Liberty Township Trustee Melanie Leneghan on Monday said she’s dissatisfied with the Delaware County Prosecutor’s Office in connection with a disciplinary hearing for the township’s suspended fire chief.
The prosecutor’s office last month declined to provide a representative to assist trustees in the hearing for Fire Chief Tim Jensen, who is facing misconduct charges in a hearing that will resume Sept. 1. Instead, trustees had to hire a retired Henry County judge and recently approved spending $4,000 for his services.
On Monday night, township trustees authorized spending up to $20,000 to cover legal fees for the Jensen case and a change in the township’s health insurance program. The prosecutor’s office had deferred on both matters.
Trustees have now authorized up to $5,000 to employ retired Judge Keith Muehlfeld — up from $4,000 — as their legal guide during Jensen’s hearing.
“This a precaution,” said Trustee Shyra Eichhorn. “We’re still well below $4,000 right now.”
Trustees will continue to preside over the Jensen hearing, which started last week, while relying on Muehlfeld for guidance in hearing procedures.
“I still think the prosecutor should be doing this,” Leneghan said on Monday. “They serve as our legal counsel.”
“It is my understanding if the county prosecutor refuses to provide counsel to townships based upon conflict of interest, the township can go to the (county) commissioners and ask for special counsel to be assigned,” Leneghan said.
“I concur,” said Trustee Tom Mitchell. “I’m surprised they didn’t suggest that in the first place.”
In an email last month to trustees, the prosecutor’s office declined to participate, citing a desire to avoid “any appearance of impropriety or any appearance of additional bias,” according to an email from assistant prosecutor Chris Betts to the township’s attorney, Edward Kim.
Officials from the prosecutor’s office said Tuesday that county commissioners do not have authority to assign a special counsel for the township.
Contacted by The Gazette on Tuesday, Leneghan said she does not intend to go to commissioners to complain.
As part of the $20,000 authorized Monday, trustees agreed to spend up to $15,000 to cover legal fees for Brad Bennett, an attorney with Zashin and Rich, who is advising them on the township’s health insurance program. The township had been giving its employees the option of not taking township health insurance and instead paid them 50 percent of the township’s premium.
Township fiscal officer Nancy Denutte last month said the program violated state law, and trustees last week amended the program and reduced the opt-out payment to 25 percent of the premium, which Denutte believes to be in accordance with state law.
“I’m hopeful that this ($15,000) will not cost more,” Denutte said.
However, the resolution adopted by trustees last week only affects two nonunion employees at this point. The township must still get buy-in from two unions representing other township employees.
Denutte reported to trustees that she is still waiting on word from the State Auditor’s Office on whether the insurance program is now compliant.
Denutte also told trustees that she was “shopping for a new medical insurance broker.”
“I’m not changing anything about the plan,” Denutte said. “Just the broker.”
D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin.