A local man detained in North Korea since May has been terminated from his job with the city of Moraine, where he has worked for more than 25 years.
The city’s decision, which became effective Thursday, includes a severance payment of more than $70,000 for Jeffrey Fowle and the ability to be reinstated, according to documents obtained by the Dayton Daily News.
The 56-year-old West Carrollton man is one of three U.S. citizens being held by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, where Fowle is awaiting trial. The Beavercreek High School graduate has said in a recent interview that he was deeply concerned about his employment status, as he is the main financial provider for his wife Tatyana and their three children.
“We had hoped this action would not be necessary,” states a letter dated Sept. 16 from Moraine City Manager David Hicks to Fowle, “but in light of your continued incarceration in North Korea resulting from your (a) unilateral decision to travel to North Korea against the advice of your family and acquaintances; and (b) running afoul of North Korean restrictions on ‘anti-government’ activities, and as stated, the exhaustion of your accrued vacation time, we have to act in the best interests of the city of Moraine and its residents.”
The Fowle family attorney said the move comes as no surprise. Tim Tepe said he has been talking for about a month with the city and the union representing his client.
“The city of Moraine has bent over backward on behalf of Jeff and his family,” said Tepe, who received a copy of the letter this week. “They were obviously in a position where they had to do something, and the family understands that. There are certainly no hard feelings.”
“We certainly respect all the leeway that they’ve given Jeff,” he said. “The bottom line is that his benefits have run out now. So we have to move in a different direction… I certainly appreciate everything they’ve done for Jeff over the past several months.
“His benefits have run out; the city has done all they can do at this point and time. From their perspective, you’re talking about taxpayers’ dollars. They have to be responsible as well to the rest of the citizens of the city.”
Fowle is charged in North Korea with leaving a Bible or religious text at a sailor’s club. In media interviews, he admitted guilt and said he had asked for forgiveness.
In an interview earlier this month with CNN, Fowle — who began working for Moraine in May of 1988 — said his accrued vacation with the city was set to expire this month and expressed concern about his job status. At that time, Hicks said Fowle faced the possibility of losing his job.
Moraine Streets Superintendent Bryan Campbell this week directed inquiries on the issue to Hicks, who declined to comment.
“The city is treating you as being in ‘good standing’ as the date of your termination,” the letter signed by Hicks states.
This permits Fowle’s separation pay to include accrued unused sick leave as outlined in the city’s collective bargaining agreement with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Ohio Council 8 Local 101, the letter states.
The union agreement allows a day of pay for each two sick days accrued during the first 20 years of service, according to the letter. After 20 years, the rate changes to one day of pay for each sick day accumulated, the letter states.
Since being hired, Fowle has accumulated 3,527.95 hours of sick leave. So the city will pay Fowle, who was classified as an equipment operator III, for 2,225 hours at his current hourly rate of $31.73 for a total of $70,604.96, according to the letter. He is also eligible to remain under the city’s health insurance coverage, the letter states.
“Additionally, your ability to file for reinstatement to your position, within the restrictions of the Merit System, remain available to you, should you have the ability or the desire to pursue that option,” the letter states.
The union on July 1 had urged the city to put Fowle on indefinite leave, according a letter from Scott Thomasson, union staff representative.
“We the union realize that this situation is very unusual based upon Mr. Fowle being held captive by the North Korean government,” the letter states.
A Sept. 10 proposal from union representative Robert Allen asked the city to convert sick time accrued by Fowle to vacation time, according to city records.
The union has no plans to fight the decision, said Marcia Knox, AFSMCE’s regional director.
“I believe the city of Moraine has been fair in their dealings with Jeff,” she said, adding later, “If I thought there was a loophole, I would buy more time. We’ve bought as much time as we can.”
The city’s severance payment allows Fowle’s family a measure of financial certainty. But other issues remain, Tepe said.
“I think it adds another layer to the whole saga,” he said. “But I will say Tatyana is managing OK with her and the kids. She’s got a lot of support. Jeff’s family is there with her.
“And right now, we are looking at other options to keep health insurance and some other income flow going because Tatyana works part time,” he said. “She has increased her hours right now. We’re just looking right now at other avenues.”
Meanwhile, Tepe said he continues to talk on a consistent basis with the U.S. State Department and former U.S. Rep. Tony Hall. Hall has worked toward the release of Fowle, who is being detained in North Korea along with Kenneth Bae and Matthew Todd Miller.
Miller on Sunday was convicted and sentenced to six years of hard labor, but Tepe said Fowle’s family remains hopeful.
“Tony was obviously very disappointed to hear that because we know that Jeff is up next,” he said. “So, it’s kind of a disappointment because we – and when I say we I mean the family – still hold out a great deal of hope that regardless of whether he’s tried and convicted that he’ll be home relatively soon.”