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Judge rules against former Connellsville health, code officer

| Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011

A lawsuit filed by Connellsville City's former health and code enforcement officer who claimed she was fired for political reasons, has been denied.

In a decision filed Wednesday in the Court of Common Pleas of Fayette County, Judge Steve P. Leskinen ruled against Rita Bornstein, who was terminated from her position on Aug. 20, 2008.

The firing followed a State Ethics Commission investigation, completed in April 2008, which found Bornstein violated the Ethics Act by using city time and a city computer to perform health work for South Connellsville and Dunbar Borough. She also failed to file financial interest statements for several years. Bornstein agreed to file financial interest statements and pay $2,928 to the state to settle the Ethics Commission violations. The SEC matter was closed with no criminal prosecution.

Bornstein originally received her termination as code enforcement officer, health officer and zoning officer through a letter placed in her mailbox dated July 9, 2008, and signed by former City Councilman David McIntire, then director of health and public safety.

Between that letter and the Aug. 20 hearing, McIntire presented Bornstein with another letter that stated she was to continue her job as health officer pending the outcome of the hearing. The letter, dated Aug. 14, 2008, states that the hearing will "determine what disciplinary action, if any, the city council sitting as a civil service board, shall take against you in your capacity as health officer."

Council fired Bornstein as health officer following the unadvertised hearing, which featured a private vote.

Bornstein's suit contends council sat as a civil service board, a violation of state law. The pertinent statute reads, "No city officer, official or employee shall be eligible for appointment to any civil service board," says the lawsuit.

In Leskinen's ruling, he stated Bornstein suffered "no harm or prejudice by being told, erroneously, that City Council would sit as a 'civil service board' at the discipline hearing," and that the former "city council's disciplinary action of Bornstein was solely based upon the investigation and findings of the State Ethics Commission, which was solely responsible for the initiation, investigation and final adjudication on the allegations of violations of the State Ethics Act."

He also stated that council did not intentionally violate the provisions of the Sunshine Act when they did not advertise the meeting where Bornstein was terminated, because it dealt with the termination or disciplining action of a public officer or employee.

Also, because the court had no authority to reverse council's decision to terminate Bornstein's employment, the back pay and benefits mentioned in Bornstein's lawsuit in the amount of $37,059 cannot be awarded since it was denied to be paid by council.

Because McIntire could lawfully have suspended Bornstein for 30 days pending the hearing, Leskinen stated the court cannot find any basis to rescind the five-day suspension of Bornstein.

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