The attorney for suspended Liberty Township Fire Chief Tim Jensen has asked a judge to dismiss the charges that township trustees have filed against Jensen.
A notice of appeal was filed Wednesday afternoon in Delaware County Commons Pleas Court, asking for the dismissal of charges. The case will be heard in Judge Everett Krueger’s courtroom.
“Bottom line: We are asking the court to appeal the decision of the board (of trustees),” attorney Paul Bittner said. “We want to find a way to put this in the mirror and make it work.”
“The chief wants to return to work,” Bittner said.
Township Administrator Matt Huffman placed Jensen on administrative leave March 1.
Douglas Duckett, a Cincinnati attorney, presented a 33-page report to trustees last month after conducting an investigation into the conduct of Jensen as fire chief.
Trustees paid Duckett nearly $19,000 for the investigation of Jensen, who earns $91,000 annually.
Trustees officially charged Jensen on May 16, alleging misconduct in office and gross neglect of duty based on Duckett’s investigation and report.
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.”
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.
“Chief Jensen is concerned about bias against him by Trustee Melanie Leneghan,” Bittner told The Gazette last week. “Based upon their conduct this far, I doubt the trustees will be fair.”
Bittner said there is a legal process for removal of a firefighter, including a chief, and the process — outlined in the Ohio Revised Code — needs to be followed.
The Ohio Revised Code requires a private citizen to investigate and bring charges to the board of trustees. “Duckett was told to bring charges by the trustees.” Bittner said. “The trustees can’t make the decision to bring charges.”
Liberty Township Trustee Shyra Eichhorn, chair of the board, provided a written statement to The Gazette Thursday in response to Bittner’s filing.
“It is a process that is dictated by state law, not local government,” she wrote. “As trustees, we sought the guidance of legal counsel every step of the way and I am confident that our actions were in keeping with that advice. Chief Jensen and his lawyer have every right to challenge it in a court of law because, again, this process is dictated by the Ohio Revised Code.”
Even with the large amount of time and money spent, Eichhorn told The Gazette on Tuesday that 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.”
“The trustees are responsible for 30,000 people in the township,” Eichhorn said. “I take that very seriously.”
D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin