Liberty Township trustees will bring formal charges against suspended Fire Chief Tim Jensen as the next step before scheduling a public hearing on his conduct, according to Jensen’s attorney.
At their meeting Monday, trustees also authorized a payment of $18,834 for an investigation of Jensen by a Cincinnati attorney. The cost of the investigation originally was $7,500.
The meeting Monday lasted four hours, and three hours were spent behind closed doors in executive session. As the meeting ended, Trustee Shyra Eichhorn said: “There was lots of discussion about the charges. … The trustees now have to hold a hearing.”
Jensen and his attorney, Paul Bittner, met with the trustees’ attorney, Edward Kim, in a private office during the executive session, discussing issues outlined in a report investigating Jensen’s conduct as fire chief. The report concluded that Jensen is not fit to continue as fire chief.
“We addressed everything to Mr. Kim in the report about the chief,” Bittner said. “I was disappointed they are going to bring charges.”
“I still see him (Jensen) as a good leader and employee,” Bittner said.
Before a hearing can be scheduled, “the trustees have to prepare (formal) charges,” Bittner said. “We’ll now have to evaluate our legal options.”
Bittner said a hearing of the charges is the next step in the process, as required by the Ohio Revised Code.
The hearing will be conducted much like a court trial, he said. Both sides will call witnesses, with opposing attorneys cross-examining witnesses.
Trustees approved a resolution Monday by a 2-vote to authorize the payment of $18,834 for the investigation by Donald Duckett, a Cincinnati attorney. In March, trustees voted to approve $7,500 to be spent for the investigation. Trustees said the $7,500 will be deducted from the total of $18,834.
“We could have saved … a lot of money,” Trustee Tom Mitchell said during the meeting. “It’s hard to believe he spent that amount of time with the investigation.”
According to Duckett’s report, Duckett had to make several trips to Liberty Township to conduct interviews because people were unavailable.“I don’t see anything out of the ordinary,” Trustee Melanie Leneghan said about the bill.
Mitchell said he believes the report to be biased. “There are innuendos in there,” he said.
Mitchell noted that his “testimony” was not mentioned in Duckett’s report. “I find the report absolutely ridiculous,” Mitchell said. “He (Duckett) is calling us dumb and idiots.”
Eichhorn said she finds the report to be objective and believes the information in the report to be accurate. “He (Duckett) has a great amount of experience.”
Mitchell voted against the $18,837 bill, while Eichhorn and Leneghan voted “yes.”
Jensen’s employment status did not change during the meeting. “He is still on paid administrative leave,” Eichhorn said. He was placed on administrative leave on March 1.
Before adjourning to executive session, trustees heard comments from the public.
David Brown of Liberty Township questioned the expenditure of $18,834 for the investigation. “How many firefighters could you hire for that?” he asked.
Brown asked if trustees were spending too much time on “trashing” Jensen when they should be focusing on the township. “I wonder what this board is doing,” he said.
Brown said Jensen “is my friend. … He pulled me out of a wrecked race car once.”
Eichhorn told Brown that “we recently passed a resolution to hire 16 firefighters.”
The township’s legal bills have declined since the current board of trustees have been in office, Leneghan said. “The legal bills are the main reason I ran for office,” she said.
D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-413-0209 or on Twitter @dabotkin.