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Published: Friday, 3/24/2006

Health official's future could be topic of meeting

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

BOWLING GREEN - The Wood County Board of Health has scheduled a special meeting Monday for what is expected to be further discussion of Health Commissioner Jeffrey Cooper's future with the health department.

Board member Karen Apple said last night she believes the issue needs to be revisited.

"I still feel that disciplinary action should be taken," she said. "We should have followed the recommendation of the committee."

Mr. Cooper, who was hired in April, was accused of sexually harassing a cleaning employee after hours at the health department, but the only discipline imposed by the board last week was to require Mr. Cooper to attend counseling and harassment training.

However, a fact-finding panel that investigated the claim that Mr. Cooper put his hand up a contract cleaning employee's shirt after calling her into his office concluded that Mr. Cooper did not answer all its questions honestly. The panel recommended the health board discipline Mr. Cooper.

Health board members contacted yesterday said they were not told the specific reason for the special meeting, which is set for 7:30 p.m. at the health department on East Gypsy Lane Road. David Chatfield, president of the board, did not return phone calls.

"I have no idea what the agenda is," said Dr. Steve Dood, vice president of the board. "I was asked by Mr. Chatfield if I was available to attend Monday night."

Janet DeLong, director of nursing at the health department, said the agenda listed "personnel and finance" as the issues to be discussed.

Ms. Apple said she has heard from numerous members of the public who felt the board did not take strong enough action against Mr. Cooper, particularly after an investigation showed he'd had disciplinary problems with his previous employer, the Combined Health District of Montgomery County.

When Mr. Cooper, 44, applied for the commissioner's job last year, Wood County health board members were unaware that he had been demoted from supervisor of administrative services to supervisor of facility management and his pay reduced by about $10,000 a year.

"Mr. Cooper's ability to provide stable and credible leadership and supervision to line staff has been severely undermined and irrevocably damaged," William Bines, the Montgomery County health commissioner at the time, wrote in his recommendation for disciplinary action.

The Dayton-based health district launched an investigation after a public health nurse coordinator at the department accused Mr. Cooper of harassing, intimidating, and physically attacking her.

The two acknowledged that they were having an affair, but the nurse sought a civil protection order against Mr. Cooper after she broke off their relationship.

Among the incidents that came to light in the Montgomery County investigation was a March, 2001, encounter at a Wendy's restaurant in Moraine, Ohio, where Mr. Cooper reportedly became so angry that the restaurant was closed that he pounded on the drive-thru window until it broke. Moraine police were called, but the restaurant owner agreed not to press charges as long as Mr. Cooper paid for the damage.

Mr. Cooper is working under a three-year contract with Wood County and is paid $71,500 a year.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-353-5972.



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