The Warren County Commissioners "did not abuse their discretion" in denying health benefits and salary increases to five county employees, according to a recent ruling by Judge Maureen Skerda.
Attorney Bernard J. Hessley filed a lawsuit on behalf of County Auditors David Pirillo, Nikita Rugg and Suzanne Swanson, and Jury Commissioners Linda Hessley and Richard Campbell on Feb. 10.
According to court documents, Hessley said the commissioners denied hospitalization, prepaid prescription, health insurance, life insurance, and dental insurance to the jury commissioners and the auditors and "no other elected officials salaries and/or benefits were reduced and/or eliminated" without reason during a public meeting on Dec. 7, 2010.
The salaries of the jury commissioners were reduced and the auditors received a raise in salary between 2012 and 2015, Hessley said in paperwork.
"We will be filing an appeal within the 30-day time limit" of Nov. 3, Hessley said on Tuesday.
"The facts in this matter are that on December 7, 2010, the Warren County Commissioners held a special public meeting. At this meeting, the Warren County Commissioners decided not to provide benefits to the jury commissioners and the auditors. Plaintiffs are elected jury commissioners and auditors who work less than 20 hours per week," Skerda said in her ruling. "Part-time employees are not eligible for fringe benefits...The jury commissioners and the auditors work less than 20 hours per week, and Warren County does not offer part-time employee benefits. Therefore, the Warren County Commissioners did not abuse their discretion in no longer providing benefits to the jury commissioners and the auditors."
The officials also asked the county to reinstate the jury commissioners' salaries with the same raise granted to other elected officers, award legal fees and compensation from all liability starting Jan. 2, 2012, the first date of the term of office, "and any cost incurred by the Petitioners for any type of medical, dental or vision services which should have been covered under the benefit package offered to other elected officers of the County."
Skerda also said in her ruling that the commissioners did not reduce the jury commissioners' salary below the state minimum of $2,000 and they do "...have discretion to reduce any elected county officer's salary, but the Warren County Commissioners do not have discretion to reduce any elected county officer's salary below the statutory minimum salary.
"Therefore, the Warren County Commissioners did not abuse their discretion by reducing the jury commissioners' salary to the statutory minimum amount. Similarly, county commissioners are permitted to increase elected county officers' salaries on a percentage basis and apply these percentage-based salary increases equally to all of the elected county officers."
County Solicitor Barry Klenowski said in a brief filed with the court on Sept. 11 that the employees did not take action against the commissioners, which at the time included former Commissioner Terry Hawk, until over a year later.
"...Plaintiffs waited roughly 14 months - until a new board was elected - to file their actions" and "Worse still, some of the Plaintiffs ran for office after these changes were made and waited until after they were elected to complain of the former board's decision," he said.
Hessley said no reason was given during the Dec. 7, 2010 meeting for the reduction in salary and the auditors received a raise but were denied benefits on the basis they worked 20 hours a week, when they did work 21 hours a week, one hour over the established part-time limit.
"The Plaintiffs respectively conclude that the action of the Warren County Commissioners taken on December 7, 2010 was arbitrary, capricious, without just cause, and violative of the specific provisions of the County Code..." and "...must be reversed and vacated and full salary with raises afforded to the Jury Commissioners and full benefits in terms of group health insurance, life insurance and hospitalization be afforded to both the Auditors and Jury Commissioners retroactive to the date that they assumed office," Hessley said in a brief filed on Sept. 12.