ELYRIA — The Lorain County Veterans Service Commission fired Don Bates as its executive director Wednesday, but that decision will have to be rescinded because Bates’ employment can’t be terminated without a reason.
Assistant County Prosecutor Gerald Innes said that in addition to his duties as director of the agency, Bates also is a service officer, which is a classified position. Classified employees enjoy certain protections against firing and dismissal that those in unclassified jobs don’t have.
“With a classified employee, you have to have cause,” Innes said.
Had Bates only been the director, which is an unclassified position, Innes said he would have been an at-will employee.
Bob Childers, the commission’s chairman, said he and the other members of the five-member board had hoped to get rid of Bates without having to go into the details about their issues with him.
“We want our leadership to go in another direction,” Childers said initially on Thursday.
But after talking with Innes later in the day, Childers acknowledged that there was more to it than that.
“As a board we are dissatisfied with Don’s management, and it’s that simple,” he said.
Childers said the board will examine the process it needs to follow and then go forward with terminating Bates again.
Bates, a retired U.S. Air Force serviceman who has led the agency since 2008, said the board was making a mistake, and he intends to fight for his job.
“I think it’s an injustice and it’s only going to hurt this office and the veterans of this county that we serve,” he said.
Bates said that when the five commissioners came into his office Wednesday to fire him, he was angry and argued loudly with Childers about the decision.
He said he demanded to know the reasons behind his firing and Childers replied that he was being terminated for theft in office, altering documents and malfeasance. Bates vehemently denied any wrongdoing and said he’s seen no proof of the allegations Childers leveled against him.
Childers didn’t dispute that he brought up those issues with Bates, adding that he has proof of some of them and suspicions of others, but he declined to elaborate.
Bates said he’s clashed with Childers in the past, particularly over his use of compensatory time, which is time off given to government workers in lieu of overtime when they work more than 40 hours in a week. Bates said doing so is perfectly legal.
Sam Betounes, another member of the Veterans Service Commission, said before he learned that Bates’ firing would have to be rescinded that Bates was a “great service officer, and that’s what his forte is.”
But Betounes also said the board wants to go in a different direction with its leadership.
“He gets very passionate about helping veterans and that can be a good thing or it can be a bad thing,” he said.
Throughout his tenure at Veterans Services, Bates has publicly clashed with the county commissioners and other county employees, particularly over issues of money.
Bates has been a strong advocate for relocating his agency’s offices to the financially troubled St. Joseph Community Center in Lorain and has pushed the commissioners to allocate additional funding to Veterans Services.
He contends that the county is required to provide roughly $3.4 million in inside millage, essentially an unvoted property tax, annually to Veterans Services. The commission would return the unused portion to the county’s general fund at the end of the year, he has said.
“I’m fighting for what is proper and what the law states,” Bates said Thursday.
The commissioners have disputed Bates position and argued that the budget of roughly $1.2 million Veterans Services received this year is fair. Although the commissioners can review the Veterans Services’ budget, they have no power to reject or change it.
Commissioner Lori Kokoski, who has argued publicly with Bates over various issues, said she has always been troubled by the amount of money Bates spends on administrative costs. She and the other commissioners have previously said that giving additional money to Veteran Services would lead to cuts elsewhere in county government.
“Don Bates seemed to think there was some sort of money tree on county property, which there wasn’t,” Kokoski said Thursday.
Dan Gillotti, vice chairman of the Valor Home Lorain County Committee, said he and the members of his group haven’t had issues with Bates, but they were still digesting the news of Bates’ termination and couldn’t comment.
“At this point we don’t know enough about it or if there were just causes for it,” he said.
Bates, who earns $59,779 per year, according to county Auditor Mark Stewart’s office, said he plans to return to his office today to either finish cleaning out his office or go back to work.
He also said his focus will remain the same in the future.
“I’m here to help the veteran,” he said. “I want to help veterans here in this county.”
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or firstname.lastname@example.org.