Liberty Township residents may have to wait another 45 days before notes compiled during an investigation of the former fire chief become available.
Liberty Township trustees discussed their next step Monday night as the options were laid out to them by the township administrator.
“One option is to get the notes from Mr. (Douglas) Duckett and have them redacted, or we go to the Ohio Supreme Court,” said Township Administrator Matt Huffman. “We have 45 days time to do that. It’s a discretionary decision by the Supreme Court.”
However, Huffman said, “At this point, based on the current ruling, they are considered public record.”
Liberty Township residents Jim Hurt and Mark Gerber made requests for notes Cincinnati attorney Douglas Duckett made while investigating the conduct of former Fire Chief Tim Jensen starting in May 2016. Their requests were repeatedly denied by township officials based on the claim that the township was never in possession of the notes and that they were the personal notes of Duckett.
When asked about the delay, Hurt said, “I think it is bull****. It’s merely delaying for the sake of delaying. We’re exploring our options. There maybe some, there may not be some.”
Gerber said, “The cover up is worse than the crime. The court was perfectly clear, they are a public record. It was a slam dunk. Every case cited by the appeals court was practically a Supreme Court case. They are just trying to get past the election.”
Huffman said the township still doesn’t have physical possession of the notes. He said the township would need to ask Duckett for them, then redact the medical and personal information.
Huffman said he had spoken with the township’s attorney Stephanie Schoolcraft. He said she had given the township the option of appealing to the Ohio Supreme Court.
“They could look at it and say ‘we’re not going to hear it’ or they could look at it and say ‘we’re going to hear it,’” Huffman said. “Again, it is discretionary by the Supreme Court. There is no guarantee they will hear it. If the appeal process to the Supreme Court is the direction the township wants to go, the insurance policy is still in place.”
According to Huffman, the township’s insurance policy covered the majority of the expenses related to the cases that went before the Ohio Court of Appeals and the Ohio Court of Claims. He said the policy has a 15 percent deductible.
According to Trustee Melanie Leneghan, the out-of-pocket cost to the township amounts to about $1,600. Leneghan suggested, “We should probably meet with the lawyers and see what they recommend.”
Trustee Tom Mitchell said the township has gone down the road long enough and didn’t see a good reason for spending another $1,000 to $3,000 to see if the decision changes.
“We can meet with the lawyers and all,” said Mitchell. “We’ve had four judges and one special master that’s ruled against us.”
However, Mitchell did ask Huffman to prepare a proposal to the trustees with suggestions.
“Contact Duckett. Get a timeline. This has gone on long enough,” he said.
Trustee Shyra Eichhorn acknowledged the fact that the process has been difficult at best. For her, the biggest concern is the employees, because they were told that what they said to Duckett was protected under attorney-client privilege.
“Our employees were under the impression that the notes were never going to be released,” Eichorn said. “I would hope that if I were in the same situation that my boss would go to bat for me. I have a sense of duty to those people.”
Eichhorn compared the investigation to a human resources investigation in a corporation where everything is confidential.
“You say what you feel, because you feel safe,” she said. “There’s no concern with you telling the truth. Then your HR department turns around and publishes (the comments).”
Mitchell strongly agreed with Eichhorn when it came to Duckett and the notes.
“The fact that Mr. Duckett lied to our employees; he lied to us; he lied to me when I was in there. Personally, I find him culpable for a lot of this problem,” Mitchell said.
D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin.