April 25, 2014

Elyria
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Lorain health commissioner blocked from collecting pension, salary

LORAIN — Unless he revokes his resignation, Lorain District Municipal Health Commissioner Terrence Tomaszewski will retire Aug. 31 after 33 years of service. A resolution that would have let the Board of Health rehire him Sept. 1 failed Wednesday during a board meeting.

During the meeting, Tomaszewski expressed anger toward the board.

“You waited until three readings to do this to me,” he said. “… I think that’s a slap in my face. Do as you will.”

In June, Tomaszewski had given the board notice of his retirement and desire to be rehired. The practice would have allowed him to “double dip” — collect retirement income and then draw a salary and benefits as a “new hire.”

Board members Ben Fligner and Board President Pro Tem Robert Cool Jr. had urged fellow board members to rehire Tomaszewski because they said there is a lack of qualified candidates who have the experience Tomaszewski does. They also said they don’t believe a qualified candidate would come to Lorain when the department is down to a four-day work week to meet budget constraints.

“We will absolutely cut our throats if we do that,” Cool said of not rehiring Tomaszewski. “We’re not in any way attractive to anyone when we’re offering a four-day work week and no guarantees that that’s going to change.”

Fligner said while he normally opposes “double-dipping,” Tomaszewski’s case was an exception.

“I can’t fault anyone who’s taken a 20 percent pay cut trying to recoup some of that,” Fligner said. “I feel we’ll have a hard time getting someone (else).”

Board member Mary Santiago questioned how the board knew there wasn’t anyone else qualified.

“I think it’s unfair to say no one is qualified to replace him,” she said.

Board member Donald Love agreed.

“I don’t know if we’ll find a qualified person if we don’t run an ad for it,” Love said.

While the commissioner for a general health district must be licensed to practice and hold a master’s degree in public health or an equivalent master’s degree in a related field, Tomaszewski, who isn’t a doctor, said Lorain is a municipal health district and those qualifications would not apply to his replacement. He has been the health commissioner since 1985, he said, and his education and experience meet the qualifications required for the post.

Fligner was the only “aye” vote on the resolution. Love, Santiago, Cool and Board member Don Killinger were silent when Cool asked for opposing votes. Cool declared the resolution failed.

The district is facing a $156,000 deficit by the end of the year, something a new commissioner would have to deal with.
The shortfall is largely due to a significant reduction in a nursing program “Grow With Me” grant, Mayor Tony Krasienko said. Krasienko is the board’s president but doesn’t have voting rights.

“They have a revenue problem, not an expenditure problem,” he said of the board.

Tomaszewski is also entitled to a $33,000 longevity payout — something he was willing to defer if he was rehired.

Krasienko said that payout was part of the board’s budget and won’t add to its deficit if Tomaszewski opts not to defer the payment in light of not being rehired. Krasienko called the board’s decision “painful.”

“Obviously, it’s a very painful decision,” he said. “Mr. Tomaszewski has been a phenomenal commissioner.”

If Tomaszewski goes ahead with his retirement, the job will be posted for three days for city employees to apply. After that, civil service will need to give the board permission to advertise the job to the general public.

Tomaszewski said he wasn’t surprised by Wednesday’s vote.

“That’s politics,” he said.

If Tomaszewski retires and the department can’t find a replacement, Tomaszewski said he’s not sure if he’ll re-apply for the position.

“At this point, it’s hard for me to say,” he said. “I have a lot of deep-rooted feelings for that place … I’m still trying to figure out what I’m going to do.”

Contact Alicia Castelli at 329-7144 or acastelli@chroniclet.com.