Pataskala City Council on Sept. 17 asked Law Director Rufus Hurst to investigate a complaint against Councilman Mike Fox alleging inappropriate behavior.
A woman identifying herself as Mary K. Wolfe sent a complaint by email to City Council on Sept. 16 regarding an April 25 incident at a Pataskala restaurant.
It alleged that Fox made an inappropriate racial comment and then questioned John Rinard, president of the West Licking Firefighters Association, about West Licking Fire Chief Dave Fulmer's hiring in 2009 and his subsequent actions.
Fox is Pataskala's representative on the West Licking Joint Fire District board and the firefighters association is a nonprofit organization that runs the annual Pataskala Street Fair and provides support for the fire district.
Wolfe's email said Fox noticed Rinard at the restaurant and said to him, "That's not the same black girl I saw you running around town with last week."
"I was floored, I was shocked, my mouth hit the floor in dismay," Wolfe's email said. "I had never met Mike Fox before, I did not know who or what he was to John or the city of Pataskala. It amazed me that a man who did not know me, who'd never met me would make a comment like that to John in front of me or to John or anyone in a public place. Mike at the time was not aware and did not know it but I am in the process of divorcing my husband who happens to be black."
According to Wolfe's email, Fox then asked Rinard why the fire district hired its chief from outside the department and if he "thought Chief Fulmer was the right choice for the job."
Fulmer, who was hired in 2009 from Miami Township near Dayton, is the subject of a recent investigation by the fire board.
He has been on paid administrative leave since the end of May and a public hearing on the allegations against him is slated Oct. 3 at the fire station on Broad Street. The hearing originally was scheduled Sept. 13, but Fulmer's attorney requested a two-week extension.
Fox told City Council he has witnesses who can dispute the claims.
"That is not how I act," he said.
Fox denied making the comment and said he did not say anything in the restaurant about Fulmer that he has not said in public. He said four people, including him, Wolfe and Rinard, were privy to the conversation.
Wolfe declined to comment when contacted by ThisWeek. Attempts to reach Rinard for comment were unsuccessful.
Council President Dan Hayes told City Council Sept. 17 if the alleged misconduct by Fox is true, it may be inappropriate for Fox to stay on the fire board and vote on potential penalties for Fulmer.
"Being fair to both Mr. Fox and this individual, the comments about the fire chief would be concerning," Hayes said, "but there's not a lot of time to react."
Hurst said he might not be able to complete an investigation on the letter before the fire board meets the first week of October to consider the charges at the public hearing.
Hayes said if the city doesn't act before a vote on Fulmer's conduct, and if it were determined the complaint against Fox is true, the city would be in a difficult position.
Mayor Steve Butcher said he takes any allegations against a person's reputation seriously.
"When we're talking about charges, it shouldn't be taken lightly," Butcher said.
Butcher questioned why the complaint was being made now if the incident happened in April.
Councilman Mike Compton said he, too, had the same question.
Fox also questioned why the allegations were not brought forward previously. He said the timing of the email could be an effort to remove him from making a decision about Fulmer's conduct.