Liberty Township’s former fiscal officer says the cost of a 2015 report on the township’s fire department should be included in the accumulating expenses associated with the investigation of suspended Fire Chief Tim Jensen.
The Gazette reported Saturday that $75,600 has been spent so far in the investigation.
Former Fiscal Officer Mark Gerber said the $9,256 cost of the so-called “Comstock report” is an additional cost to taxpayers in connection with Jensen.
Trustees hired David Comstock Jr., an attorney from Youngstown, in January 2015 to investigate the fire department and write a risk management analysis for the department. “Regarding Comstock, he was to review the fire department as a whole,” said Trustee Shyra Eichhorn. “That report wasn’t about the chief.”
Comstock’s report is a 70-page document outlining many of the same issues contained in Cincinnati attorney Douglas Duckett’s 2016 investigatory report for trustees and a rebuttal written by Jensen’s attorney, Paul Bittner.
After a failed levy and cuts to firefighter staff, trustees wanted an analysis of the operational status of the fire department. “We wanted to make sure we had a clear picture of the fire department,” Eichhorn said.
Trustees became frustrated about the length of time it was taking Comstock to investigate the department and complete his report, Eichhorn said. “I know that it wasn’t completed in the parameters we asked,” she said.
Trustees considered the report they received as incomplete. “We never saw it as the final report,” Eichhorn said.
In the minutes of the Oct. 19, 2015, trustees’meeting, Jensen noted he was looking forward to the report because it was to be a management tool to help improve his department but “a considerable amount of time had been taken since the beginning of the year,” he noted.
Gerber also agrees that the amount of time to get the report was lengthy. “It took a while to get the final report.”
Gerber told The Gazette that trustees were not providing comments to Comstock when he asked for feedback. “Nobody provided comments to Comstock,” Gerber said.
However, according to Eichhorn, “he (Comstock) asked for feedback through the entire process,” she said. “We gave him feedback for nine months.”
Eichhorn said trustees did try to contact Comstock by email and phone for status reports on the investigation and to ask when they could expect a final report. “He wasn’t returning emails or phone calls,” she said.
Trustees had become frustrated with the length of time it was taking and decided to discontinue using Comstock’s services. “We received legal advice that it would be cheaper to pay the bill,” Eichhorn said.
Since March, township trustees have passed resolutions paying almost $19,000 to 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 Columbus attorney Edward Kim to handle the Jensen case on their behalf and has billed the township $26,267 for his services so far in the Jensen matter.
Duckett’s report concluded that Jensen is not fit to continue as the township’s fire chief.
D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin