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UA settles with former Bliss Institute staffer

By admin Published: January 7, 2012

The University of Akron has agreed to pay $125,000 to a former staffer in the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics whose contract was not renewed.

The payment represents about two years of salary and benefits for Gail Garbrandt, a politically active Democrat who at UA managed internships for political science students.

Neither Garbrandt nor her Columbus-area attorneys, Lloyd Pierre-Louis and Greg Barwell, would comment on the lawsuit. UA spokeswoman Eileen Korey also declined comment.

In her draft complaint filed with the state attorney general, Garbrandt said Bliss Institute Director John Green was politically motivated when he encouraged UA officials to fire her or not renew her contract for the 2011-2012 school year.

According to the complaint, Green had rated her job performance as ''excellent'' and praised her work during her 11 years with the institute. He was familiar with her political activities, which included serving as vice chairwoman of communications for the Democratic Party in Tuscarawas County, where she lives.

Garbrandt maintained that Green's attitude changed when he had lunch in July 2010 with state Rep. William Batchelder, R-Medina, ''the presumptive House speaker in the event of a majority party switch in the general election'' in November 2010, according to the draft complaint.

Batchelder expressed concern that Garbrandt's work as campaign manager for Democratic state Senate candidate Frank Comunale was ''problematic with respect to Bliss Institute interns with the Republican legislative and campaign organizations,'' according to Garbrandt's complaint.

According to emails provided by the university, however, Green was increasingly unhappy with Garbrandt's job performance starting in May 2010.

He complained she had conflicts with students and co-workers, did not fully disclose her outside work teaching a political science course at Walsh University and as a paid staff member for Comunale's campaign, and that she was gone too frequently from UA during the work day.

Because she placed interns in both Republican and Democratic camps, ''A number of internship sponsors were afraid that confidential campaign information would be shared with their opponents,'' according to a narrative by Green. ''This raised questions about the integrity of the entire internship program.''

Green complained Garbrandt used her time at the Bliss Institute to prepare for her job teaching a course at UA and took compensatory time to which she was not entitled. Also, she taught the Walsh course during normal UA working hours.

''All these outside jobs took time away from her normal working hours at the Bliss Institute and some of these jobs also posed a conflict of interest,'' Green wrote.

On Dec. 27, 2010, UA police drove to Garbrandt's home in Bolivar to tape a letter to her door notifying her that her job would not be renewed. Garbrandt appealed in April to UA President Luis Proenza, who upheld Green's decision.

Garbrandt left her $45,500 job at UA on June 30, 2011.

In fall 2011, Garbrandt taught a semester in Rome for Walsh University. She has not found full-time work and now collects unemployment, she said last week.

Ohio Court of Claims Judge Clark Weaver Sr. approved the settlement between Garbrandt and UA on Dec. 20.

Carol Biliczky can be reached at 330-996-3729 or cbiliczky@thebeaconjournal.com.

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