For the past several months Liberty Township trustees have been in a search for a new fire chief.
“It’s going well,” said Trustee Shyra Eichhorn earlier this week. “The goal is to have the permanent fire chief named by Feb. 1.”
Former Fire Chief Tim Jensen and trustees mutually agreed on a transfer from fire chief to fire prevention lieutenant in a resolution approved unanimously by trustees on Sept. 6.
William A. Fields Jr., a retired 34-year veteran of the fire service, has served as interim fire chief since October. Fields has served as a firefighter, a captain and battalion chief in the City of Worthington Fire Department.
Trustees contracted with the Ohio Fire Chiefs’ Association to assist them in their search for a new chief.
The transfer was part of an agreement to drop all charges and bring an end to the disciplinary hearing brought against Jensen by trustees charging him with misconduct as fire chief.
“The sole thing for me is I’m pleased to have the opportunity to go back to work,” Jensen told The Gazette at the time. “It has been a long ordeal.”
Before witnesses in defense of Jensen were called in his disciplinary hearing, trustees reached the agreement in executive session, which can be used to discuss discipline, demotion or compensation of a public employee or official.
Township trustees, who had been presiding over the proceedings of Jensen’s disciplinary hearing, had scheduled the hearing to continue for two full-day sessions on Sept. 1-2.
Jensen was placed on paid administrative leave by township administrator Matt Huffman March 1, pending an investigation into his conduct as fire chief.
At the time, Jensen faced misconduct charges that were filed by trustees on May 16. The charges were filed after trustees hired Cincinnati attorney Douglas Duckett to investigate Jensen’s conduct as fire chief and to write a report that concluded Jensen was not fit to continue as the township’s fire chief.
In the three nightly sessions of the disciplinary hearing, held Aug. 8-10, attorney for trustees, Edward Kim, called six witnesses, the first witness was Duckett.
Duckett was the only witness called on Aug. 8 by Kim that Jensen’s attorney, Paul Bittner, got to question. During questioning, Bittner asked Duckett if he had brought the handwritten notes from his investigation of Jensen that had been subpoenaed.
Currently Duckett’s notes are the subject of a recent lawsuit brought against the township in the Ohio Court of Claims by the township’s former fiscal officer Mark Gerber and township resident Jim Hurt.
Both Gerber and Hurt claim the handwritten notes are public record and have requested the documents under the Ohio Public Records Act.
The township has denied their claim, citing the documents were covered by attorney-client privilege and were never introduced in the hearing.
Liberty Township taxpayers paid $175,890 in total for the investigation, disciplinary hearing and settlement of the former fire chief, according to township documents.
D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin.