Liberty Township trustees, in a 2-1 vote Tuesday morning, passed a resolution to obtain, redact, and release notes from an investigation conducted in 2016, per an order by the Ohio Court of Claims.
Judge Patrick McGrath ordered the township officials on Oct. 26 to release the notes before or on Friday, Nov 3.
According to Township Administrator Matt Huffman, the township still doesn’t have possession of the Duckett notes.
Douglas Duckett, a Cincinnati attorney, was hired by trustees last year to investigate the conduct of the township’s former Fire Chief Tim Jensen. Duckett compiled the notes to complete his final report to trustees.
“I’m of the opinion, we all know this, that it is time we release these records, we redact them and comply with what was court ordered most recently,” said Trustee Tom Mitchell.
“I’ve made it very clear from the very beginning that I thought it was important for us to take this matter and fight this matter because of the employees,” said Trustee Shyra Eichhorn. “They were promised something that they should not have been promised.”
Eichhorn was referring to Duckett’s promise to employees that what they told him during the investigation was protected under attorney-client privilege. However, during the investigation, Duckett acted in the role of the investigator and not as an attorney.
“However, I can look all those employees in the eye and say I fought as hard as I could,” she said. “I think at this point it was minimal cost and it was worth it, but moving forward it could be a lot more money.
“It would be one thing if (the decisions by the court had not been unanimous) but it hasn’t been close,” she said. “Our fire department is at a phenomenal point right now, let’s just finish the healing and move on.”
Trustee Melanie Leneghan claims there have been two reasons why she opposed the release of the notes to the public. Her first was to protect the employees. The second was the precedent the case sets and the potential future cost to taxpayers of other government entities in the future.
“There is going to be some serious collateral damage to our staff as a result of what we’re going to see,” she said. “The precedent it establishes could cost taxpayers ‘crud’ loads of money in the future.”
On the other side of the issue, Mark Gerber, one of two residents who took the matter to the Ohio Court of Claims, said his concern was the chain of custody and what is redacted from the notes.
In regard to that matter, the order issued by the Ohio Court of Claims states: “However, this court has the power to enforce its own orders, and to punish for contempt, R.C. 2743.05. After receiving respondent’s response to this order, requesters may file any motion for enforcement, sanctions, or challenges to redactions made to the records provided, that they deem appropriate.”
D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin.