2014-09-11 / Front Page

Talks ongoing with chief assistant prosecutor

By Kelly Krager
Editor • kkrager@mihomepaper.com • 810-245-9343

Prosecutor Tim Rutkowski Prosecutor Tim Rutkowski HURON COUNTY — Discussions between the county and the chief assistant prosecutor are currently in a very delicate state, but commissioners continue to work toward a resolution to a personnel dispute in the Huron County Prosecutor’s Office.

Since late July, commissioners have met in four closed sessions with Huron County Prosecutor Timothy J. Rutkowski, Chief Assistant Prosecutor Thomas Evans and attorneys to hash out a solution to Evans’s dispute. On Tuesday, Huron County Corporate Council Steve Allen said Evans’s attorney,

John Conway of Royal Oak, withdrew his request to keep the matter private.

“I’ve had discussions with his lawyer and I told the lawyer that closed sessions were wearing thin with everybody, and he made a proposal and in that proposal he indicated he was withdrawing any claim for closed session on the issue,” Allen said.

Therefore, during Tuesday’s commissioner’s meeting, the public was given a glimpse at rationale behind Evans’s dispute against Rutkowski’s plan to reassign him to a lower ranking position in the prosecutor’s office.

Allen said Evans believes he was denied rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act after being reprimanded for arriving to work late due to attending cardiac rehabilitation, which was ordered after Evans suffered a cardiac emergency late last year.

On Tuesday, commissioners received a Family Medical Leave Act request from Evans that stated he needed nine days off from work to recover from a serious health condition. The request Evans submitted described his condition as “employer caused stress and depression resulting in impairment of cardiac rehabilitation and function.”

Several commissioners took issue with the wording of the request.

“As this stands, I cannot vote for it. I mean, I’ll admit that right out,” said Commissioner Dave Peruski. “Anything that becomes a formal action of this board goes into the record, and I would be very uncomfortable with this FMLA request.”

Commissioners Steve Vaughan and Ron Wruble concurred, saying the request makes an unproven accusation against Rutkowski.

“If this was worded differently, I think it might be better received, but the way it is worded gives you the immediate perception of the statement that we really wouldn’t want to agree with,” Vaughan said.

Wruble asked Allen whether the board was within its rights to deny the request.

Allen responded that the Family Medical Leave is intended to protect an employee’s position for a reasonable period of time while they’re recovering or tending to some illness, and it also gives the employer the right to replace the position after a reasonable period of time.

“I would say that if they make the request and they fit within the criteria of the personnel policy handbook, that you grant it, if it’s a legitimate request,” he said. “I would say that it meets the criteria. We’ve done it for other employees for those types of issues.”

During Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners approved two other Family Medical Leave requests without discussion.

After some debate, the commissioners voted 4-3 to deny Evans’s request, with Chairman Clark Elftman, Vaughan, Peruski and Wruble voting against it.

The vote was immediately followed by another motion to approve Family Medical Leave for Evans, at the county’s request rather than his own, which deleted the accusatory words from the document.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Rutkowski objected to a recent media report that he believes brought unnecessary and unfair attention to the issue.

“This is a nonstory. Mr. Evans has not been reassigned. He continues to serve as the chief assistant in the office, end of story. Anything else is based simply on rumor and conjecture,” he said.

In an interview following the meeting, Rutkowski said Evans’s allegation is not true. He also said his plan to reassign Evans were based on a desire to make the prosecutor’s office run as efficiently and effectively as possible and did not violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Discussions for reassigning Mr. Evans had nothing to do with his health or any health issue,” he said.

Rutkowski also said Evans was never reprimanded for being late due to cardiac rehab appointments.

Personnel Committee Chairman John Nugent said after Tuesday’s meeting that the county is in the process of working out a solution for Evans’s dispute, but neither the prosecutor’s office nor Evans have committed to any action.

“It’s pretty much in limbo right now. We haven’t come to an agreement, (but) … we’re still talking. The communication is still open, and we expect to resolve this. When it will be resolved, I can’t say for sure, but I do expect it will be resolved,” he said.

Rutkowski said recent media reports that stated a settlement is in the works might have led people to believe Evans was offered a financial settlement, which is not necessarily the case.

Evans previously confirmed he is formally disputing being reassigned to the lower ranking position of assistant prosecuting attorney, but he declined to comment further until the board takes a position on the matter. Commissioners passed a motion approving the reassignment, which includes a nearly $5,000 salary cut, during the board’s meeting on June 24, but they rescinded the motion July 7.

Evans did not respond to an email sent Tuesday afternoon seeking comment.

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