Suspended Liberty Township Fire Chief Tim Jensen’s attorney has rebutted the charges levied against Jensen by an investigator hired by township trustees, and alleges that the charges are politically motivated.
Trustee Melanie Leneghan told The Gazette Friday that Columbus attorney Paul Bittner’s “rebuttal is ridiculous. … The chief doesn’t want to take responsibility” for job-performance shortcomings.
After placing Jensen on paid administrative leave on March 1, trustees spent nearly $19,000 to have Cincinnati attorney Doug Duckett compile a 33-page investigatory report that concludes that Jensen is not fit to be fire chief. Bittner submitted a 12-page rebuttal to trustees earlier this week.
Highlights from Bittner’s rebuttal includes:
• Bittner alleges that at least two of the trustees want Jensen out and Duckett wrote his report with that goal in mind. “This is a convenient way to ignore what is the obvious personal and political motivation behind this investigation.”
“The trustees are responsible for over 35,000 lives,” Leneghan said Friday. “We want to make sure we have the right guy in the job.”
• “Many of the comments that were reported about Chief Jensen by those interviewed in the investigation clearly show a personal animus against him.” Duckett’s report contained critical comments from other township officials.
• Bittner’s rebuttal scorns the Duckett report for not considering Jensen’s service in the fire department. “(It) does not seem to take into account the chief’s 27 years of dedicated service to the township.”
• The rebuttal brings attention to township Administrator Matt Huffman’s email to trustees asking for “incidents” concerning Jensen. “(Trustee) Thomas Mitchell stated in a response email on March 4, 2016, that he feared that ‘blanket e-mails asking for any incident will show us on a witch hunt.’”
“I thought that the term ‘incident’ was too broad and undefined,” Mitchell told The Gazette Friday.
However, Leneghan said: “Nobody is out to get anybody. It’s not a witch hunt. The community deserves a great fire chief.”
• The rebuttal questions the chain of events this year. “Chief Jensen was placed on administrative leave first; then reasons to support an action to remove the chief were sought by Mr. Huffman; then an investigator was hired.” Bittner said he believes the “verdict was in before the jury was even impaneled.”
• During Nancy Denutte’s successful campaign for Liberty Township fiscal officer last year, Leneghan used a photo of Jensen with Denutte. “Why would Trustee Leneghan promote a candidate for office with the candidate standing next to a person she believed was an incompetent leader?” Bittner asks in the rebuttal. “… Leneghan’s resolve to remove the chief surfaced only after his complaints about her use of his photograph in a political campaign. …
“Chief Jensen was not asked by Trustee Leneghan if she could use his likeness in campaign materials. She later posted the photograph with campaign text on her Facebook page, the Powell Bubble Facebook page and also used the photograph in a mailer to residents of the township.”
• Bittner’s rebuttal questions the amount of time that has passed since Jensen’s last performance evaluation. The township failed to conduct an evaluation for Jensen in 2014 and 2015, Bittner said in his rebuttal, regarding charges concerning Jensen’s tardiness. “Chief Jensen is for the first time being confronted with this as a performance issue in April 2016.”
Leneghan said she thought an evaluation had been done more recently. “I think he had one in 2014,” she said Friday.
Mitchell said he was elected in 2013 and remembers a performance evaluation being done in that time period and none since.
• “The report suggests it is a design for the basis of a future removal action under Revised Code 505.38.” After Monday’s trustee meeting, township officials said they will proceed with hearings against Jensen in which witnesses will be called.
Jensen has been Liberty Township’s fire chief since 2009.
D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin.