Veterans request board review of VSO termination
With five pieces of paper and 50 signatures, veterans are making their voice heard following the loss of Douglas County Veteran Service Officer Trevor Welsch.
"We’re looking for some answers," said Vietnam veteran Dennis Bee.
A petition asking the Douglas County Board of Supervisors to review Welsch’s termination was filed with County Clerk Sue Sandvick Monday. The board accepted the correspondence during Thursday’s meeting. It is expected to move to the Jan. 7 Administration Committee for review. The petition also requests disciplinary action for County Administrator Andrew Lisak if the board finds proper procedures and protocols weren’t followed.
"We’re just asking them to review it," said Eual Moore, who served two tours in Vietnam. "If they feel everything is fine, they can make it a matter of public record."
According to a termination letter signed by Lisak in October, Welsch was terminated because of an incident May 9 at a bar in Trego; Welsch was initially charged with a misdemeanor for theft of less than $2,500 after being accused of stealing a wallet. He pleaded no contest to an ordinance violation for theft, which resulted in a $299 fine. An ordinance violation is not a criminal offense.
"While the charge was reduced from a misdemeanor to an ordinance violation, it does not excuse the behavior or its impact on your employment," Lisak wrote.
With that move, Bee said, Douglas County veterans lost the best veterans service officer they’ve had in 45 years.
Although Welsch initially appealed the decision, he withdrew the appeal and resigned the post in November.
"We know we’re not going to get Trevor back," said Superior veteran Delbert "Del" Kangas, but they found it disconcerting that someone who was doing so much good for thousands of veterans would be fired over an ordinance violation.
"We want to make sure the next coordinator is held to a reasonable standard, not terminated on a whim," Moore said, and that the standard is consistent across the board.
The 50 signatures were collected over the weekend. Moore said they could have had more, but they wanted to get it to the County Clerk in time for this month’s meeting.
"We need to take a good, hard look at the situation," Moore said. "We feel we lost a very good coordinator." Welsch was knowledgeable — veterans said he knew the forms and procedures, as well as how to get through red tape and push the right buttons to get them the help they needed. He also cared, said County Board Supervisor Pat Ryan. She’s received daily phone calls from veterans about Welsch.
"There are 4,300 veterans in Douglas County," she said. "I’ve talked to a lot of them."
He went above and beyond, she said, and made an impact for veterans.
"They’ve never had anyone like that," Ryan said. "Why do you think the vets are fighting so hard?"
On July 16, 2003, during their inaugural meeting in the new Government Center, board supervisors voted unanimously to reclassify the county’s administrative coordinator to a county administrator position. That changed the office’s scope and power, making it more of a CEO type of position.
An administrative coordinator, according to state statute, has no authority to hire or fire department heads unless it is granted to them by the board.
A county administrator has the authority to appoint and supervise the heads of departments and can remove one at their pleasure, according to state statute. According to Douglas County policies, termination can take place with no prior disciplinary actions. The policy gives a list of examples of behavior that could justify disciplinary action. They include neglect of duty, theft, harassment, dishonesty and conviction of a felony or misdemeanor. There is nothing on the list about an ordinance violation.
Ryan said she would like to see the board consider returning the position to an administrative coordinator classification. It’s not a step backwards, she said, but a way for supervisors to be more responsive to their constituents.
"I think they need to take the responsibility people elected them to do," she said.
Supervisor Mary Lou Bergman wasn’t surprised to hear that veterans had filed a petition in support of Welsch.
"I know for a fact that he has done a tremendous job working for veterans in Douglas County," she said, and the veterans need to be heard.
"They’ve put their lives on the line for us and if they have questions, they need to be answered," Bergman said.