Columbiana County ponders jail workers ruling

LISBON -- Columbiana County officials are trying to determine how to respond to an appeals court order upholding the reinstatement of county jail workers laid off several years ago.
Commissioners and Sheriff Dave Smith met privately Wednesday with Atty. Mark Skakun of Buckingham, Doolittle & amp; Burroughs of Akron, the law firm representing the county in the matter.
Afterward, Skakun said the county's options include mounting an appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court or reaching a settlement with the laid-off employees.
Appeals court ruling: At issue is a May 11 ruling by the 7th District Court of Appeals, reinstating a 1997 arbitrator's award. The award said that the furloughs were improper and that the 42 county jail employees laid off in February 1997 must be returned to their jobs and given back pay.
The county contested the arbitrator's award in county common pleas court and won. Visiting Judge John Milligan scrapped the award in October 1999.
But the Fraternal Order of Police, the union representing the jail workers, appealed to the 7th District in November 1999, resulting in this month's ruling by the appeals court.
Skakun said he disagrees with the appeals court's determination that the county failed to file two key motions contesting the arbitration when it was disputed in common pleas court.
The motions the appeals court referred to didn't need to be filed, Skakun argued.
County officials have pointed out that there are no county corrections jobs to which the laid-off employees may return.
The county contracted a private company in 1998 to run the jail with its own employees.
Union response: FOP attorney Paul Cox recently said the union will insist that the workers be reinstated, though he added that the union is open to a settlement.
In other matters, commissioners approved a new health insurance plan affecting nearly 670 county employees.
The plan is expected to save the county about $2 million annually on insurance, which cost about $4.5 million last year.
The new plan, which takes effect June 1, is less expensive partly because it relies more heavily on a physicians network and requires employees to share a larger part of health-care costs.
Commissioner Dave Cranmer said the new plan is the first significant change to the county's health insurance coverage in about 16 years.