REGISTER VIEWPOINT: Belak firing smells

It's troubling when anyone loses his or her job, especially after that person is promoted and takes on more duties and responsibilit
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

It's troubling when anyone loses his or her job, especially after that person is promoted and takes on more duties and responsibilities. It's sad also when that termination occurs during the holiday season.

But Ohio law classifies most employees in the public and private sectors as "at-will" workers subject to termination without cause and without notice. That includes most of the employees in County Auditor Tom Paul's office.

Mary Beth Belak was fired by Paul a day after Christmas, shortly after Paul took the helm in the office after winning the November election as a Democrat. There are plenty of unanswered questions regarding the circumstances of Belak's firing -- besides the terrible timing -- that leave a stink in the air. It's a stink that should have been avoided.

Paul forgot, or never learned, an important rule every public official should bear in mind when making important decisions: avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

It certainly could appear to some that Paul was saying a big thank-you to fellow Democrat and campaign supporter County Commissioner Tom Ferrell when he opted to axe Belak. Paul cut Belak loose and promoted Ferrell's wife to Belak's former position, complete with a hefty raise. Pam Ferrell, who has worked in the office for 13 years and had prior real estate experience before joining it, is apparently well-qualified for the promotion.

But Paul offered no explanation as to why the move was necessary, and it is not at all clear that Belak was an at-will employee. Her supervisory role was defined as a classified position, a designation that is supposed to afford more job security than normal at-will employees of government agencies.

But to the victor go the spoils. Paul called the firing an "administrative decision," offering no further explanation. Belak is fighting the termination.

But this smelly mess does not end there. According to Belak, Paul offered her a parting severance of more than $8,000 in cash and benefits if she'd sign a letter of resignation saying she was willingly leaving her job due to "personal reasons."

Jeez, Louise. Give us a break. If that's true it seems to us to skirt ethical boundaries and at the very least is an unwise attempted use of taxpayer money. Belak said she declined the offer.

Tom Paul owes Belak an explanation. He owes taxpayers an explanation.

Please, start explaining while we spray air freshener around your office.