Ousted worker cries foul play Attorney: Firing JFS worker is 'suspect,' symbolizes possible 'smear campaign'

The attorney representing a fired Huron County Department of Job and Family Services employee said the timing looks suspicious. Toledo attorney Marilyn Widman also believes the county is involved in a "smear campaign" against her client. Nichole "Nicki" Baker was fired Tuesday based on allegations she threatened an HCDJFS client, used profanity repeatedly with the same woman and accessed pornography using the agency computer, HCDJFS Interim Director Lowell Etzler said earlier. Baker, a screener since March 7, 2005, was hired as a clerical specialist Jan. 12, 2004.
Cary Ashby
Jul 25, 2010

 

The attorney representing a fired Huron County Department of Job and Family Services employee said the timing looks suspicious. Toledo attorney Marilyn Widman also believes the county is involved in a "smear campaign" against her client.

Nichole "Nicki" Baker was fired Tuesday based on allegations she threatened an HCDJFS client, used profanity repeatedly with the same woman and accessed pornography using the agency computer, HCDJFS Interim Director Lowell Etzler said earlier. Baker, a screener since March 7, 2005, was hired as a clerical specialist Jan. 12, 2004.

Agency screeners make initial contacts with a complainant, gather information from the person and then turn it over to a case worker.

Widman said "any investigation of the underlying facts will quickly show that the termination is not supported, that the county misused its equipment in setting Ms. Baker up with charges." The attorney explained that HCDJFS officials used printouts of pornography shown on a computer screen during Baker's disciplinary hearing.

The attorney, who wasn't at the meeting, stressed it's difficult to tell if the printouts came from Baker's computer or someone else's.

"Nicki absolutely, positively did not do what she is accused of doing with her computer," Widman said.

Huron County Sheriff's Major Greg Englund said Baker filed a complaint early Wednesday afternoon, accusing someone of tampering with her work computer. Englund had no further information because he hadn't seen the actual report as of this morning.

HCDJFS Assistant Director Bonnie Richards said the chief inspector's office of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services monitored Baker's computer from June 8 through 22. That's the same timeline for the allegations Etzler cited against Baker.

"The printouts came from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services," Richards said.

Widman, Baker's attorney, said her client's deposition in a sexual discrimination lawsuit filed against the county was canceled Monday, the day Baker was to be questioned by attorneys. That is one day before the agency fired her.

"I think the timing of the firing is suspect," Widman said.

In April, Baker filed the lawsuit. She has accused former HCDJFS Director Erich Dumbeck, the agency and county commissioners of passing her over for five promotions because Dumbeck reportedly was infatuated with her. Baker also accused Dumbeck of making "unwelcome physical contact" by reportedly touching her on the hips, shoulders and back and making an "unwelcome advance," all between January and 2004 and January of this year.

Baker and Dumbeck had a personal relationship starting in January 2004, when they were co-workers supervised by different administrators.

Richards said she didn't know why the deposition was canceled, adding: "I have not heard word one about it."

Widman, in an e-mail to the Reflector, said the county is using "the age-old tactic of discrediting an adversary" by firing Baker and three other HCDJFS workers.

"The timing of (Baker's) termination is clearly retaliatory and meant to force Ms. Baker into an economic position where she cannot afford to continue her case against the county," Widman continued. "Shame on them, and how foolish they are to think Ms. Baker will simply fall down in defeat."

Assistant program administrator Marla White, eligibility/referral supervisor Jon Kelley and public information officer Stacia Badovick were told Friday their jobs would be eliminated, effective Aug. 24. Richards has said the positions were cuts were staff cuts done to save about $173,000.

Kelley has decided to take another agency job as an eligibility specialist.

Widman called the three workers hard working, knowledgeable and "loyal to the purpose the agency."

"I think there's definitely an effort by the commissioners and the employees of the department to disempower the employees who are willing to stand up for themselves," the attorney said. "They want sheep and all these women are not sheep. That's why we are proud to represent them.

"The citizens of Huron County should be outraged that their tax money is being spent on this kind of effort," Widman said.

