Franklin Count employee learned of job loss in newspaper story

By Michelle Dupler, Tri-City HeraldDecember 13, 2012 

A Franklin County employee who stands to lose her job when the county's print shop shuts down confronted commissioners during a public hearing on the budget Wednesday.

Libby Wright told Commissioners Brad Peck and Bob Koch that she learned she was losing her job when she opened the Herald on Thanksgiving morning -- in the same article in which Peck had touted a budget that didn't lay off anyone. Commissioner Rick Miller was absent.

"I think it could have been handled in a much different way without me and my family finding out in the newspaper," Wright said. "That was unfair."

Peck told the Herald when commissioners decided in November to close the print shop that Wright planned to move on and later clarified that his understanding dated back to a budget discussion in 2009, during which he was told that Wright needed a few more years before she'd be eligible for retirement.

"We said, 'Fine. We'll compromise and give it a few more years,' " Peck said during the commissioners' meeting Wednesday. "A few more years has come, and it's time to close the print shop."

But Wright said she's given no indication that she plans to retire or leave her job willingly.

"That's a layoff," she told Peck. "As far as I can see, that's a layoff."

Sherel Webb of the Franklin County Historical Society told commissioners that the society also is concerned about the print shop closure because the county has been printing the historical society's monthly newsletter and quarterly publications for at least 10 years.

And the historical society hadn't had enough notice of the closure to budget the cost of using a private printing company in its 2013 budget, Webb told commissioners.

"We found out the same way as Libby -- by opening the newspaper on Thanksgiving," Webb said.

Peck noted the county couldn't have given notice of the closure before the Nov. 21 meeting because commissioners can only make decisions like the one to close the print shop in public meetings.

County Administrator Fred Bowen said he tried to contact Wright the day of that meeting to tell her about the commissioners' decision but couldn't reach her.

Peck said he wanted the county to close the print shop not only to save money but also to avoid competing with private businesses providing the same service.

"We agreed unanimously to stop competing with our citizens," Peck said.

Peck and Koch voted unanimously to approve the 2013 budget that included eliminating the print shop.

Also during the budget hearing, Yesenia Torres, president of the courthouse union, said she was concerned that commissioners were giving a deputy prosecutor a $14,000 raise while union members won't get cost-of-living raises in 2013.

"I can no longer justify (to union members) why we aren't getting a COLA," Torres said. "I have been telling my union for three years there's no money."

Peck said commissioners agreed to the raise for the deputy prosecutor because that employee has credentials and has taken on new duties that justify the pay increase.

"This was a pay increase in recognition that the job was dramatically changed and one with much bigger responsibilities," he said.

Later in the meeting, he noted that commissioners are faced with tough decisions when there's more money going out than coming in and warned the county could be looking at layoffs in 2013.

"If you think this year is bad, hold on for next year," Peck said. "I'm not happy about this, but the fact of the matter is when revenues go down and costs go up ... I'm telling you 10 months out, this is where we're heading."

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