The City of Duquesne is appealing an arbitrator's decision to reinstate a police secretary accused of misusing a criminal justice database.
Lori Achtzehn had worked for the city for more than 40 years before being fired by city council in March 2018.
On June 25, an arbitrator ruled that the firing violated the terms of the city's contract with Teamsters Local 205, which represents Duquesne rank-and-file employees, and ordered Achtzehn reinstated with back pay.
Duquesne believes the arbitrator was wrong and is appealing to Allegheny County Common Pleas Court, said Myron Sainovich, city solicitor.
"They’re the ones who offered me the option of going in front of them or going to arbitration, and now a year and a half later, they don't want to accept the outcome," Achtzehn said.
"I'm frustrated," she said. "They waited a month to appeal and then on the last day, appealed. I thought I was going to be able to get out of this and go back to work."
Achtzehn said she's been working part-time at Wal-Mart since her dismissal.
"This is totally wrong," she said. "I did nothing wrong."
Calls to Teamsters Local 205 by Tube City Almanac seeking comment were not returned.
Sainovich said the city alleges that Achtzehn used JNET, the state's criminal justice database, to look up information about herself, her family members, Duquesne police officers, other city hall employees and elected officials.
Unauthorized use of JNET can subject the city to sanctions, Sainovich said, including loss of access to the system, which is used by police officers to look for outstanding warrants, addresses and photos of suspects, past arrests and other personal information.
The alleged JNET misuse by Achtzehn was discovered by a Duquesne police officer during a routine audit performed in early 2018, Sainovich said.
Achtzehn denies the allegations. "Everything I did was in the course of my duty in the police department," she said. "Everything I used the JNET system for was for police business only."
She contends that she's the target of a vendetta by Mayor Nickole Nesby, who took office at the beginning of 2018. Achtzehn's father, Mel, served as Duquesne mayor in the 1980s and '90s, and later served on the Duquesne Business Advisory Corp.
Duquesne is currently suing that board for what Nesby alleges was misappropriation of city funds.
Lori Achtzehn said she is one of four long-time city hall employees who have either been fired or forced into retirement since Nesby took office.
Sainovich denies that Achtzehn was targeted.
"The mayor can't do things on her own," he said. "She's only one vote. If we weren't convinced there wasn't something wrong, we wouldn't be appealing the decision of the arbitrator."
JNET warns users every time that they log onto the system that it is for official use only, Sainovich said.
Duquesne believes that Achtzehn used JNET for personal business "more than 10" times, he said.
"There wasn't any conspiracy to look for her," Sainovich said. "When we found out that someone was misusing the system we had to hold them accountable."
The Allegheny County public court docket did not yet have a date on Monday for the city's appeal to be heard.
Jason Togyer is the editor of The Tube City Almanac and volunteer executive director of Tube City Community Media Inc. He may be reached at email@example.com.
Originally published August 05, 2019.