She further cited the Reflector online comments on the recent HCDJFS stories as more evidence of the county's "smear campaign." There were 90 responses to the story about Baker being fired as of this morning.

"I'm not worried about the stories themselves," Widman added.

The attorney said the comments symbolize the "further harm" HCDJFS is trying to inflict on the workers. Richards declined to comment, saying she was unsure of the context.

Comments

Lizzie Borden (...

(REPOST)" The post of H. Nelson looks like a good assessment on what is going on in the HCJFS. Many of the posters have proved the point of H. Nelson about the factions within the agency. By the sounds of it some with their “horse blinders on” can not handle constructive criticism. One attacked the post by not trying to disprove it but by attacking his /her profession (attorney). By the sounds of it many of the people in the HCJFS will need attorneys before this is all said & done. The poster did not profess to know the details within the agency and was just expressing his / her personal experience dealing with other agencies like it. It is a shame that up until the past 3 years HCJFS seam to be above the fray. Take out a strong leader such as Judy that “had her ducks in line”; stick in a weak leader such as Erich and this is what you get. It is not rocket science, it is basic management principles. HCJFS faltering post-Judy is not a theory but fact! Compare the agency under Judy to the agency today. Look at the governmental benchmarks they are faltering on compared to a few years ago. Getting back to my point Judy was a strong woman who I think ruffled some feathers in county administration (i.e. commissioners). The county had 2 other candidates within the agency who were better qualified than Erich + 2 strong Judy-like candidates from out of the county. The good ol’ boy network did not want “another Judy” (strong female) or a Judy protégé to take the post. So they got this clearly unqualified man to take the position. Someone they THOUGHT could come in, maintain status quo (which at the time was exceptional) and would be a “yes man” (do as he was told). But noooooooo, right from the start he tried to reinvent the wheel” and turned the agency upside down. Tried to fix something that was no broke. Lack of management allowed the natives to get restless and old scores (suppressed under Judy) were being settled. I agree with H. Nelson who looks at Erich as being a victim also to the buzz-saw local politics. He was manipulated by stronger personalities within the agency along with the commissioner putting out his fires as they popped up (in essence enabling his incompetence). The commissioners should have obeyed that old adage of “where there is smoke there is fire”. You have an agency where nobody is taking accountability. I guess Erich resigning is tacitly taking some accountability by bailing when the county agency has faced its greatest crisis in its history. Everyone is finger pointing. Sounds like Iraq with insurgencies popping up wreaking havoc. Instead of killing people as they do in Iraq, they have perfected the art of character assignations. This “cleaning house” is equivalent to ethnic cleansing where given the opportunity personal hatreds are being interjected over common sense. For an agency that purpose is to serve & help people in need are acting like they are the ones that need counseling. Just look at the post coming from people from within the agency. Former employees such as myself are piping up to say YOU ARE EMBARRASSING US AND YOUR FELLOW WORKERS THAT ARE NOT AIRING THEIR “DIRTY LAUNDRY” WITH YOUR BEHAVIOR!!!! Is this a blog thread from a Jr. High chat room? I need to look into buying the rights to this saga and call it “HCJFS Gone Wild” "

Karma (Anonymous)

Let the case go to court and let the evidence (which is not the same evidence used in the hearing to the commissioners); Let the state come in and give the HCJFS a thorough proctologic exam (WITHOUT KY) which should expose all of the shenanigans that go up & beyond Erich and his incompetence (i.e commissioners). What goes around comes around......................... Karma is a B*tch.

swiss family......

... i hope that the ousting of these workers is only the begining of what i hope will be a major over haul of all of the dead weight out there !! there is so much gossiping and backstabbing and incompitence out there , that they are the laughing stock of the state !! if you want to get rid of some real problems out there ... say good bye to Sally and Connie ...... bye bye

AlterEgo RE Liz...

Don't be fooled, this department's problems are decades old, going at least back to the 80s... There have been a lot of Directors out there in that time. A lot of things did not come to light during the "Judy" years, but just becuase they were not published in the newspaper daily doesn't mean that problems didn't exist, she obviously handled them better than other Directors. Erich was not a strong leader, and was too young, naive, and inexperienced to truly address any issues at this agency, and this as well as his poor judgement cost him not only this job but probably many other opportunities down the road.

