The needler in the haystack.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Plainfield smacked down over Health Officer firing

Dr. Jadwiga Warwas, Health Officer, during the May 2005 'Top Off 3'
Counterterrorism exercise at Muhlenberg Hospital.

Santa knows who's naughty and who's nice, as Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs and Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson learned to their chagrin last Wednesday.

And as I learned when I returned home from Monday's City Council budget hearing (no, not from the subject of this item; there are other folks interested in transparency of government EVERYWHERE in New Jersey who forwarded me a copy of the document).

On December 12, administrative law judge James A. Geraghty handed down his decision in the appeal of Plainfield Health Officer Jadwiga Warwas, MD, over her termination by Mayor Robinson-Briggs in September 2006, allegedly for 'insubordination and conduct unbecoming a public official'. I have posted a copy of the decision online (see it here).

In a crushing blow for the City, Geraghty's findings of fact were that Dr. Warwas was 'neither insubordinate nor guilty of conduct unbecoming a public official', and further 'that appellant committed no misconduct'.

The city alleged Dr. Warwas was working for the City of Paterson without the express permission of the City of Plainfield, hence the 'insubordination' and 'conduct unbecoming' charges. The decision says that the City was made aware of the Paterson employment by way of an 'anonymous message'.

Dr. Warwas held that her resumé, submitted in the normal course of seeking employment, fully disclosed her part-time, at-home, off-hours position performing Quality Assurance Control for the City of Paterson in gathering and reporting HIV/AIDS information, by way of her home computer, to Paterson officials and residents.

As Geraghty finds, '[t]he City officials who conducted the interview offered [Warwas] the Health Officer position without requiring her to abandon work [for Paterson]'.

What raised my eyebrows was that Dr. Warwas'
resumé could not be produced by the City from her personnel file, nor could it be found during her attorney's discovery process.

What happened to the missing

I would never think that Karen Dabney, the City's Personnel Director, could misfile or would remove such an important document.

Which leads one to ask just how it came to go missing. Was the personnel file ever out of her control and safekeeping? And if it was, who had it? Would the removal of the
resumé, which the tribunal judge avers supported Warwas' contentions, constitute some form of obstruction? And if two or more parties were involved in its removal, is there conspiracy?

Could someone who had access to or was aware of the contents of Dr. Warwas'
resumé have been behind the 'anonymous message'?

As I said, I cannot for a moment think that Ms. Dabney would involve herself in such shenanigans. But it would certainly be helpful to know the chain of possession of that personnel file, wouldn't it?

Curiously, Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson represented the City at the September 30, 2006 disciplinary hearing which led to her dismissal. It is curious only because Mr. Williamson was also the 'private prosecutor' (as the decision states) in a harassment proceeding initiated by an employee against Dr. Warwas. Those charges were dismissed by a Municipal Court, as the decision states.

But one wonders if there was not a conflict in Mr. Williamson being party to both matters.

The City also alleged that Dr. Warwas had failed to designate an acting health officer while she was on vacation from June 19 to July 7, 2006. On July 6, one day before her return from vacation, City Administrator Carlton McGee (he of blessed memory!) issued a Notice of Disciplinary Action, charging her with neglect of duty.

(It would be unkind of me to mention that McGee's authority as acting head of Administration and Finance, to whom Warwas reported, had expired prior to July 6 -- see Bernice's post from 2006 here -- so I won't. At the time, Assemblyman Jerry Green, in a 'what, me worry?' response opined to Bernice that McGee's timing out was no problem, 'noting that it wasn't costing the city any money'. Wonder what he's thinking about it costing the city money this morning.)

The 'neglect of duty' canard was trumped in the hearings before Geraghty when Dr. Warwas authenticated a memo she sent to McGee on May 15, 2006, advising that Randy Mascaritolo, Senior Registered Environmental Health Specialist, would replace her during her vacation as he had in 2005.

After all this, Judge Geraghty concluded that Dr. Warwas 'was neither insubordinate nor guilty of conduct unbecoming a public official' in this matter, and further that she 'committed no misconduct'.

Geraghty's decision is in favor of Dr. Warwas and orders the charges be dismissed, and that she be reinstated as Health Officer with full back pay, pension rights, benefits and attorney's fees.

How's that for a smackdown!

Geraghty's decision is labeled 'initial' because the process allows either side to file written exceptions with Merit System Board within thirteen days of the mailing of the decision, and further, it can be adopted, modified or rejected by the Merit System Board. If the Board does nothing within 45 days, and unless the matter is extended, the initial decision will become final.

Quick, now! How much will all this cost the taxpayers?

SIDEBAR THOUGHT: If the City is going to be so scrupulous about 'outside employment', one wonders if Corporation Counsel will start pursuing the matter of the many licensed Realtors® sprinkled copiously throughout City government. And whether they perform any of their real estate duties on city time, or use city supplies (paper, copiers) or city phones in the conduct of their sideline business affairs. And whether they have filed written requests for permission to work other than for the City.


In any event, a Merry Christmas to all!

Office of Administrative Law: "Warwas v. City of Plainfield, Initial Decision"
-- Dan Damon

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Anonymous said...

As a member of the Plainfield municipal employees union, I can tell you for sure that Dr. Warwas was being targeted by the Robinson-Briggs administration almost as soon as they came into office with the knowledge of certain union officers. This should show the rest of the union members that the union officers are in collusion with the administration. Several other union members who were seen were targeted as enemies of the new administration were also let go. Sorry, but Dabney does not have clean hands.

Anonymous said...

Seems the Robinson-Briggs administration is only bothered about *certain* people's outside jobs. City Hall oddsters are giving 7-to-1 odds that Jennifer Wenson Maier, head of Public Works and Urban Development is spending more than half her City Hall time in conducting her private architectural practice. U.S. Attorney Chris Christie won't find anything if he checks her city phone records though -- she uses her cell phone. Or is it the city's cell phone?

Anonymous said...

Yikes, I can't do my private business just because I happen to be at City Hall !! Now you are infringing on my political , check that Personal Rights!

Anonymous said...

Never believe anything in politics until it has been officially denied.
Otto von Bismarck