Former Liberty Township fiscal officer Mark Gerber and township resident Jim Hurt have filed in the Ohio Court of Claims against the township over a request for documents.
Both claim that the handwritten notes of Douglas Duckett, the investigator hired to look into the conduct of former township fire chief Tim Jensen, are public record and should be released.
Jensen was transferred to Fire Prevention Lieutenant in a resolution approved unanimously by trustees in September following a lengthy investigation and hearing.
Gerber said he originally requested the documents from the township on May 4, and maintains he has followed up with several requests. He said all the requests have been denied.
“They have stonewalled and gone through every reason now not to release the Duckett notes,” Gerber said.
In an email from Matt Huffman, township administrator, dated Sept. 9 to Hurt, Huffman states he had talked with the township’s attorney who said, “Those notes are not a public record since the township does not have possession of those documents. The documents were never introduced as exhibits and are not in the record.”
The township also denied Gerber’s and Hurt’s claim, citing the documents were covered by attorney-client privilege.
Hurt said he received a phone call from the Court of Claims Tuesday morning. “The township is standing firm on their claim,” he said. “We’re going to mediation.”
According to the court file attorneys David Riepenhoff and Stephanie Schoolcraft have been entered in the record as counsel for the township. Both attorneys are with Fishel, Hass, Albrecht, Downey LLP, the firm employed by the township in the Jensen hearing.
Gerber and Hurt filed their paperwork with the Ohio Court of Claims Nov.21 against the township for denied access to the requested documents.
“There is very little of this that’s not in the public domain,” Hurt said. “It’s all right there.”
The Gazette contacted Huffman, who said he could not comment on the “matter since it is currently in litigation.”
In April the 131st General Assembly of Ohio “created a procedure within the Court of Claims to hear complaints alleging a denial of access to public records.”
According to Gerber, it was the first filing in Delaware County under the new law and the 10th in the state.
Trustee Melanie Leneghan supported the township’s statement of not having the documents in their possession.
“We as a township, as far as I know, have not been in possession of the documents, according to our staff.” she said. “I have never seen it, I have never touched it. They’re not ours and we don’t have it.”
Leneghan said, “I don’t know why he wants this document other than to cost the taxpayers a bunch of money.”
Trustee Shyra Eichhorn said she was “confident” the township has followed the correct record “retention policies.” “Regarding this matter, it is not appropriate for me to specifically comment on current litigation,” she said.
Trustee Tom Mitchell said, “I would rather not comment until I have all the details.”
In other township business, trustees were given a tour Monday evening during its regular meeting of the township’s new fire engine by Interim Fire Chief William Fields. Trustees authorized the payment of $455,403 for the new engine on Oct. 17 in a regular meeting for the Sutphen Pumper and additional equipment from Sutphen Corporation of Dublin.
D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin.