Licking County News

West Licking Joint Fire District

Fulmer's public hearing postponed again

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Beleaguered West Licking Joint Fire District Chief David Fulmer's public hearing was postponed last week for the second time.

The hearing, which will address charges the district fire board could bring against the chief, has been rescheduled for 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 19, at the district office, 851 E. Broad St.

"We're going to have the hearing and listen to witnesses," said fire board member Mark Van Buren, who represents Harrison Township.

Fulmer was placed on administrative leave May 29 following a decision reportedly made during a May 23 executive session. No public vote was taken at that time. Board members then met in an emergency session June 4 and voted 5-0 to place Fulmer on administrative leave. Assistant Chief Ken Matthews became acting fire chief.

Fire board member Mike Fox previously said the board's legal counsel, Marc Fishel of Columbus-based Downes Fishel Hass Kim, advised members not to discuss the reasons Fulmer was placed on leave other than to say it was not a disciplinary action for any sort of malicious intent but rather for policy disagreement between Fulmer and the board.

During a special meeting June 7, the board hired R.L. Emmons and Associates, a Centerville-based investigative services and legal support team, to investigate Fulmer.

Documents obtained by a public records request indicate Fulmer, who earns $98,800 per year and still is on paid leave, could be charged with misconduct, poor use of public funds and tampering with public records.

Fire board members hoped to present formal charges against Fulmer during a Sept. 13 meeting, but Fox said Fulmer's attorney, David C. Comstock, contacted the board's attorney, Frank Hatfield of Downes Fishel Hass Kim, and requested a two-week extension, to which Fulmer is entitled under state law.

After the extension was requested, the board planned a hearing Oct. 3, but Van Buren said both attorneys requested an extension until Oct. 19 to subpoena 23 witnesses for testimony.

"(Fulmer has) called witnesses to protect himself," Van Buren said.

Pat Sagar, a Pataskala City Council member and former West Licking fire board member, said both Fulmer and the fire district will subpoena witnesses to testify. She will be one of them.

"It's a mixture," she said. "There are witnesses for both sides."

Complicating matters, Van Buren said, Fulmer filed a suit against the district Sept. 7 claiming that the meetings held to place him on administrative leave violated Ohio's open-meeting laws. Van Buren said Fulmer also claimed the district did not properly fulfill all of his public records requests.

In addition, Pataskala City Council on Oct. 1 directed Fox, a council member, to recuse himself from any further hearings regarding the Fulmer case. Last month, City Council asked Law Director Rufus Hurst to investigate a complaint against Fox alleging inappropriate behavior April 25 at a Pataskala restaurant (see related story). Fox was accused of making an inappropriate racial comment to a woman and questioning John Rinard, president of the West Licking Firefighters Association, about Fulmer's hiring in 2009 and his actions as fire chief.

Hurst determined there is no reason to ask Fox to step down from City Council, but he did suggest "the appearance of impropriety" if Fox were to vote on the city's behalf during the fire district board hearings on Fulmer. City Council then voted to require Fox to recuse himself from the fire board proceedings.

According to information received from ThisWeek's public-records request, Fulmer was interviewed during the investigation about the following topics, which might not reflect the formal charges:

* Failure to submit a zero-based budget.

* The purchase of 50 challenge coins.

* A change to a 19-day schedule.

* Divided purchase orders.

* Signing his own purchase orders.

* Costs incurred in exploring a new fire station.

* Misplacement of a cellphone.

* Reporting his work hours.

* Employee vacation policies.

* Use of a credit card and his relationship with vendors.

* Whether Fulmer submitted purchase forms in timely manner.

* Questions regarding on-call pay.

* Whether he changed the date on a leave sell-back request.

The fire district hired Fulmer as chief in 2009. Previously, he was the chief of the Miami Township Fire Department near Dayton.

Fulmer could not be reached for comment.

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