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JANESVILLE

A longtime Rock County employee fired amid accusations that she stole 11 rolls of toilet paper from the Rock Haven nursing home has been reinstated to her job.

The county has spent more than $12,000 in legal fees on the case.

Rock County Board members voted 19-7 June 27 to reverse decisions made by the nursing home administrator, Rock County Human Resources Director Annette Mikula and an impartial hearing officer to fire Patti Wilbanks, a certified nursing assistant.

Wilbanks has denied stealing toilet paper from a restroom over the course of a month.

Some county board members questioned why the county triggered a lengthy, time-consuming process over the theft of toilet paper.

“At some point, somebody should probably think on their own and be like, ‘Why are we going so far on this? What is this costing the county? What are our priorities? What’s important to us?’” board member Yuri Rashkin said.

Rock County has paid Shana Lewis, its outside legal counsel, $12,801 through May 31 to handle the grievance.

Rock County Administrator Josh Smith said last week the county will review its grievance policy and could bring it back to the board for changes. He also said some county board members are interested in looking into employment practices at Rock Haven.

“I think there is going to be outcomes from this that will give us more insights into our process issues,” Smith said.

The Gazette has a pending open records request seeking more details on the case.

The board’s vote June 27 came after a lengthy Stage 5 grievance hearing in which Lewis argued for Wilbanks’ termination. It was an unusual move for the county board, which has not had such a hearing in at least four years.

The hearing was the final step in the county’s formal grievance procedure, which was created after the passage of Act 10 in 2011. Other steps include appealing an employee’s termination to Mikula and an impartial hearing officer.

Lewis said during the hearing the incident began after some at Rock Haven had suspected someone was stealing toilet paper from a restroom.

Laurie Greenfield, a registered nurse at Rock Haven, “investigated” the shortage by counting the number of rolls in the restroom, Lewis said.

On three occasions, Greenfield counted the rolls of toilet paper and then observed Wilbanks enter and leave the restroom. Lewis said the employee recounted the rolls shortly after Wilbanks exited and noticed a total of 11 fewer rolls over three incidents.

“In all three incidents, (Greenfield) did not observe anyone else enter the restroom before she recounted the toilet paper,” Lewis told the board. “Further, on all three days, (Wilbanks) left the restroom and then the building while holding her jacket in her arms instead of wearing it.”

Lewis said the nursing home administrator and an assistant human resources employee investigated the accusations. Wilbanks denied stealing the toilet paper, Lewis said. She eventually was fired.

Lewis seemed to indicate Wilbanks might not have been fired if she had “taken responsibility and apologized” for stealing toilet paper.

Rashkin, who supported Wilbanks’ reinstatement during discussions at the hearing, said there was no evidence presented and questioned why the firing was brought in front of board members.

“How come this process went through all of these steps and nobody thought to stop this? Why did it have to end up in front of the county board of supervisors?” Rashkin asked. “... I feel like the board sent a message, and hopefully this will affect and improve relations within the organization.”

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