BARTOW - The Polk County Health Department and Dr. Girish Herekar, who is appealing his dismissal April 17 as director of the department's dental division, have submitted their final arguments on his qualifications for that job.

State Hearing Officer Sharon Cromar, who held a hearing May 22 on the department's decision to fire Herekar, will review those documents before issuing her decision on whether Herekar is qualified to be employed by the department.

Cromar's decision will hinge on that, according to a pre-hearing letter she sent, not on allegations about Herekar's performance or any other reasons the department gave in dismissing him.

At issue are:

Did the Health Department have just cause to dismiss Herekar because of "inability to perform assigned duties?"

What weight will Cromar give Herekar's argument that the allegation "inability to perform," related to the loss of a supervising dentist and is invalid because it came late in the process without following normal procedure?

How soon should he have gotten a new supervising dentist after the one who previously supervised him withdrew?

Because he didn't have one when the hearing began, although he brought a letter from a private dentist willing to take the role, did that make him unqualified?

Herekar, whose $165,000 salary made him one of the department's highest-paid division directors, makes the argument that his lack of a supervising dentist is temporary.

An official with the state's dental board, questioned under oath by speaker phone at the hearing, said the dentist's temporary certificate to practice could be reinstated if the department withdrew its charges and another dentist became his general supervisor.

Herekar said he focused first on getting his job back because he didn't need a supervising dentist while he wasn't working.

"Their case against me was running out of gas," Herekar wrote. "The agency not only tried to mislead the court but also tried to make unnecessary testimonies, which were not relevant to today's case."

His temporary certificate from the state was tied to the Health Department job. He needs a supervising dentist because, although he had a Minnesota license when hired and has passed a regional exam, he can't get a Florida license.

Florida requires licensed dentists to have attended a dental school accredited by the American Dental Association. Herekar got his dental degree at a school in India.

When he lost his supervising dentist April 13, he was on paid administrative leave that had begun March 26.

Between April 13 and May 22, the department didn't have an official application from another dentist willing to assume the supervisory role. Herekar was "neither diligent nor successful" in recruiting one, said Roland Reis, the department's lawyer.

If Herekar were put back into his job without a supervising dentist, "the department would be stuck with a dental director who held this position in name only, unable to see patients or supervise other dentists as required," Reis said in his proposed order to Cromar.

Herekar, however, said he has a dentist ready to take the voluntary job that doesn't require the dentist be on site. He had information faxed to the May 22 hearing, and Friday he showed paperwork from the dentist that he had submitted to the Health Department. He said it's up to the department to send the application to the state dentistry board.

The department added the "inability to perform" charge just before firing him, Herekar said, without going through the more common procedure of reissuing a new or modified letter to include that charge.

The department said it took the faster method because Herekar exhibited disruptive behavior in contacting dental employees while he was on administrative leave. Herekar said his attempts to talk to staff members weren't meant to disrupt the investigation.

Cromar's decision is expected by the middle of June.

Robin Williams Adams can be reached at robin.adams@directgates.com or 863-802-7558.