Putnam Health Department won’t appeal sanitarian case
The Putnam County Health Department will not appeal a ruling reinstating a former sanitarian to her job.
But Barbara Koblinsky doesn't yet have a job to go back to. Facing a financial crisis, the Putnam health board has laid off the entire staff.
In a letter regarding Putnam Co. Health Dept. v. Koblinsky, Jennifer Scragg Karr, Putnam County assistant prosecuting attorney, wrote to Mark Barney, an attorney for the Public Employees Union. She said Putnam won't fight the recent order by Circuit Judge Duke Bloom to give Koblinsky her job back.
"As previously expressed to you, the Putnam County Health Department is not appealing Judge Bloom's decision," the letter said. "You and I still need to ascertain the back pay, benefits and interest due Ms. Koblinsky.
"However, there is no position for anyone with the Health Department. All employees were laid off on July 1, 2013. Consequently, were Ms. Koblinsky an employee on said date or entitled by Court Order to be reinstated, she would only have been reinstated up to July 1, 2013."
"The former employees of the Health Department have been given special status with the WV Division of Personnel in hiring for State positions because they were laid off. Please let me know if your client would like to be added to their list of laid off Health Department employees in order to gain better standing when seeking State positions," the letter read.
Koblinsky, 52, was first fired for insubordination in February 2010 after about two years with the health department. Her superiors said she refused to meet with them for a disciplinary meeting without a union representative present.
Under state law, all public employees who belong to the union are allowed to have a representative present for disciplinary meetings.
Koblinsky maintained she was targeted and bullied on the job for her opposition to a strict rabies policy. She believed that policy led to the unnecessary deaths of several county residents' beloved pets. Although she had to enforce it, she also petitioned for the policy to be changed.
The policy has since been terminated and Putnam County now follows the state's policy for rabies quarantines.
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 the recent ruling by Bloom.
"I am very happy that it is finally over with and the Putnam County Health Department Board of Health has agreed not to appeal Judge Bloom's decision," Koblinsky said. "I believe they are attempting to make things right now, and that they realize that I was a victim."
Barney represented Koblinsky in Circuit Court, as her union representative was not an attorney. 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, Koblinsky is also entitled to a year of back pay, about $25,000. Koblinsky said she plans to seek unemployment benefits.
"I would love to have my job back at this point, if not working for the Putnam County Health Department, perhaps working in Putnam County for the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department," Koblinsky said.
"I always viewed my job as that of a public servant. I enjoyed educating and working with the public during my inspections. I always explained to them why the food safety rules were important and worked with them on how to correct problems.
"I believe people have to want to change their behavior and that cannot happen if the health department is viewed as the enemy. People always need to be treated with respect and dignity, and that is something that I didn't see happening under the past administration, and that is what I stood against."
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." The health department ended the fiscal year 2013 more than $400,000 in debt.
Lolita Kirk, administrator at the Putnam County Health Department, declined to comment on the situation because it is a personnel matter.