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Ex-County Health Director Sues For Reinstatement, Damages

January 22, 2012
Al Molnar , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

Former Belmont County Health Department Director Harold "Rusty" Vermillion has filed a court suit seeking reinstatement to his position as director and also damages resulting from his removal from office. Named defendant is the Belmont County Board of Health.

Vermillion, a resident of St. Clairsville, was relieved of his duties as director of the health department on April 4, 2008, following an investigation that alleged he failed to properly maintain records and allocate costs of a $249,072 grant awarded the department by the state.

As a result of that same investigation, Kathy Yeater was relieved of her duties as department nursing director and also director of the Women, Infants and Children program.

In a complaint filed on March 31, 2010 in Belmont County Common Pleas Court, Vermillion alleges his dismissal from the position he had held for 20 years was done "without good cause" and was a breach of the contract under which he was employed in February 1988.

In each of the four counts in the complaint, Vermillion alleges that as a result of what he claims was an "unlawful termination," he has "suffered economic loss and will continue to suffer economic loss for the rest of his work life expectancy, has lost and will continue to lose valuable pension right and pension contribution, health insurance and other benefits; and has suffered mental anguish, annoyance, inconvenience and loss to his professional reputation." In each of the four counts Vermillion is seeking compensatory damages in excess of $25,000.

In the fifth count in the complaint, Vermillion alleges that at the time of his termination he had a minimum of 12 weeks accumulated vacation which he was entitled to be paid for by the board. He is seeking payment in excess of $15,000 for the unpaid vacation time.

Vermillion is requesting a jury trial and the case has been assigned to Common Pleas Court Judge Jennifer Sargus. He is being represented by attorney Patrick Cassidy.

Vermillion's suit was originally filed in common pleas court in March 2010. But on Sept. 9, 2011, the case was removed to the U.S. District Court in the southern district of Ohio, based on an alleged federal claim which had not as yet been filed. That claim did not materialize and on Oct. 4, 2011 federal Judge James L. Graham remanded the case back to Belmont County Common Pleas Court.

The case involving Vermillion and Yeater started in January 2008 when the two were placed on administrative leave pending an investigation of findings in a state audit report that stated the health department had to repay the state a grant of $249,072 which was spent but not properly documented. The investigation by a Columbus firm resulted in the termination of both three months later.

Because of the lack of records regarding the expenditure of the funds, the Ohio Department of Health demanded that the county health department repay the money.

Following the removal of Vermillion, the health board named James King as interim director and later employed him as the department director, a position he still holds.

Less than 24 hours after St. Clairsville council voted a second time to reject Mayor Robert Vincenzo's re-appointment of Jill Lucidi as the city's finance officer, her office in the city building was dark.

"She's gone," one city employee commented. "She packed up and left."

Two weeks earlier when city council voted the first time not to approve her re-appointment, Lucidi remained on the job to take care of the employees' payday which was last week, as well as other financial concerns. But not last week when the council re-affirmed its decision.

With Lucidi's departure, some concerns from city employees over whether their next payday on Feb. 1 might be in jeopardy were allayed when Mayor Robert Vincenzo took speedy action in naming utility manager Shelly Fortney to temporarily take over some of Lucidi's duties until he finds a full time appointee for the position.

Ironically, Lucidi became a victim to a governmental change that she had opposed. A couple of years ago the city's charter review board approved a charter change which called for the finance director to be appointed by the mayor rather than being elected every four years by a vote of the residents of St. Clairsville.

Lucidi appeared before the board to oppose the change, stating she felt the voters should make the decision on who should serve as finance director. Immediately after the change went into effect, the mayor appointed Lucidi to resume her duties as the finance director.

Had the change not been made, there was a general feeling that Lucidi - who had been elected to four consecutive four-year terms, would have been re-elected to another term during the city election last year.

There's more than just a casual interest being shown in the planned restoration of the historic sheriff's residence that is attached to the century-old and vacant Belmont County Jail.

A total of 21 contractors engaged in work to transform old, abandoned but historic buildings into as sturdy and appealing structures as when constructed, were on hand at the building on Wednesday for a pre-bid conference. Most came from Ohio and West Virginia.

But the contract documents prepared by the architectural firm of Chambers, Murphy & Burge Restoration Architects of Akron, were available to contractors as far away as Norcross, Ga.

Bids on the project will be opened by the Belmont County commissioners on Feb. 1. The architect's estimate on the project is $674,801. The county received an Ohio Department of Transportation enhancement grant of $679,000 for the project and received matching funds of $150,000 from the Belmont County Tourism Council which will occupy it as a satellite office.

A "WOW!" response was not a surprising reaction from a first time participant in a political caucus in the state where the Republican Party made its initial bid to choose a presidential nominee.

For Mary Ann Menendez, a former member of the Wheeling News-Register Staff now residing in Estherville, Iowa, being a member of the caucus proved to be an exciting and educational experience.

In previous years she had been at a caucus but only as a reporter covering the event and not a voter.

"To have the opportunity to spend quality time in the Little Theatre of Estherville Lincoln Central High School with registered GOP voters from Emmet County, Iowa, was a WOW moment," she exclaimed.

In response to my suggestion that she give me her reactions to being in the group of the first voters in the nation to make the GOP presidential choice, she answered "The strongest memory of the event for me is that everyone in that room is proud to be American and that a strong and brighter future for this nation is what propelled them to attend." Most impressive, she pointed out, was "the number of attentive youth there with parents or grandparents."

She noted also that "it was a patriotic moment when the session opened with hats removed and hands over hearts as we recited the Pledge of Allegiance." There was standing room only 30 minutes prior to the start of the event. In the end it was Mitt Romney who squeezed out a statewide victory. But in her precinct Rick Santorum was the standard bearer.

Al Molnar can be reached via email at: amole0420@aol.com.

 
 

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