Putnam Health Department chief says sanitarian's old job gone
The administrator for the Putnam County Health Department said there isn't a job available for the former sanitarian who was ordered to be reinstated to her former position.
Lolita Kirk was appointed to the administrator position in June to iron out financial issues with the agency. Kirk also is the director of administration at the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, a position she has held for seven years.
"The agency is not open. There's nothing to be reinstated. When you're reinstated through the Division of Personnel, it's for the same position that you held before," Kirk said. "The agency closed, and there's no position to return to."
Barbara Koblinsky, 52, was first fired in February 2010 after about two years with the health department for insubordination after refusing to meet with former administrator Jackie Fleshman at the time without a union representative present.
"I intend and expect the Putnam County Health Department will follow the court's order to give me my job back," Koblinksy said.
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. Circuit Court Judge Duke Bloom reinstated Koblinsky to her former position.
Gordon Simmons, Koblinsky's representative with the West Virginia Public Workers Union, said in typical wrongful termination cases, the employee is reinstated.
In Bloom's order, Koblinksy is also entitled to a year of back pay, about $25,000.
Kirk isn't sure whether the Putnam County Board of Health will appeal the Bloom's ruling to the state Supreme Court.
"They will have to discuss and decide what they're going to do as a board, since they decided as a board to appeal the decision," Kirk said. "They will have to decide what action they want to take and whether they choose to pursue it or not -- it's up to them."
As a sanitarian, it was Koblinsky's 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, despite working on the petition as a citizen and not during her time with the health department. Health department officials have said repeatedly she was fired for insubordination.
Putnam County is still following its current policies, including the clean indoor air policy and the rabies policy, Kirk said.
"Putnam's board's policies are Putnam's board's policies. They're in effect until Putnam's Board decides they're not in effect. In this county, those are the ones that get enforced."
Koblinsky said she would follow the rabies policy if her job required her to do so.
"I do not intend to bring this 'fight' into work with me when I go back," she said. "As a citizen of Putnam County, I will present my petition to the Board of Health to have it removed."
"What I had been waiting for was Joe Haynes to be off the Board of Health as I had heard he was resigning, along with Jackie Fleshman's resignation, I felt I now had a chance to have the board listen to the citizens of Putnam County."
Kirk said that she hasn't been as involved in the battle as the Board of Health has, so she is reserving comment on advising what to do.
"I'm coming in at the very end of it. I haven't been there. They have. They know it much better than I do. They've been dealing with it for the past year, and I haven't. It'd be hard for me to say -- that's like Monday morning quarterbacking," she said.
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.