CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A Putnam County Health Department worker at the center of a two-year firing controversy said she hopes to return to her job soon and resume her fight against a controversial rabies policy -- a position she has claimed got her fired in the first place.
Barbara Koblinsky, 52, was first fired in February 2010 after about two years with the health department. As a sanitarian, it was her job to enforce the county's rabies policy, which was considerably stricter than those in other counties.
She claimed the policy resulted in the unnecessary deaths of several county residents' beloved pets and started a petition for the County Commission to remove it. She said her work against the policy eventually cost her the job, though health department officials have said repeatedly she was fired for insubordination.
"I would like to go back to serving the citizens of Putnam County," Koblinsky said in an interview Tuesday. "Now that certain people aren't there, I want to proceed with my petition to have the rabies policy removed."
She filed a grievance and won her job back in late 2010, but the health department's administration appealed the ruling in Circuit Court, where the case remained until recently. On Friday, Circuit Court Judge Duke Bloom reinstated Koblinsky to her former position.
It isn't clear if the county board of health will appeal Bloom's ruling to the state Supreme Court.
Attorney fees for the appeal are chief among the causes officials cite for the health department's recent financial turmoil. Faced with stacks of unpaid bills, board of health members voted in June to lay off the entire staff and contract services through the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department.
Putnam County Commission President Joe Haynes said former administrator Jackie Fleshman paid the attorney fees to fight Koblinsky's appeal before any other payments -- including rent for the health department's headquarters.
He said the fees "got completely out of hand before the board was aware of it." Some $20,000 still is owed to Charleston attorney Karen Miller.
Bloom also awarded Koblinsky back pay, benefits and interest in his decision.
But considering the current state of the health department, Koblinsky's future remains uncertain.
Despite her recent victory, Koblinsky said she doesn't feel "whole."
"My life is in shambles," she said. "I don't feel good about what happened -- I don't want these people to not have jobs. My life is still in ruin.
"It is a big weight lifted off my shoulders ... but I never dreamt what happened would happen."
Gordon Simmons, Koblinsky's representative with the West Virginia Public Workers Union, said in typical wrongful termination cases, the employee is reinstated. But Koblinsky doesn't have a job to go back to.The rabies policy
All but one West Virginia county simply adopts the state's policy on what to do when a pet bites its owner. Putnam County takes its own, considerably stricter, approach.