A county worker who was fired in June is now employed with the county again because county officials missed a deadline in the grievance process, according to the highway administrator.
Franklin County Highway Administrator Eva Gadcke said Robert “Buck” Ahrens was reinstated because of a miscommunication between her office and the county commission.
Gadcke said Ahrens was reinstated because the county missed a deadline in terms of notifying the union about a meeting between her, the county commission, the worker and the union.
“It was a miscommunication between my office and the commission’s office,” Gadcke said.
Second District Commissioner Mike Schatz said he does not know where The Missourian is getting its information about Ahrens’ reinstatement. Personnel matters are not for public release, he said, adding that he is not going to discuss the matter.
Presiding County Commissioner John Griesheimer also said he could not discuss details about the firing.
The grievance meeting date had been set, but the union was never notified, Gadcke said. She said she thought the county commission was going to notify the union and that the commission thought she was going to.
Everything in a grievance procedure is “time regimented,” Gadcke said.
The union contract states, “Within 10 work days after the receipt of the appeal, the county commission will schedule a date for the appeal to be heard.”
When the county missed the deadline to notify the union of the meeting date, it was assumed at that point that the county walked away from the procedure, Gadcke added.
But in fact the county had not walked away from the procedure and still stood behind the termination, Gadcke said.
Asked who was responsible for notifying the union about the meeting, her office or the county commission, Gadcke said it was not clear. But she said, “Everybody thought the other person had done it.”
Stands by Termination
Gadcke said she still stands behind the original decision to fire Ahrens and that he was terminated for “insubordination and noncompliance.” She could not provide any more details on why he was fired.
“He was not exonerated,” Gadcke said.
Ahrens, who was reinstated Sept. 12, said Gadcke will always stand by her position, but he does not agree with it. He said he does a good job for the county and is glad to be reinstated in his original position, making the same money he was before as an asphalt crew lead man.
Now that Ahrens has been reinstated he is looked at now as never being fired, Gadcke noted.
The Missourian became aware that Ahrens had been reinstated when he was at the county commission meeting on Tuesday receiving a 20-year service award.
In July, Ahrens told The Missourian that the Operating Engineers Local 148 union of St. Louis filed a grievance over his firing.
The union did not return phone calls from The Missourian seeking comment this week.
Ahrens said Thursday it was “ironic” that he was terminated earlier in the year and then was being given a county award on Tuesday.
He said the county is a “political place” and that when workers point out incompetence it comes across as insubordination.
Ahrens said he is “satisfied” and “happy” even though Gadcke said she still stands behind the decision to fire him.
He noted that Gadcke is resigning this month anyway.
Ahrens said he was fired because he parked road equipment on a landowner’s property without filling out a form authorizing the action. But he said workers had not been required to fill out those forms before.
He said he attempted to ask the landowner’s permission to park the equipment, but the owner was not home.
The equipment was parked, and then it rained causing ruts on the land. He said the landowner complained to the county and the ruts were fixed.
The landowner had a right to complain, he said. But Ahrens said he thought getting fired for the action was “over the top.”
The county’s missing of the deadline was the “technicality” that got his job back, Ahrens noted. But he said he would have won his job back through the grievance process anyway.
He is relieved he is back at work, saying it is hard to find a job at the age of 55 and that he needs his career and insurance.