Vernon County Personnel Coordinator Linda Kica’s employment was terminated on Tuesday, Feb. 13. The Vernon County Personnel Committee deliberated Kica’s case for 90 minutes in closed session before returning to open session and voting unanimously to terminate her.
Prior to her termination, Kica was placed on unpaid administrative leave last month in connection with the Oct. 20, 2017 firing of county employee Shane Messer, who was accused of using his cellphone during work hours to view and download nude photographs. Shane had been employed in the IT department since 2009.
An evidentiary hearing held on Jan. 25 centered around how the situation was handled, or not handled, by Kica as head of human resources for Vernon County. Her dismissal was based on 24 findings of fact which were read into evidence before the Vernon County Personnel Committee voted on Tuesday.
The key facts presented against Kica included:
- Her failure to properly investigate Shane Messer incident following his admission to Connie McCullick, the Vernon County IT Director, that he had he had downloaded some of the photos in question while at work.
- Kica’s failure to notify the Vernon County Personnel Committee of the Shane Messer incident.
- Her failure to properly notify McCullick of possible county policy violations related to Shane’s actions, even after McCullick told Kica she wanted to fire him for breaking county policy shortly after the Dec. 2, 2016 situation first came to light.
- After Messer was fired last October, Kica misled McCullick on the proper procedure to fill the vacant position in the IT Department.
- Kica also disregarded Vernon County Legal Counsel direction to amend Shane’s personnel file, which had been improperly marked for possible rehire.
Highlights of Kica’s job description as the Vernon County Personnel Coordinator were also presented as part of the evidence leading up to her termination. According to the job description, Kica was required to investigate complaints; inform the County Board Chairman and the Vernon County Personnel Committee of work crisis matters that develop, which could affect or influence personnel policies; and to investigate personnel problems and to take appropriate action.
At the evidentiary hearing in January, McCullick testified that on Dec. 2, 2016 she learned that Shane was being investigated by the Department of Justice in connection with possible child pornography after he entered a website and downloaded photos tagged with young children in them.
On that same day, McCullick said Shane left her a voicemail asking her to call him, which she did. During the conversation, McCullick said Shane told her they were searching his house, had confiscated his electronics, and that he had downloaded some of the photos in question while at work. Also on that same day, McCullick contacted Kica regarding the situation. Kica was already aware of the DOJ investigation from her assistant, Personnel Specialist Courtney Messer (Shane’s wife).
McCullick said she told Kica she wanted to place Shane on administrative leave. Instead she was told by Kica to let Shane know how upset she was with his conduct, but not to speak about it with anyone else, because if it got out it would be an embarrassment to the county. McCullick said she felt like she had no control over her own department.
Several months later, McCullick was informed of a letter sent by a member of the public with concerns regarding Shane. At that point, McCullick contacted Vernon County Board Chairman Dennis Brault, who directed her to speak with the Vernon County Corporate Counsel, Attorneys David Abt and Nikki Swayne. Prior to that point, neither Brault, the Vernon County Personnel Committee, nor legal counsel were aware of the situation. After investigating, McCullick was informed she had legal grounds to terminate Shane’s employment. McCullick also contacted Kica about impending termination, but did not receive her support.
Shane was presented a termination letter on Oct. 20, siting his actions violated county policy. She presented initial concerns dating back to 2010, with more recent activity from December 2016, until his release last fall.
Kica said during her testimony it was not her job as the county personnel coordinator to investigate concerns related to employees in other departments. She said it was up to department heads to do their own investigations and report them to the personnel department after they were complete. According to Kica, since Shane used his own personal cellphone and there was no proof of exactly when or what he downloaded she felt there was no need to do an internal investigation.
Kica also claimed she did not have access to the DOJ reports and did not file an open records request to pursue them because it was not her responsibility to do so based only on allegations, even though McCullick told her Shane had admitted he downloaded the photos while working.
During cross examination Attorney Abt asked Kica if it was her testimony as the head of human resources that a county employee accessing nude pictures of children, during work hours, on county taxpayer dollars, would not bring the county into disrepute.
Kica responded that if he was showing them to other people… maybe, but not if he’s doing it privately. She also disagreed that pictures of nude children would bring the county into disrepute since the electronic in question was not county-owned property.
Kica also claimed that as personnel director it is not up to her to contest unemployment benefit requests after someone is let go. She said that job also falls on department heads, not the personnel department. Shane did request unemployment benefits after he was let go. His personnel file was also initially marked for possible rehire, but has since been adjusted.
The Vernon County Personnel Committee motion to terminate Kica was made by David Eggen and seconded by Loren Goede. Also voting to terminate were committee members Mary Bringe, JoAnn Nickelotti and Will Beitlich. The vote was unanimous.
Kica had been employed by Vernon County since 2007.