Liberty Township Trustee Melanie Leneghan has been accused of bias in the case of suspended township Fire Chief Tim Jensen, but Leneghan said she didn’t initiate the investigation that resulted in misconduct charges against Jensen.
“I did say that the failure of the (2012 fire tax) levy was the chief’s fault,” Leneghan said . “I did not initiate the investigation.”
The Gazette recently reported that a 33-page investigatory report by Donald Duckett, a Cincinnati attorney hired by the township, indicated that Leneghan blamed Jensen for the failure of the levy in 2012. However, Leneghan’s remark blaming Jensen was contained in an email Leneghan had sent to Duckett, not in Duckett’s report, she pointed out to The Gazette on Monday.
Township trustees officially brought charges May 16 against Jensen, alleging misconduct in office and gross neglect of duty. Trustees will now schedule a hearing to determine Jensen’s future with the township.
“Chief Jensen is concerned about bias against him by Trustee Melanie Leneghan,” Jensen’s attorney, Paul Bittner, told The Gazette last week. “We are also evaluating legal action in advance of the hearing.”
Bittner added: “Based upon their conduct this far, I doubt the trustees will be fair.”
Leneghan stressed Tuesday that she is not the person who was seeking the investigation. “I’m not leading this charge,” Leneghan said. “I’m supporting my colleague in this.”
Leneghan said that Trustee Shyra Eichhorn made the motion for the investigation in a meeting of trustees. “I only seconded the motion,” Leneghan said.
In an phone interview Tuesday, Eichhorn said: “Trustee Leneghan is correct. As chairman, I make all the motions that need seconded to move forward.”
Even with the large amount of time and money spent, Eichhorn said she feels the investigation of Jensen is necessary. “I’m aware that it is a timely and costly process,” Eichhorn said. “I think I would have been negligent of my duties to let this lay.” Trustees have spent nearly $19,000 on the investigation. Jensen, who earns $91,000 annually, was placed on paid administrative leave on March 1.
Eichhorn explained her reasoning. “The trustees are responsible for 30,000 people in the township,” Eichhorn said. “I take that very seriously.”
Leneghan said she was against the November 2012 fire levy. She said she believed that a 43 percent increase was too high; it took the amount of the levy from $6 million to $8.5 million. She said she believed at the time that the levy would not pass.
Leneghan asked for supporting data for the tax increase from Jensen, which he did not produce, she said.
“I begged the chief to do a one-year renewal in light of the fact that the prior levy had expired and we could not afford to fail the levy and be left with no funding,” she said in an email to The Gazette.
When asked if trustees are not responsible for placing tax issues on the ballot, Leneghan responded: “He is the fire chief. He needed to bring the information to his superiors and insist it be on the ballot.”
“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.”
Leneghan also explained the reason trustees hired Duckett to do the investigation. “We didn’t want a bias,” she said. “He is a professional investigator from another city.”
Bittner has alleged that at least two of the trustees want Jensen out and Duckett wrote his report with that goal in mind.
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.
“I’m looking to move forward with this whole thing,” Leneghan said. “I’m sorry the chief has hung in limbo so long.”
D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin