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Published: Wednesday, 5/7/2008

Ex-OHP troopers say firings break contract

BY LAREN WEBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
<img src=http://www.toledoblade.com/graphics/icons/audio.gif> <b><font color=red>HEAR</b></font color=red>: February administrative hearing with <a href=" /assets/wav/TO44133423.WMA" target="_blank "><b>Trooper Franklin audio</b></a> 
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<img src=http://www.toledoblade.com/graphics/icons/audio.gif> <b><font color=red>HEAR</b></font color=red>: February administrative hearing with <a href=" /assets/wav/TO44134423.WMA" target="_blank "><b>Trooper Wlodarsky audio</b></a> <img src=http://www.toledoblade.com/graphics/icons/audio.gif> <b><font color=red>HEAR</b></font color=red>: February administrative hearing with <a href=" /assets/wav/TO44133423.WMA" target="_blank "><b>Trooper Franklin audio</b></a> <br> <img src=http://www.toledoblade.com/graphics/icons/audio.gif> <b><font color=red>HEAR</b></font color=red>: February administrative hearing with <a href=" /assets/wav/TO44134423.WMA" target="_blank "><b>Trooper Wlodarsky audio</b></a>
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Two former Ohio Highway Patrol troopers in Sandusky have filed grievances claiming the state unfairly revoked terms of a "last-chance" agreement allowing them to retain their jobs after one was photographed by the other while dressed in a Ku Klux Klanlike costume, according to a union official.

Eric Wlodarsky and Craig Franklin were terminated Friday following a recommendation made April 22 by Gov. Ted Strickland.

They had been on paid administrative leave since the governor's recommendation, said Lt. Tony Bradshaw, a patrol spokesman.

Mr. Wlodarsky used a cell phone on Jan. 20 to photograph Mr. Franklin wearing a white cone on his head and a white paper mask resembling the garb of a KKK member. Both troopers were on duty at the time.

Larry Phillips, president of the Ohio State Troopers Association, said the "last-chance" agreement, signed April 3, is binding and the Ohio Highway Patrol should adhere to the terms originally agreed upon.

"Nowhere in our contract and nowhere in Ohio's collective bargaining law does it say that once [the agreements] are signed, they can be revoked," he said. "If they wanted to change their mind, they should have done it before they signed it."

Mr. Phillips said the troopers should be reinstated to their positions as outlined in the agreement.

Mr. Wlodarsky, who had been on the force since 1998, was demoted from sergeant to trooper, was required to attend diversity awareness training, and was transferred to the patrol's Norwalk post.

Calls seeking comment from Mr. Wlodarsky were not returned last night.

Mr. Franklin could not be reached for comment.

At a disciplinary hearing in March, Mr. Franklin, hired in 1990, received an unpaid five-day suspension, was ordered to attend diversity awareness training, and requested a transfer to the patrol's Fremont post.

Mr. Wlodarsky forwarded the photo by text message to Sgt. Jason Demuth at the patrol's Norwalk post, who then forwarded the picture to a dispatcher at the Toledo post.

The highway patrol's administrative investigative unit received an anonymous letter postmarked Jan. 22 detailing the incident.

During the troopers' initial disciplinary hearing, Col. Richard Collins, commander of the patrol, said it was recommended they be terminated.

But given their relatively clean disciplinary history, the troopers were able to take advantage of the patrol's "last-chance" program, he said.

The provision in their union contract allowed the troopers to keep their jobs if they maintained a clean record for two years.

Governor Strickland, during a meeting April 21, asked Public Safety Director Henry Guzman and Colonel Collins to begin proceedings to terminate the employment of the troopers and previously said: "We cannot and will not tolerate this kind of insulting, disgraceful conduct which undermines public confidence in the important work that the patrol does every day."

Mr. Wlodarsky and Mr. Franklin were immediately placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of last week's predisciplinary hearing during which it was determined there was just cause to terminate them, Lieutenant Bradshaw said.

Colonel Collins said it is not uncommon for employees who are terminated to file grievances. He said the grievances will go through a labor process and eventually will reach an arbitrator unless a settlement is agreed upon before that time.

Mr. Phillips said he is confident an arbitrator will determine the last-chance agreement is a binding document, and the two men will be given back their jobs.

He doesn't expect an arbitrator hearing to be held until at least June.

Lieutenant Bradshaw was unaware of the salaries of Mr. Wlodarsky and Mr. Franklin, but said troopers with 10 or more years of experience are paid on average about $66,000 a year.

During separate administrative hearings held in February, Mr. Wlodarsky and Mr. Franklin said the prank was not meant to be malicious.

Mr. Franklin, who made and wore the outfit, said it was similar to a skit performed by comedian Dave Chappelle.

He said he later realized it was wrong and was embarrassed by his actions.

Mr. Wlodarsky said he should have stopped Mr. Franklin from putting on the outfit.

Contact Laren Weber at:

lweber@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.



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