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Published: Friday, 1/28/2005

Wood County sheriff's policy against smoking disturbs some deputies

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Wasylyshyn Wasylyshyn
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BOWLING GREEN - Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn's strict new no-smoking policy has some deputies fuming.

Shortly after taking office Jan. 3, the new sheriff told officers that they could not light up or chew tobacco in any county vehicles, in or around the sheriff's office, or while they are in uniform - even if they are off-duty.

"We're role models whether we like it or not," Sheriff Wasylyshyn said, explaining that he does not want children to see a deputy in uniform smoking a cigarette or chewing tobacco.

A nonsmoker, the sheriff said smoking also affects an employee's health and increases the use of sick time.

Diana Foster, a deputy assigned to the jail, said in a grievance filed last week that the no-tobacco policy was "discriminatory against sheriff's office employees for being in uniform. Other departments within the county also have a standard of dress code [i.e. uniform] and are not restricted from smoking."

In her grievance, Ms. Foster asked that employees who cannot leave work be given a specific area to smoke. Sheriff Wasylyshyn said four or five other deputies have added their names to that grievance.

Dennis Sterling, a union representative with the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents noncommand officers at the sheriff's office, said the policy is too restrictive. He declined to elaborate.

The union has a meeting scheduled for next week with the sheriff to try to resolve the dispute, he said.

"We're trying to resolve this without going into arbitration," Mr. Sterling said.

Sheriff Wasylyshyn said county policy already prohibits smoking in county-owned vehicles and buildings, and he simply took that a bit further by prohibiting smoking and chewing tobacco while deputies are on duty, working special projects, or wearing their uniforms.

In the past, deputies were allowed to smoke outside the building or in the garage attached to the sheriff's office.

Bowling Green Police Chief Tom Votava said his officers are not permitted to smoke at the police station or in their cruisers, although they may smoke in uniform.

"If they're at a place that permits smoking, they may have a cigarette," he said.

He agreed with Sheriff Wasylyshyn that law enforcement officers are role models.

Still, the chief, who smokes, said, "There is something to say about how much of an individual's life do you govern."

"They're in my facility, they're in city vehicles. I think we can strongly govern their behavior and conduct," Chief Votava said.

"I think if they do something very discreetly, I don't see an issue as long as it doesn't violate the smoking law in Bowling Green," the chief said.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-353-5972.



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