Thursday, May 23, 2002

Six employees file lawsuits

Say Job and Family Services transferred workers illegally

By Liz Sidoti
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — Six managers at the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services have accused the agency of illegally transferring, and in some cases demoting, them as part of a reorganization plan.

        The department calls the complaint frivolous.

        “We have the right to deploy our staff where we feel they need to be to make sure the agency runs efficiently,” Tom Hayes, the department's director, said Wednesday.

        Six account managers filed two lawsuits against the department in U.S. District Court in Columbus and in Franklin County Common Pleas Court, asking the courts to prohibit the state from keeping them in their new positions.

        Until May 6, the state's 12 account managers worked out of regional offices, each person serving as a liaison for several counties. County Job and Family Service agencies would call the managers with questions about state and federal policies, and the managers then would contact the state's policy experts to find answers.

        Mr. Hayes took over the department in September, vowing to make it run more efficiently. Among his many changes was a statewide agency reorganization, which included eliminating the account manager positions and reassigning those workers to other jobs within the department.

        The lawsuits claim the department violated state law and federal requirements that agencies receiving federal money must select employees for promotions and transfers on the basis of merit.

        The six managers say the department, which gets federal funding for many programs including foster care, adoption and employment services, told the federal government it was following a merit system for personnel, but instead arbitrarily reassigned them.

        Mr. Hayes denied that the department acted illegally.

        “We believe that we have conducted this matter in a manner consistent with the law and the administrative rules of our agency,” he said.

        Three of the complainants, Edward L. Franks of Wooster, Richard E. Roberts of Fairfield and Martha M. Holmes of Columbus, declined to comment Wednesday. Messages seeking comment were left at the homes and offices of the other three: Louis Rick Keefer of Columbus, Ronda J. Kinnamon of Chillicothe and Sandy Borcoman of Chagrin Falls.

        “If a court finds in favor of us, it would mean that the people who got moved into new positions would have to be returned to their old positions,” said Kevin Shoemaker, an attorney for the six. “I believe the state then would have to go back and start from scratch in all their changes and promotions.”

        He said most of the account managers have held their positions for more than 20 years. In some cases, he said, account managers' assistants were promoted ahead of them, and no merit system was used.

        Mr. Hayes said eliminating the account manager positions allows the department to better serve counties and their clients. Instead of having to work through a middleman, counties now directly contact policy experts who know the intricacies of about 30 topics, such as child support.

        “People are being reassigned where they are needed,” Mr. Hayes said. “We're simply trying to increase the counties' access to people within the agency.”

        Loretta Adams, executive director of the Ohio Job and Family Service Director's Association, said the old system was much more efficient.

        “It was not a perfect system, just like it's never going to be, but it wasn't broken either,” Ms. Adams said. “A lot of the programs overlap each other and the account manager sort of navigated through the complicated federal and state regulations to provide comprehensive answers.”


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