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Health Department employee is fired, threatens a lawsuit

Attorney identifies client, implies Chronister subject of investigation into theft of money from GCHD

Published: Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013 8:12 a.m. CST • Updated: Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013 8:20 a.m. CST

The Grundy County Board of Health approved the immediate termination of an employee Wednesday night, but did not name who or why.

That employee’s attorney, Randy Gordon, said in a phone call after the meeting that the employee was Renae Chronister, and that she would be suing the Board of Health and Grundy County.

Grundy County State’s Attorney Jason Helland has said previously his office was investigating if a health department employee had committed theft, but has not commented further due to the investigation.

The investigation came after the audit findings were shared in January. The findings stated there were irregularities between the health department and the treasurer’s office. The audit states that, starting in June 2012, new procedures were put into place and the irregularities were no longer found. But prior to June, it was found, cash was being recorded within the department, but not being deposited with the Grundy County Treasurer’s office.

How much may have been taken has not been determined, but Tawnya Mack, of Mack & Associates Certified Public Accounts, said previously it was in excess of $10,000.

Financial questions and the possibility of theft were discussed last year as well, and Grundy County Board Chairman Ron Severson said previously the county tried to make recommendations to the Board of Health then, but that the county does not control that board.

After an executive session that lasted about two hours Wednesday, the Board of Health voted to “terminate an employee identified in closed session for cause effective immediately.”

Board of Health President Joan Harrop would not comment on the termination nor if it was related to the investigation.

“Why is it so immediate that they had to take action if they let her come back for 8 to 9 months and there are no criminal charges pending?” said Gordon. “What’s so immediate?”

Gordon said Chronister was put on administrative leave some time last year related to the “alleged missing money,” but they brought her back to work months ago and she worked in the health department up until Tuesday.

He said the auditor’s report found numerous discrepancies, including that numerous people handled the funds. Many people were handling the money, transferring it from person to person without being counted or a receipt given.

During public comments, Gordon questioned the timing of the board’s action and said it seemed Chronister was being fired as retaliation. Gordon explained later that his client had filed grievances for two other employees in the department and that she was being punished for that.

Two other health department employees present at the meeting are also Gordon’s clients, he said, and were speaking to the board in executive session regarding their grievances against another health department employee, not Chronister.

“They have issues with the toxic work environment there,” he said.

The board is allowing for the blame to be placed on an employee rather than on the people in charge, said Gordon.

During the public comments portion, he showed the board a photo of money being left unattended on the desk of a leader of the health department, showing there is still a problem with the safekeeping of money in the department.

When Gordon tried to give board members the photo for a closer look, they would not take it. After the meeting, Administrator Kay Lynn Shoemaker would not comment on Gordon’s allegations.

Also during public comment, Grundy County Board member Deb Warning said being a member of the county’s Health Committee, she was being asked about the investigation and what was being done. She said the taxpayers have been waiting for months for an explanation on what happened and what procedures are being put in place preventing this from happening again.

Board of Health member Dr. Robert Engle said all the accounting procedures were changed when the problems were first brought to the board’s attention. He said they couldn’t comment further because of the investigation, but that steps were taken right away.

“Some feel not enough have been taken,” said Warning before the board voted to terminate. “It would be good to keep the taxpayers informed.”

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