The city will have to pay nearly $200,000 if it loses on appeal.
By AMANDA C. DAVIS
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
WARREN -- A local judge has upheld a ruling of the Warren Civil Service Commission that says the city erred in 1999 by incorrectly notifying 19 employees of impending layoffs.
Judge W. Wyatt McKay of Trumbull County Common Pleas Court decided Friday to deny the city's request to overturn the commission's Feb. 9, 2000, ruling.
Fred Harris, safety-service director, said Tuesday the city will appeal and does not agree with the judge or the commission.
If the city loses on appeal, it will have to award three months of back pay for each of the 19 employees, which could cost upward of $200,000, said Lt. Jeff Younkins, president of Warren Firefighters Local 204.
Harris said the city did not violate civil service commission rules when it told 17 firefighters and two other employees they would be laid off because of budget cuts.
What happened: A letter dated Dec. 1, 1999, was sent to the 19 employees, saying they would be laid off Jan. 1.
Proper procedure was followed and ample notice given, but the city rescinded those notices and reissued them Dec. 29 and Dec. 30, giving employees a day or two of notice.
Ohio Administrative Code says hand-delivered notices must be given at least 14 days before the effective date of layoffs. If mailed, the notices must be received at least 17 days before the effective date.
At the time of the civil service commission hearing, the city argued the first notices, which gave proper notice, should apply.
The city also said it didn't have to follow Ohio Administrative Code because the commission had the authority to make its own rules and regulations concerning notice.
The commission said there was a conflict between its rules and state codes, which in that case meant state rules took precedence.
Disappointment: Younkins said he's disappointed city officials plan to appeal.
"It's their right," he said. "But how many officials do they need to tell them they're wrong?"
The commission itself is appointed by the mayor, he noted.
When the commission ruled that the city erred, the city then issued a third round of layoff notices.
Back pay will be given for the period between the end of December and when the third round of notices went into effect, Younkins said.
Some employees laid off in 2000 were brought back to work in following months, when the city realized unexpected windfalls. Others returned to work when voters last month approved a 0.5 percent income tax increase to boost safety services.
In his ruling, Judge McKay said the city must pay costs of the legal action.
Appealing that ruling will only cost the city more money in attorney and legal fees, Younkins said, explaining the 19 employees will seek interest on back pay.