April 17, 2024

County emergency board upholds retirement plan

Duckworth

Despite Union County Emergency Management Coordinator Jo Duckworth’s desire to continue working, her board Wednesday upheld in a 7-2 vote her original intent to retire effective July 1.

After Duckworth explained in 2023 her plan to retire, the commission hired Bonnie Castillo last summer to be trained by Duckworth for a year and take over the position after Duckworth leaves. But the relationship among the Duckworth, Castillo and the board has been tense since.

Last October during a commission meeting reviewing accusations by Duckworth of Castillo’s unacceptable work behavior, the commission approved in a 5-2 vote to retain Castillo. That meeting was moderated by Paul Greufe, who is the the county’s human resource director. Greufe said he was contacted by Duckworth about concerns with Castillo and her performance.

Commission member Chris Knouse said Wednesday meeting minutes from Jan. 4, 2023, included a letter from Duckworth explained how her desire was to retire July 1, 2024. “I’ve heard you have wanted someone trained to take over when I leave. To do that on a part-time basis will take a year.”

Knouse said Duckworth had no evidence of that meeting, which she confirmed, as Knouse called it an oversight for her.

Knouse also included various pieces of information from 2023 including emails and meeting minutes. He said Duckworth asked Greufe if the “board can make me retire.” Greufe’s answer was how Duckworth already stated her retirement plan, which the board can follow. Greufe also suggested the board consult a labor-law attorney for further assistance. Knouse said he had no input from Union County Attorney Shane O’Toole having informed him about the issue.

The position was on the commission’s January agenda, but was tabled.

“I think we need to make a motion and settle this once and for all,” Knouse said. “I think tonight our motion only needs to be whether or not for Jo to rescind her resignation and continue employment.”

Castillo said she had another part-time job while working part time to be trained for emergency management with the intent of being full time in July.

Castillo

“This has been going on for me since my second month here. I would like an answer. I have a family I have to support and the stress of feeling of not knowing. It would be nice for me to know to tonight so that I know what my next plan is,” Castillo said.

Castillo claimed the training has lacked since she has been employed, blaming Duckworth. Castillo said she works 20 hours a week at emergency management including training time from state and federal offices.

“The things I have picked up on are things I have experienced with or assignments Jo has given me with very little direction,” she said.

Duckworth explained her work and personal life over the past year.

“I had a lot of things happen in a short period of time. In January 2023 things were looking pretty good. In July, I began to suspect things were going awry. Early September, I found out how awry things were going. In our October meting, I was having serious doubts about retiring in July. I made no bones about it. My husband was ill. He had told me in conversation after we had spoken with his health care team that he didn’t feel I should retire and I needed to stay where I was at. When he told me that, that is when I approached you guys. I have struggled with the decision.”

She said continuing to work provides for her needs. Duckworth started the position in July 2008.

“Like I told you in that October meeting, the best laid plans didn’t happen. I need this job. I need it for peace of mind, I need it for the insurance and the paycheck. I‘m damn good at what I do and I work very hard.”

Her husband died in early January.

“If my crystal ball would have worked back in January or even the July before that when the discussion first came up we certainly wouldn’t be in this mess now. But it didn’t,” she said.

A commission member asked Duckworth how long she wanted to work. Duckworth said she is 67 and won’t receive full IPERS (Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System) until she is 70.

Castillo said she is raising an 8-year-old grandson.

“Had Jo told us this back in July, it would not have been quite the hardship for me and the stress it has put on him. It has been difficult. He hears things about this at school. Either way this is no winner in this situation,” Castillo said. “If Jo does stay it needs to improve.”

Both Castillo and Duckworth agreed it has not been a desirable working environment.

“This has not been pleasant for Bonnie and certainly not been pleasant for me,” Duckworth said.

“I agree, Jo,” Castillo said.

Knouse made the motion for the commission to allow Duckworth to rescind her retirement plan. It was second by Steve Wintermute from Creston. The commission is made up of representatives from towns in the county and the county.

Those in favor of the retirement were: Knouse, Union County; Bridget Hoskey, Thayer; Matt Lenhart, Lorimor; Sheryl Parham, Afton; Wintermute; Roger Cheers, Arispe; and Terry Gilbert, Shannon City.

Those in favor of Duckworth rescinding were Bob Marquart, Cromwell; and Dennis Brown, Union County.

Commission members consented to formulate a training plan for Castillo.

John Van Nostrand

JOHN VAN NOSTRAND

An Iowa native, John's newspaper career has mostly been in small-town weeklies from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River. He first stint in Creston was from 2002 to 2005.