Mayor denies Rist’s grievance

Published 10:11 pm Saturday, November 29, 2008

Ironton Mayor Rich Blankenship has denied the grievance filed by former police officer Beth Rist, who was fired but is attempting to get her job back.

Blankenship said Friday morning he had sent Rist a letter with his response to her grievance, but declined to tell The Tribune what the decision was because of Fraternal Order of Police union contract rules that stipulate such matters be addressed in writing and that the person on the receiving end be notified before anyone else.

Rist said Friday evening she had received the letter in the mail that day. She expressed disappointment in both the mayor’s decision and what she said was a lack of representation on the part of local union officials.

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”I am extremely disappointed I have not had due process through my collective bargaining agreement,” Rist said. “I paid my union dues for 13 years. The union was obligated to assist me through the grievance process. On the first stop of the grievance process, my grievance with the chief, I was alone. On the second stop, my grievance with the mayor, I was alone. At my initial hearing, I was alone. I have not had due process.”

Rist’s attorney, Warren Morford, said previously if the mayor did not reinstate Rist, he would take the matter to arbitration.

One city councilman has expressed concern that Rist may not deserve to be fired for her actions, but other council members said they are willing to allow the mayor to handle administrative affairs, including this one.

Frank Murphy said he had expressed his thoughts to Blankenship.

“I can’t speak for anyone else, but, myself, personally, I’m concerned the punishment might have been a little harsh for the crime,” Murphy said.

He said he is also concerned about the ramifications of legal action should Rist decide to file a lawsuit against the city. Murphy said he expressed his thoughts to the mayor and he understands this is an executive, not a legislative matter.

He is also aware Rist made a mistake. But he said she is a veteran officer with an otherwise good track record who admits she made a mistake.

“I would like to see this worked out,” Murphy said.

Blankenship said he invited Murphy to put his concerns in writing so they could be addressed.

Blankenship said day-to-day operations will be handled following proper procedure.

Other council members are more hesitant to get involved in something they view as the mayor’s prerogative.

“I have not stuck my nose in that,” Council member Chuck O’Leary said. “It is not my choice. I have made it a point to stay out of it. I like Mayor Blankenship and I like Jimmy (Chief Carey). I don’t know what all the facts are, just what I have read and heard.”

Council members Bob Cleary, and Butch Huff concurred.

“The mayor takes care of personnel issues,” Huff said. “And I don’t have an opinion because I don’t have all the facts. I just don’t know. But I do have confidence in the mayor and the chief.”

Council member Mike Lutz had no comment and council member Leo Johnson was not immediately available for comment.

Rist was fired last month after an internal and external investigation into a traffic ticket she wrote in August. Rist allowed a family member to take a citation in place of a woman who had run a stop sign, was driving without insurance and driving with a suspended license because she had no insurance.

When the family member’s driver’s license was suspended for violation of insurance laws, the family member became upset and contacted Rist and then Carey. A Lawrence County grand jury indicted Rist earlier this month on one count of tampering with evidence.