Does anyone kno...

Why hasn't Baker given her deposition in the sexual harrassment lawsuit? If this is a clear case where she was a victim of harrassment I would think she would want to get everything on the table and put an end to all of this rumor and speculation.

Michael con"Vic...

A deposition has not been taken due to the foot dragging by the other side on this new evidence AND the way they handled the firing. Which like many other things that being done out there was handled the wrong way and could even eclipse this little case of he said she said ….. stay tuned at eleven.

Genghis Khan (A...

You are absolutely right about the problem at the agency and how Judy (with her faults) did a better job at dealing with crisis. But the point is that the problems at HCJFS were not unique at all. They were pretty indicative of the whole system in Ohio and under the management guidelines set by the state, the vast majority evolved the same way. I have been involved with many agencies across the state of Ohio. The only difference with Judy was that she caused HCJFS to turn the corner and under her watch Huron County was above the State average in almost every performance standard. That is something that can not be denied.

Yes there were some systemic problems in the agency but you also have to understand the politics of local governments. There is more behind the scenes than you think. County politics are a conspiracy theorist dream because almost NOTHING is as it appears and almost everything that goes on has multiple reasons. It takes a few “fires” (Gravelles, shaken baby, murder) to draw the public’s attention to the problems of the agency. Like so many things in government, they are reactionary (meaning they act due to reacting to something). The media is like that also. They NEVER ask the tough questions, they highlight the negatives. One tough question that SHOULD have been asked was why they hired Erich with his limited experience when they clearly had better candidates?

The sad thing is how quickly things change. The general perception of the HCJFS is it is full of inept, disjointed people that typify the incompetence of local government. If the newspaper would have given the agency it true recognition it deserved a few years ago when they were being honored by the state; highlighted by the federal government for its achievements (they even sent a delegation from Northern Ireland to see how a government service oriented agency approximately the same size as their own is suppose to work). The public could have a better picture of the agency and would NOT paint the whole agency with one brush. This distinction (federal recognition) is not given just to any agency (3 in the WHOLE COUNTRY). They were asked to part of seminars discussing best practices because they WERE one of the premiere agencies.

As I said at the beginning the agency had many faults under Judy but as in any business or organization you will have the bad with the good. Under Judy, the bad did not overtake the good in that agency. The work environment is so caustic it has affected the level and quality of services being performed. And as a tax payer, I like everyone else that pays taxes in this county should be concerned when their hard earned dollars are being mismanaged in the HCJFS (torrid stories of sex, lies; money being used to line the pockets of lawyers who are defending the county for the actions of a few; complaints of mismanagement; nobody accountable). Has anyone stepped up to the plate and took responsibility for ANY of the major scandals? ……. No. It is the typical blame game where everything is blamed on a “few bad apples”. Let an outside investigative branch (state or the feds) come in and scrutinize the agency. How do you expect the county who is in a defensive mode TRULY investigate itself make the RIGHT changes without fearing to add fuel to the fire of the multiple lawsuits. You think they will make major changes with this backdrop???? They would be stupid to but then again they did fire an employee who has an active lawsuit against them.

Re: Does anyone...

just wait...swiss idiot will have a filthy answer for you for sure! it knows everything.

Re:Michael Vick...

It says in the article that Baker was to give testimony the day BEFORE she was fired. If someone wanted to use a termination to influence her deposition it would make sense that they fire her before this was scheduled to happen. The article doesn't say if Baker knew she was going to be fired but I would think they would get rid of her as soon as they found the stuff on her computer.

Hey Genghis (An...

It looks like the agency is making quite a few major moves, even if you don't believe they are the RIGHT moves. They have gotten rid of the director and two administrators and some other dead weight. It sounds like you have a personal issue and you can't get over the fact that things are not what they used to be. Maybe if you would have finished your higher education instead of failing out you may have had a shot at keeping things going like you wanted.

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