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Published: Tuesday, 5/7/2002

Woman who stole anti-levy signs says punishment unjust

WAUSEON - A Fulton County Board of Developmental Disabilities employee who stole anti-levy signs has filed a union grievance against her employer, claiming she was unjustly disciplined for the crime.

Barb Bernath, who assists disabled people in the board's workshop, re|ceived a written reprimand last week after admitting she stole four signs urging a no vote on the board's tax issues on today's ballot.

She filed the grievance through the Ohio Association of Public School Employees Local 309, Superintendent Deb Stanforth said yesterday.

Ms. Stanforth said she was surprised by the grievance.

She said she believes the punishment should have been more severe.

"I'm embarrassed to say that's all she got,'' Ms. Stanforth said. "I would like for it to go farther, but we would get into a fight with the union.''

Ms. Bernath, who's worked for the board full time for about 15 months, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Messages left for the union president were not returned.

Fulton County voters today will de|cide whether to pass two board levies: a 2-mill, 5-year replacement levy for maintenance and operation costs, and a new 0.5-mill, 5-year levy, for maintenance, operation, and renovation. Together, the levies would cost a person who owns a $100,000 home about $79 a year.

Ms. Stanforth said Ms. Bernath is lucky no formal charges are being filed through the Fulton County prosecutor's office.

The signs, which cost about $4 each, were reported missing April 30 by Leroy J. Rupp of County Road F in Clinton Township. He filed the report with the Fulton County sheriff's office and later decided not to press charges.

"Well, I feel sorry for the lady. I think she's learned her lesson. I know she did. She wrote a four-page letter of apology to me through the sheriff's department,'' Mr. Rupp said. "I thought she was to call me personally and ask me for forgiveness. She did not do that. I got all four signs back.''

In the letter, Ms. Bernath stated she discarded the signs in a dumpster and it took her more than 90 minutes to dig them out so they could be returned, Mr. Rupp said.

Sheriff Darrell Merillat said an employee was suspected after Mr. Rupp received a phone call from someone who said a board employee would remove the signs from his yard, but no one came to his door.

When the sheriff's office contacted Ms. Stanforth, she addressed employees and Ms. Bernath came forward stating she was responsible for stealing the signs late one night, when she was off duty.

"It was a high school thing to do,'' Ms. Stanforth said. "I mean, we've had a hard enough time with these levies, and now we've got this against us.''



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