Liberty Township taxpayers have paid about $75,600 so far in connection with the investigation of suspended Fire Chief Tim Jensen.
Columbus attorney Edward Kim has billed the township $26,267 for his services in the investigation of Jensen.
Since March, township trustees have passed resolutions paying almost $19,000 to Cincinnati attorney Douglas Duckett for an investigation and a 33-page report about Jensen’s conduct as fire chief.
Jensen was placed on paid administrative leave March 1 by township administrator Matt Huffman. As of July 1, Jensen will have been paid about $30,333 while he’s suspended — four months of his $91,000 salary.
Trustees hired attorney Kim to represent them in the matter instead of seeking legal assistance from the Delaware County Prosecutor’s Office.
“There are situations when we are advised by the prosecutor’s office to seek outside legal counsel,” said Trustee Shyra Eichhorn. “It is imperative we follow this advice to reassure we are following the correct procedures and protect the township and taxpayers’ money.”
“Decreasing Liberty Township’s legal bills continues to be a high priority,” Eichhorn said. “We have … decreased costs by utilizing the prosecutor’s office whenever possible.”
The legal bills could continue to rise, however. New attorneys will be representing trustees in Delaware County Common Pleas Court in response to a notice of appeal filed by Jensen’s attorney, Paul Bittner. The appeal asks the court to dismiss charges of misconduct that have been filed against Jensen.
Kim sent an email to Bittner “saying he wasn’t handling the appeal,” Bittner told The Gazette.
David A. Riepenhoff and Stephanie L. Schoolcraft filed a “notice of co-counsel” Thursday to represent township trustees in Judge Everett Krueger’s court on the appeal. Both attorneys are with Kim’s Columbus firm of Fishel, Hass, Kim and Albrecht.
Despite the appeal and change in attorneys, trustees say they still plan to move forward with a disciplinary hearing for Jensen.
“It is my understanding that we will move forward with the hearing on July 13-14,” Huffman said in an email to The Gazette.
Bittner filed the notice of appeal in common pleas court last week in Krueger’s courtroom. A date for hearing the appeal has not been scheduled.
“The (trustees’) hearing is tentatively scheduled but, with the appeal, the trustees have no jurisdiction to proceed,” Bittner told The Gazette this week. “By filing an appeal, it typically moves the case from the jurisdiction of the trustees to the court.”
If the hearing does go forward, “I plan to file a stay of hearing,” Bittner said.
Even with the amount of time and money spent, Eichhorn told The Gazette last week that she feels the investigation of Jensen was necessary.
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.
D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin