Fire Chief Tim Jensen “intends to defend himself against the charges” that Liberty Township trustees have brought against him, according to Jensen’s attorney, Paul Bittner.
Township trustees on Monday officially brought charges against the suspended Jensen, alleging misconduct in office and gross neglect of duty.
According to Bittner, a hearing on the charges is tentatively being scheduled for mid-July with trustees. He said the hearing will be conducted in the manner of a court trial with witnesses giving sworn testimony.
“We are also evaluating legal action in advance of the hearing,” he said. “Based upon their conduct this far, I doubt the trustees will be fair.”
Trustees hired Douglas Duckett, a Cincinnati attorney, to conduct an investigation into Jensen’s conduct as fire chief. Duckett presented his findings in a 33-page report to trustees last month.
Duckett then prepared the charges against Jensen, as requested by trustees on May 16. State law requires trustees then to conduct a hearing in order to discipline, demote or fire Jensen.
“Chief Jensen is concerned about bias against him by Trustee Melanie Leneghan,” Bittner said.
Jensen had complained about Leneghan using a photo of him for election campaign materials in 2015 without his permission, Bittner said.
In the Duckett report, Leneghan said Jensen was responsible for the failure of the township’s fire tax levy in 2012. “She claimed the failure was 100 percent the chief’s fault but she used his photo in campaign materials in 2015,” Bittner said.
“The failure of the levy in 2012 was devastating to the (fire) department,” Bittner said. “The chief has worked hard with his fellow command officers, the firefighters and the IAFF (International Association of Fire Fighters) union to rebuild the department since then.”
The Gazette contacted Leneghan, who has been out of town, on Wednesday and she said, “(I’m) unable to answer questions until I have a full understanding of the situation.”
Bittner insists “the chief has been a dedicated and loyal employee of the township since 1990.” Duckett’s report alleges Jensen is unfit to command the department.
Bittner pointed out that the Liberty Township Fire Department won “EMS Provider of the Year” in 2011 for the state while under Jensen’s leadership.
According to Bittner, Jensen has not received an evaluation since 2013.
Bittner said the charges by Duckett are all events from 2012. “All of a sudden, you have a problem?” he said. “These charges are more like a job performance evaluation and management critique.”
Duckett has charged Jensen with misconduct, saying that “Chief Jensen has failed to complete projects, has not provided information as requested or directed by the township trustees or administrator, and he has failed to perform his duties generally in a timely and professionally thorough manner.”
Regarding alleged neglect of duty, Duckett states: “In his leadership of the fire department, Chief Jensen has failed to hold firefighters and fire officers accountable for their actions and failings in a timely and effective manner, and he has thus grossly failed his responsibility as chief to create a culture of accountability and appropriate disciplinary consequences for his employees.”
Trustees suspended Jensen March 1, and have spent nearly $19,000 on the Duckett investigatory report.
“The chief would appreciate the support of the community that he has spent his career serving,” Bittner said.
Jensen earns $91,000 annually as fire chief. He’s been fire chief since 2009.
D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin.