Saturday, May 19, 2007

Lawmaker Claims Lake Co. Sheriff Illegally Fired Her

State Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon (D-Munster) worked for the Lake Co. Sheriff's office for the past three years until she was fired by Sheriff Roy Dominguez last December while the legislature was in session. Both Reardon and House Speaker Pat Bauer believe Dominguez' refusal to rehire her to her position as director of the Lake County Drug Free Alliance at the conclusion of the General Assembly this year violates a state law protecting the jobs of legislators according to a story in today's Gary Post-Tribune by John Byrne. Byrne reports:

Lake County Sheriff Roy Dominguez terminated Reardon in December, after three years running the agency that spearheads the county's anti-drug agenda. To Reardon, Dominguez violated a state law prohibiting employers from firing members of the General Assembly for missing work because of legislative duties.

Dominguez declined to discuss why he fired Reardon, except to say politics played no part in his decision. A letter Dominguez sent to Reardon this week denying her request to return to the alliance indicates he was not satisfied with her work. "(Y)our work performance reflected that you were not qualified to retain your previous position; and circumstances have changed so as to make it unreasonable to re-employ you in said position," the sheriff's letter states.

The law protecting legislators' jobs stipulates they must be qualified to return to their positions. But House Speaker Pat Bauer, D-South Bend, said the sheriff's actions break the law.

"It's a violation of the law, and I'm very disappointed in that sheriff for violating the law," Bauer said.

"He's a lame duck sheriff, so I suppose he doesn't think he has to worry about that anymore," the speaker said.

"That's a shame, because all people should be people of good will. This is a part-time job. It's a difficult job," he said.

House Democratic Caucus Supervising Attorney Patrick Cunningham said he sent Dominguez a letter informing him of the law.

"Now it's up to (Reardon) to decide how she wants to proceed," Cunningham said.

If you examine the statute in question, it appears Reardon has a pretty strong leg to stand on in being reinstated to her former job. Indiana Code 2-3-3-1 reads:

Any person being a member of the general assembly of the state of Indiana who, in order to perform the duties as a member of the general assembly of the state of Indiana by attendance at any session of the general assembly, or attendance at any duly called committee meeting, conference, or legislative study committee meeting of which he is a member, has left or leaves a position or employment, other than a temporary position or employment, in the employ of any employer and is still qualified to perform the duties of his employment and makes application for reemployment within ten (10) days after the close of any such session, or meeting, of the general assembly shall be restored by his employer to such position or employment at not less than the same pay or to a similar position or employment and pay unless the employer's circumstances have so changed as to make it impossible or unreasonable to do so. When a member of the general assembly is restored to his employment it shall be done without discrimination, nor shall the member be caused to suffer inconvenience or any other adverse action by his employer, as a result of any action taken while serving as a legislator.

I read this statute as pretty much tying the hands of an employer from firing a legislator while the legislator is on leave from their job during the legislative session as appears to be the case with Reardon. If Dominguez had rehired Reardon and waited a few weeks to fire her and relied on reasons other than her absence from work during the legislative session, he would have probably been on safe legal ground.

It is interesting to note that Byrne's article notes that Reardon formally worked for U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky before he eliminated her position, which seems out of the ordinary. The article also raises a serious conflict of interest issue respecting Reardon's employment and her legislative duties. "Reardon sponsored a bill this session that brought more funding to the alliance," Byrne writes.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is what happens when public employees run for, and get elected to office.

This statutory prohibition was never contemplated to cover public employees, I'd guess.

I know it's probably unconstitutional to prohibit public employees from seeking public office. But da-yum, Gary, we're inundated by public employees in office.

In my experience, many of these public emmployees completely lose touch with reality.

And isn't it the height of irony, that Speaker Bauer, a longtime Ivy Tech schill, is joining in this complaint?

They wouldn't know the real world if it smacked them in the face.

Erin said...

Anon 9:42- you took the words out of my mouth (well, the first part of your post!). It seems odd to me to sacrifice law enforcement (particularly anti-drug programs) for a legislator. I can't imagine that anyone meant for a sheriff to have to keep an employee if he didn't feel he/she was qualified for the position. The law seems pretty clear that the person must be qualified to retake the position and Roy must have been aware of the law based on the wording of his letter. Unless there is evidence that she was fired for missing work, I don't really see how the law was broken.

Advance Indiana said...

The sheriff may well have had a valid reason for terminating her, but the timing here is what really creates a problem for him. If he had done it when the legislature wasn't in session, I don't think there would be any issue, assuming she is an at will employee.

This law has been around at least since the 1950s. I'm not really sure how common it was back then for a government employee to serve in the legislature.

Anonymous said...

Our Speaker hasn't drawn a private paycheck in his entire life.

Our Council president--ditto. He tries to set up a company to benefit form his influuence, and he screws it up royally. Why? Because he thought the private sector was simple. His dalliance in the private sector had unintended consequences: he didn't pay some employees/contractors, he had some equipment repossessed, he had his city wages garninshed to pay for these misdeeds, and he failed to properly report his company's business with the city.

No problem! Ask about it? Your loyalty to party or city are questioned.

There are five or six public safety employees on our council. They don't even attempt to be impartial on issues before the council--they never recuse, and if you ask about it, it's as if you're in the wrong. The majority leader's wife got a job as a MDC hearing examiner with zero experience, and her lack of experience has showed itself multiple times.

The common thread here, is that the arrogance is overwhelming. It ultimately spills into other areas. They take care of their friends. Sometimes improperly--evidence 300 East.

And this is where Wilson posts that these people keep getting re-elected, so it must be OK.

It's truly Alice in Wonderland.

These folks would crash, burn and perrish in the private sector. Evidence President Gray's brief exposure to the real world.

The Speaker, and the representative in question, should look hard in the mirror before they go down this path.If it is statutorily proper to reinstate the woman, is it ethically proper?

All this is done on our dime, folks.

Anonymous said...

The Legislature was in session in December?

Advance Indiana said...

The legislature kicks off the session in November, even though they don't get down to business until January.

Anonymous said...

shall be restored by his employer to such position or employment at not less than the same pay or to a similar position or employment and pay unless the employer's circumstances have so changed as to make it impossible or unreasonable to do so.

Look at the end of this sentence: unless the employer's circumstances have so changed as to make it impossible or unreasonable to do so. Go ahead and hire her back at min. wage saying that due to budget cuts, it is impossible to pay the old wage.

Peter said...

I think she would be in a position to know that there were no budget cuts.

Edward Fox said...

I know it's probably unconstitutional to prohibit public employees from seeking public office. But da-yum, Gary, we're inundated by public employees in office.

Actually it would seem to be most constitutional:

Article II, Section 9. "No person holding a lucrative office or appointment under the United States or under this State is eligible to a seat in the General Assembly;"