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Saline County Board gets squarely behind fired clerk employees

  • Julie Dunn, at far right, takes notes while Laborers International Local 773 representative Judy Simpson speaks to Saline County Board members Tuesday night.

    Julie Dunn, at far right, takes notes while Laborers International Local 773 representative Judy Simpson speaks to Saline County Board members Tuesday night.
    Travis DeNeal/Harrisburg Register

By Travis DeNeal
updated: 4/11/2018 1:15 PM

SALINE COUNTY -- Saline County Board members on Tuesday agreed to support two fired county employees as they go through their union grievance procedure seeking reinstatement.

On Thursday, County Clerk Kim Buchanan fired Julie Dunn and Kathy Cummins, two longtime employees of the county clerk's office, alleging "gross workplace misconduct, insolence and insubordination, possible mail fraud and compromisation of technical security between the county and a state agency," as her reasons for the firings. She called it a union/management issue.

Buchanan was not at Tuesday's meeting. She will retire from the clerk's office after the November election, as she lost the Republican primary in March to Saline County board member Roger Craig. Dunn is the Democratic candidate for county clerk in the General Election.

Laborers' International Union of North America Local 773 union representative Judy Simpson filed a grievance on behalf of Dunn and Cummins on Friday, asking that the two be reinstated with no loss of benefits or income. The grievance cited Article 25 of the collective bargaining group between the county board and Laborers employees, saying Buchanan had not followed the proper disciplinary process.

At Tuesday's meeting, Simpson reiterated to county board members that Dunn and Cummins simply wish to be reinstated and "made whole." Going through arbitration, if necessary, will be costly and time-consuming, Simpson said.

"And frankly, I like our chances," she said.

Most board members agreed. Member Steve Karns moved to permit the board to continue to pay insurance premiums for Dunn and Cummins so they would not lose health insurance during the grievance process.

During discussion, some noted the process might not be necessary. Craig proposed calling a meeting of the budget and personnel committees to see if Dunn and Cummins could be temporarily employed with other county departments - perhaps replacing upcoming retirees.

Both women's health insurance premiums are paid up through April.

Karns revised the motion to stipulate it would be pending the outcome of the meeting with officeholders. State's attorney Jayson Clark said if Dunn and Cummins were hired for other county offices, the health insurance issue would become moot.

Danny Gibbs was the sole board member to vote against the motion, saying it was "too broad."

Following the meeting, which was heavily attended by fellow employees, family members and friends, Dunn said she was pleased with the support of the board when asked.

"For the tentative resolution, yes, because our big concern was health insurance because of my husband's health," Dunn said.

Simpson, the union rep, said she also left the meeting feeling positive about the direction the county is taking in the matter.

"I'm encouraged that the board is willing to work toward a solution. It's an unfortunate situation that I feel need not have happened, but since it did, we're willing to work through this with the county and try to limit the damages to the employees of the county," Simpson said.

"All we really want is these women restored, not to malign anyone. Just to get them back to work, the people's work."

Dunn has worked in the county clerk's office for nearly 28 years, and Cummins has worked there about 15.

Buchanan said written warnings were given to both employees and that the women refused to sign them. "This (the firings) is long overdue," Buchanan texted to the Harrisburg Register on Monday. "They have continue to work against me and my current staff to sabotage me and my office."