Liberty Township trustees plan to move forward with a disciplinary hearing for township Fire Chief Tim Jensen in spite of an appeal filed last week in Delaware County Commons Pleas Court, seeking dismissal of misconduct charges against Jensen.
“Yes, we are moving forward with the hearing,” said Trustee Shyra Eichhorn.
Jensen’s attorney, Paul Bittner, filed a notice of appeal in court last Wednesday. The case is to be heard in Judge Everett Krueger’s courtroom but a court date has not been scheduled.
Bittner said he has heard nothing from the township about a date for trustees’ disciplinary hearing. “I haven’t heard anything from their attorney,” he said. “By filing an appeal, it typically moves the case out of the jurisdiction of the trustees to the court.”
Trustees have paid Cincinnati attorney Douglas Duckett nearly $19,000 for an investigation of and a 33-page report on Jensen who earns $91,000 annually and has been on paid administrative leave since March 1.
Even with the amount of time and money spent, Eichhorn told The Gazette last week that she feels the investigation of Jensen was 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 officially charged Jensen on May 16, alleging misconduct in office and gross neglect of duty, based on Duckett’s investigation report.
Bittner told The Gazette last week there is a legal process for removal of a firefighter, including a chief, and the process — outlined in the Ohio Revised Code — must be followed.
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,” he said.
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.”
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 earlier. “Based upon their conduct this far, I doubt the trustees will be fair.”
Eichhorn, chair of the board, provided a written statement to The Gazette last 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.”
D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin