- Associated Press - Thursday, January 19, 2017

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - An Iowa institution for residents with intellectual disabilities, already reeling from allegations of abuse, has been ordered to reinstate a high-ranking official who was fired for alleged safety lapses two years ago.

The firing of Glenwood Resource Center administrator Douglas Wise wasn’t justified and he must be returned to a similar job with full back pay, the Public Employment Relations Board ruled last month. A settlement, expected to be finalized soon, will likely cost taxpayers around $200,000.

Wise’s reinstatement will come as Glenwood faces a separate scandal involving incidents of verbal and physical abuse against 20 of its 230 residents.

Wise’s attorney, Charles Gribble, said his client’s pleased with the ruling and is looking forward to returning to his field, “notwithstanding the problems at Glenwood.”

“He believes he can be of help and assistance as a supervisor,” Gribble said.

A state lawyer argued last month that Wise’s shortcomings “resulted in a serious health, safety and welfare risk” to Glenwood residents and that his reinstatement was unwise. But the Department of Human Services, which operates the institution, said it would honor the ruling, which faulted the agency for failing to give Wise the chance to improve his performance after a 27-year, discipline-free career.

The department says 17 Glenwood employees have been fired, disciplined or resigned amid allegations that they struck residents with spoons and butter knives, called them names and taunted them with sexual conversations. A regulatory agency last week fined the center $40,000 and threatened to take away its license if problems aren’t solved.

Wise, who was responsible for overseeing 100 residents in 7 of Glenwood’s 19 homes, wasn’t accused of abuse. Instead, he was faulted for failing to carry out directives from Glenwood superintendent Gary Anders to remove batteries from one of the homes after three incidents in 2014 in which two young men swallowed batteries and needed surgery to remove them.

After the third incident, Wise was assured by home managers that they had searched and removed all batteries. But employees discovered 160 batteries during a search several weeks later. Wise was fired Oct. 31, 2014, after an investigation faulted him for failing to take personal action to ensure their removal or confirm his subordinates’ claims.

Wise, who was honored by the governor in 2003 with a “Leader of the Year” award, filed a grievance appealing his firing. He noted that residents had routinely swallowed items before and after his employment - a medical condition called pica - and argued he’d done his best to follow the no-battery directive.

Administrative Law Judge Jan Berry in October ordered Wise’s reinstatement, saying the firing “flies in the face” of the state employment’s system of progressive discipline. He said Wise hadn’t committed misconduct that merited termination but rather had “a perceived performance deficiency” that could be addressed.

The state appealed, saying the ruling failed to consider the accountability required for high-level supervisors and what Wise’s “continued employment would mean for clients based upon his proven inability to ensure a safe environment.” The three-member Public Employment Relations Board rejected that argument.

DHS spokeswoman Amy McCoy said the agency “believes it took the appropriate action in this case” but would reinstate Wise.

The two sides are calculating how much pay Wise is owed for lost wages and retirement and health benefits. If they cannot reach agreement, the board will hold a hearing next week.

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