Who will preside over an upcoming disciplinary hearing for suspended Liberty Township Fire Chief Tim Jensen? The Delaware County Prosecutor’s Office says it won’t be one of its attorneys.
Trustees voted Monday to hire an attorney to preside over the hearing because the prosecutor’s office refuses to, citing a conflict of interest, according to trustees.
“The prosecutor’s office isn’t going to be able to attend the (Jensen) Aug. 8-9 hearing,” Trustee Shyra Eichhorn said at Monday’s trustee meeting. “The concern is making sure we are following procedures correctly.”
Eichhorn had received the notice from the prosecutor’s office earlier in the day Monday.
The prosecutor’s office has advised trustees to use outside counsel to preside over the hearing, Eichhorn said.
Eichhorn expressed her concerns over exceeding the allotted amount of money for Jensen’s hearing. “My concern is it will exceed the $2,500,” Eichhorn said. “If it is going exceed $2,500, we’ll need to pass something, saying we can hire someone.”
Eichhorn added, “I think we should go ahead and approve something.”
“I would like to make a motion to approve a resolution to obtain a lawyer for the hearings on Aug. 8-9,” Eichhorn said. “It’s not to exceed $4,000.”
Trustee Melanie Leneghan seconded Eichhorn’s motion. When the vote was taken, both trustees approved the resolution. Trustee Tom Mitchell was not present at Monday’s meeting.
Leneghan expressed her disagreement with the “premise” that the prosecutor’s office used in not providing legal counsel.
“It is their purpose to provide townships with legal counsel,” Leneghan said. “I don’t understand the conflict of interest.”
Jensen was placed on paid administrative leave March 1 by township administrator Matt Huffman. Trustees officially charged Jensen on May 16, alleging misconduct in office and gross neglect of duty.
The township’s health insurance opt-out program continues to be an issue for trustees, too.
Fiscal officer Nancy Denutte made an issue of the township’s program which allows some employees to opt out of health insurance and receive cash in lieu of insurance. Denutte said the program violates state law.
The amount of the reimbursement currently is 50 percent of the township’s premium. The program is in the contracts of two of the township’s employee unions.
“The state auditor stated we are not compliant,” Leneghan said. “To date, our lawyer said we are out of compliance.”
“The state auditors are still looking at things, but they are also looking at where we’re going,” said Denutte on Monday. “We have to move forward and I would like a resolution as soon as we can.”
Eichhorn said trustees need to move forward on having meetings with the fire union.
“We need to have the correct representation for both sides,” Eichhorn said. “I just want to make sure we are working together on this.”
Leneghan made a suggestion for two non-union employees who use the opt-out program. “I think with our non-union employees, we need to cease-and-desist,” she said.
“I think when we leave tonight we need to set the appropriate meetings on this in a very quick manner, so we can get this resolved,” Eichhorn said. “We need to have a plan in place before our next meeting.”
D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin.