West Licking Joint Fire District
Fulmer decision pushed back to Nov. 8 meeting
After listening to nearly nine hours of testimony from 10 witnesses on Oct. 19 and 20, the West Licking Joint Fire District board decided to reserve its decision on suspended Fire Chief David Fulmer's standing until Nov. 8.
The public hearing, initially scheduled Sept. 13 but delayed twice, began at 6:15 p.m. Friday, Oct. 19, and concluded at 2:55 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 20. Most of the 30 people who attended the hearing stayed to the end.
Fire board Chairman Derek Myers, who represents Jersey Township, requested the attorneys for both parties present summations to the board by Nov. 2. He said the board will consider all evidence at its Nov. 8 meeting.
Fulmer is being charged with misuse of official funds, not following the district's policies and procedures, making inappropriate comments through social media and keeping sensitive information about people not associated with the district on a work computer, all of which constitute misconduct or malfeasance and can result in his termination.
Fulmer was placed on administrative leave May 29 following a decision reportedly made by the fire board 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 was named acting chief.
The fire board hired attorney Doug Holthus of Poling Petrollo of Columbus and Richard Emmons of R.L. Emmons and Associates of Centerville to investigate the claims against Fulmer.
The results of that investigation were presented to the board Oct. 19 by Attorney Frank Hatfield of Downes Fishel Hass Kim of Columbus.
Hatfield questioned Fulmer and four witnesses: Kristopher Haley of Keytel Systems, who provides the fire district's information-technology support; Larry Kretzmann, a former fire board member who represented Harrison Township; Lt. Jack Trenish of the West Licking Joint Fire District; and Emmons.
Fulmer's attorney, David Comstock Jr. of Comstock, Springer and Wilson Co., also questioned Fulmer and five other witnesses: Pat Sagar, a former fire board member who serves on Pataskala City Council; Doug Joseph, a former fire board member who serves on Reynoldsburg City Council; Robert Schultz of Robert W. Schultz and Associates of Prospect, a consulting firm that works with agencies on information management; Timothy Shaw of the Advanced Technical Intelligence Center for Human Capital Development of Dayton, which provides development and training resources, and a partner in Fulmer/Shaw Consulting, a company he formed with Fulmer; and Bruce Ashcraft, a firefighter who retired from the fire district in February 2011.
Hatfield questioned Fulmer about challenge coins he purchased for $1,047.45 during "challenging economic times." Witnesses called in Fulmer's defense disputed that, with Joseph saying the district had $7 million in reserves at the time.
Fulmer was accused of keeping many of the souvenir coins for his own personal collection, but he said he gave them to visiting dignitaries. During his testimony, Fulmer provided the board with an inventory of all coins and who received them.
Fulmer said the board approved the challenge coin purchase in October 2011 and then later questioned the expense in January. He said he offered to pay for the coins after the board questioned the purchase.
Hatfield also questioned witnesses related to the collective bargaining unit for the department, in which firefighters agreed to adopt a 19-day schedule to replace the 28-day schedule. Hatfield said in a memo to the board, Fulmer wrote that the 19-day schedule should save $157,739.48. The contract was ratified June 22, 2011.
Trenish testified the department operated on the 19-day schedule for about six months before going back to the 28-day schedule.
The 19-day cycle is based on 144 hours of work, working 24-hour shifts. The 28-day cycle is based on 212 hours of work, working 24-hour shifts.
During his testimony, Fulmer said he predicted the 19-day cycle would eliminate 82 to 84 hours of overtime. But the firefighters union did not agree because three firefighters could potentially be off work on one day, forcing others to work overtime.
According to the contract that included the 19-day cycle, "employees who are assigned to work the (24 hours on shift and 48 hours off) schedule consisting of 144 hours in a 19-day cycle shall receive earned days off, which will reduce the average work week to an average of 53 hours a week. During a rolling 12-month calendar beginning Nov. 1, 2011, two shifts shall receive six earned days off and one shift will receive seven earned days off."
The contract specifies that no more than one firefighter can take an earned day off in the same day, Fulmer said.
The firefighters union questioned how only one person could take an earned day off and what would happen if the earned day off couldn't be taken during the 19-day cycle.
When the work cycle was changed back to 28 days, the district had to pay union firefighters $4,000 per person for earned days off, which totaled $240,000.
Trenish testified the schedule could cost more because of the way off days could be scheduled. Fulmer disputed that claim, saying that even in the worst-case scenario with several firefighters off at the same time, the 19-day cycle would not have cost the district more money.
Hatfield's other questions to Fulmer included whether he abided by his own policy of turning in receipts within 48 hours, his effect on department morale during contract negotiations and the practice of keeping personal information on his computer.
For the receipt policy, Fulmer said he and others in the department at times did not turn receipts in on time.
Hatfield asked if morale in the department was affected by a comment Fulmer posted on his Facebook page during contract negotiations, inferring that employees needed beating. It contained several non-flattering expletives. Fulmer did not deny posting the comment.
Hatfield asked Haley to confirm charges that Fulmer kept personal information, including Social Security numbers and medical histories of employees he supervised at the Miami Township fire station, on the computer in his office at the West Licking fire station. Haley said the information was found the week prior to the hearing.
While testifying, Fulmer said he obtained the documents legally and did not know they contained sensitive information. He claimed he was asked to download the file to his work computer by members of the fire district's IT consultants because using an external flash drive -- where the information originally was stored -- was causing issues with his computer.
Schultz testified that former public officials often need to retain files about prior employees in case they are called to provide testimony related to those employees.
In Fulmer's defense, Comstock called witnesses who spoke about a perceived change in the West Licking Joint Fire District board between the time Fulmer was hired in April 2009 and when he started being challenged for misconduct. Witnesses also raised questions about fire board members' objectivity in reviewing Fulmer's performance.
Sagar, who served on the fire board from 2009 to 2011 and publicly has said she supports Fulmer, said the board "had a pretty good working relationship" with Fulmer while she was serving.
She said the entire focus of the board changed in 2011-12 when Myers, Pataskala City Council member Mike Fox and Mark Van Buren joined the board. Myers represents Jersey Township, Fox represents Pataskala and Van Buren represents Harrison Township.
Joseph, the former fire board representative for Reynoldsburg, supported Sagar's claim of "potential prejudice" against Fulmer, saying he resigned in protest from the board June 4 because of a "clandestine" approach to remove Fulmer from duty.
Both Sagar and Joseph claimed that Van Buren had made up his mind early in 2012 that Fulmer should leave. Allegations also were made against the objectivity of Myers and Fox, who recused himself from the discussion per an agreement with Pataskala City Council.
After recusing himself from the hearing discussion, Fox was asked to join witnesses outside the hearing room in case he was called as a witness. Van Buren and Myers declined comment on the allegations after the meeting.
The West Licking Joint Fire District was formed in 1982 from the Pataskala and Kirkersville fire departments. It provides fire protection services for those two areas, as well as Etna, Harrison and Jersey townships and a portion of Reynoldsburg.