropriate use of e-mail, the highway commissioner recalled.
In answer to another question, Pelock told Wendorff that following the evaluation Jazdzewski’s job performance improved and that was documented in follow-up evaluation done in July of 2011.
Another evaluation scheduled for November was never performed because the department was in the “middle of a hiring process,” according to Pelock.
The highway commissioner said an evaluation process of Jazdzewski was begun in March of 2012 and the issues addressed included timeliness, inappropriate use of county equipment, failure to follow directions, keeping a personal journal and inappropriate e-mails.
Pelock confirmed in answer to another question from Wendorff that the evaluation process was suspended and never completed in 2012.