MOUNT VERNON — Former EMA director Marie Blubaugh has broken her silence about events surrounding her departure from the agency.
“I am disappointed in the board that not one individual spoke to me and asked me what happened,” said Blubaugh. “I just want everybody to know that I did not have the chance to speak to that board on my own behalf.”
On Feb. 19, the Knox County Emergency Management Board placed Blubaugh on two-week paid administrative leave for allegations of misconduct involving improper use of a county vehicle, lack of communication with her staff and the improper forwarding of a phone call between Brian Hess, deputy EMA director, and Mount Vernon Fire Chief Shawn Christy. Blubaugh resigned on March 5.
The improper use of a county vehicle involved Blubaugh transporting her grandsons. Blubaugh said that on Jan. 29, her son, after working 48 hours, called her at 3:55 p.m. and asked if the baby sitter dropped the boys off at Blubaugh’s office, could she take them home.
“She dropped them off at 4:20, and I drove them from my office to my home in Apple Valley,” said Blubaugh.
Blubaugh said her personal vehicle was on the lot at her office, but was snowed in. On Jan. 28, about 6 inches of snow fell throughout the county. Blubaugh said that on Jan. 29, when crews were clearing the parking lot, snow was piled around her vehicle and it was unable to be moved.
On Feb. 4, Blubaugh said, she received a phone call from Commissioner Allen Stockberger and Emily Marth, Knox County human resources/safety and loss director, asking about her use of the county vehicle. On speaker phone, she said, she relayed the same story to them.
“Mr. Stockberger told me he thought that was extenuating circumstances, and he told me not to do it again,” said Blubaugh. “I thought that issue was handled.”
Blubaugh said that at a subsequent board meeting, Stockberger passed out evaluation forms to the board members, and it was discussed whether to do Blubaugh’s evaluation that night. Blubaugh said she asked whether the board wanted her to stay, but she was told to go home.
“The following Wednesday, I got a call to meet with the board Thursday,” said Blubaugh. “My impression was I was going in for my evaluation.”
That Thursday, Feb. 19, she said, as board spokesman, Stockberger placed Blubaugh on administrative leave for a phone call between Christy and Hess that was forwarded to Rick Lanuzza, Fredericktown EMS chief.
“My reaction — I was so in shock I did not know what to say,” said Blubaugh. “I did not know about the other allegations until I read them in the paper.
“Eighteen years I worked for EMA, and not one time did I get a written reprimand, a warning ... no evaluation to tell me I was doing an unsatisfactory job.”
The phone call between Hess and Christy related to coverage at the fairgrounds during the county fair. According to Blubaugh, the manner in which Hess related the conversation to her caused her to listen to the recorded call.
Blubaugh said that after listening to the call, she felt Hess had overstepped his bounds, and that he was trying to tell Christy how to do his job. Subsequently, when Lanuzza was in her office, Blubaugh played the recording.
“I was trying to get his opinion about how he thought Mr. Hess handled the call,” said Blubaugh.
At Lanuzza’s request, Blubaugh forwarded a copy of the call to him.
“I did not have that line set up to be recorded,” she said. “It was set up in 2002 by the previous administration.
“Both individuals knew they were on a recorded county line,” she said. “They weren’t talking about personal stuff. There are no written policies or procedures that I had in the office that told me what I was or was not allowed to forward. I believed it to be a public record. My attorney said I broke no ethics violation or code.”
She said she later spoke with Christy and apologized for giving Lanuzza a copy of the call, and that she had no intention to slight Christy.
“I just wanted another opinion concerning my deputy director,” she said.
Following her resignation, rumors surfaced that Blubaugh maintained her own personnel file. Blubaugh said her file, along with Hess’ and the clerk’s files, were kept in a cabinet in the office. She did say that she, along with other staff members, had access to all of the files.
“I had stuff missing from my personnel file when I requested it,” she said.
Two items missing were an award from a former governor and a letter from former commissioner Robert Durbin commending her for her work in Knox County.
Regarding lack of communication with her staff, rumors also surfaced that Blubaugh had gotten so angry that she threw something at a staff member. Blubaugh denied that.
When asked to characterize her relationship with her staff, she said she felt Hess and the clerk were trying to get out of some of their work.
“When you start making people accountable, they don’t like it,” she said. “The past administration had no accountability.”
Blubaugh said she felt she had an open door policy with her office staff. She said she met with them when she took over as director, telling them her expectations and asking what they expected of her. She said she encouraged them to make suggestions; some she took, others she didn’t.
She said she gave evaluations to her office staff, had lengthy conversations with them, and together they set goals and reviewed progress toward those goals.
Regarding her relationship with the 9-1-1 dispatchers, she said most of the difficulty centered around scheduling. The on-site supervisors for the dispatchers are Knox County Sheriff David Barber and Mount Vernon Police Chief Mike Merrilees. Blubaugh said she did not discipline any dispatcher without either the sheriff, police chief or police captain present.
Blubaugh said she resigned on the advice of her attorney. As an unclassified employee, according to the Ohio Revised Code, the EMA director serves at the consent of the board.
“I knew I was an unclassified employee,” she said, “but I wasn’t sure what that meant. I was not allowed to speak to the board. Not at any point did any of them ask me about those allegations, except Mr. Stockberger and Emily Marth.
“I felt I did my job very well. I have been really dwelling on my name being spread acorss the Mount Vernon News like that.”