Athens Co. Job And Family Services Director Resigns After Pre-Disciplinary Hearing With Commissioners

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After a pre-disciplinary hearing conducted by the Athens County Commissioners Tuesday regarding Jack Frech, director of Athens County Department of Job and Family Services, the commissioners decided not to take any action against the director. Frech, however, tendered his resignation, effective Dec. 31, 2014.

“I want to take this opportunity to notify you of my intention to retire as of the end of December,” Frech said. “It’s been an honor and a pleasure to serve the people of Athens County. I appreciate the consideration you guys just gave me in this situation. Thank you for that.”

Last week Frech brought it the the attention of The Messenger that misconduct was being alleged against him by the commissioners and specifically alleged that the conduct of Commission President Lenny Eliason during the investigation led to Frech experiencing mental health issues.

Frech told The Messenger then, “It sure seemed to me like (Eliason) was trying to get rid of me … The way this whole process was handled was brutal.”

However, when asked specifically after the hearing if his decision to retire was influenced in any way by the commissioners, Frech stated, “No.”

He added that he had been thinking about retirement for some time.

“I have been here 33 years. Things are really tough. I pretty much decided that regardless of how this came out that it was time for me to leave. In the end, they didn’t charge me with anything, we worked everything out, they did not ask me to leave at all, in fact it was just the opposite,” he said.

“I certainly had been contemplating retirement for quite awhile. This many years in the same job … It may not have been exactly this year but it would’ve been relatively soon anyway,” he later added. “This is a very tough job, taking care of these folks when you take it so personally and you see their lives getting that much worse and it’s been very hard for my staff. They work their butts off up there and I feel responsible because we don’t have enough resources so we can have more staff so they aren’t knocking themselves out. I’m optimistic that they can find someone that can do it better.”

After Frech gave his letter of resignation to the commissioners, Eliason said that there were previously rumors that when Ted Strickland was governor, Frech may have gone to Columbus to run the state’s job and family services department.

“I said I hope that doesn’t happen because I wouldn’t want to have to replace you even though I knew you’d do a good job up there,” Eliason said. “Still I don’t want to have to do that but I respect your wishes and your intentions and appreciate all you’ve done with us and the people in Athens County for all these years.”

The two then shook hands.

“I’m surprised that Jack decided that he wanted to resign but I understand. He wants to do some other things in his life and we wish him well. I think it’s a loss for us, he’s going to be a hard person to replace,” said Eliason. “Jack’s been a tremendous advocate for poor people for a long time. Hopefully he’ll find another place where he can continue to do that work.”

Eliason explained that the pre-disciplinary process allows for an investigation to expand to include comment from the intended employee. In this case, the meeting took nearly two hours and involved Frech and his attorney William Walker. At one point, Athens County Department of Job and Family Services Deputy Director Gregg Oakley entered the closed-door meeting to testify. No other witnesses were brought forward.

Four allegations would likely have been discussed including:

– Insubordination for failing to fill out proper forms for sick leave as required by the commissioners’ personnel policy manual.

– Insubordination for failing to record written documentation of a verbal discussion with an employee that resulted in a reprimand for that employee.

– Threatening, intimidating or coercing of employees or supervisors. It’s alleged that Frech used poor judgment in disciplining supervisors and that employees fear they can’t be truthful for fear of “Jack’s wrath.”

– Making false statements (during a meeting with the county prosecutor) regarding “the board of commissioners operating outside the scope of office of commissioners.”

“After listening to everything and understanding and seeing some miscommunications and misunderstandings in some areas, the board felt that it was appropriate not to take any action and just move forward,” Eliason said.

“It was my decision that it was time to go,” said Frech. “I set this at the end of December so they’d have time to find someone else.”

Nonetheless, Frech said he’ll be looking for a new job.

“I’ll be totally honest. I’ve been doing this for three decades and poor people are worse off now than the day I started and I never forget that. That’s never out of my mind. The truth of the matter is, I worry about this all day, every day. The kids that are out there now sleeping in chairs, people doubling and tripling up in housing, those that have no food, I think about that all the time,” said Frech. “I think that this is a good time for the department to get somebody that is newer, somebody with new ideas maybe. I haven’t been able to fix that but I’m ready to try to help the poor people some other way or do something, I certainly haven’t forgot about their problems.”

Looking forward, Eliason noted that there will be large shoes to fill.

“It’s critical because it’s a stressful position. You’re advocating for the neediest people in the state and you’re faced with an environment where people are cutting back and cutting back,” he said. “You have to have compassion. That’s what Jack was excellent at was being compassionate and being a driven person to support that cause. We always supported Jack and his efforts to go to the state and say, ‘Hey, think about that’ or ‘Why are you doing that? You’re forgetting about these people.’ That’s a big loss.”

“He’s been doing that fight for 33 years, that’s a long time,” he continued. “It takes a lot out of you. I think it’s important that we find somebody that can be somewhere close to that commitment.”

“The main thing about this job is you have to care about poor people,” Frech said. “They have to be your first concern. You have to want to believe in improving the lives of poor people. If you believe in that, and that’s your mission, then everything you do will be pointed in that direction and you can’t go too far wrong. Except for all of the other people who pushed against you, that’s the problem.”

The Messenger previously reported that Frech claimed that Eliason would not discuss the allegations with him prior to the pre-disciplinary meeting and that his anxiety grew to the point that he sought treatment for mental health issues. Asked specifically if the mental health issue factored into the commission’s actions, Eliason said it was not a factor and that the commissioners did not feel it was an issue.

The director’s position will be discussed, updated and posted and Frech will have a hand in updating the job description. Eliason said it is hoped that someone would be in place to take Frech’s spot before he retires but added that it would depend on the circumstances of the person hired.

Frech expressed his appreciation for being able to serve Athens County for 33 years.

“I appreciate all the support I’ve had from this community for all these years. This is the best community, most passionate community and I could not have done what I have done anywhere else but Athens County and I’m very grateful for that.”