Licking County News

West Licking fire board ousts beleaguered chief

Firing was based on charge he kept sensitive information on computer

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

The West Licking Joint Fire District board voted 4-1 on Nov. 8 to fire Chief David Fulmer for misconduct in office and malfeasance related to personal information on personnel from his previous job that he kept on his work computer.

"None of the information pertained to the West Licking Joint Fire District," said board member Mark Van Buren, who represents Harrison Township.

The board voted 5-0 to accept the charge. A sixth board member, Mike Fox, who represents Pataskala, recused himself prior to the discussion, per the direction of Pataskala City Council. He was asked to abstain after a complaint of alleged inappropriate comments made previously to Mary K. Wolfe, a woman who was eating at a local restaurant with John Rinard, president of the West Licking Firefighters Association.

Board member Randy Foor, who represents Etna Township, said it was evident that the emails Fulmer retained from his previous employer, the Miami Township Fire Department, contained personal information and could have caused trouble for the district.

Fulmer testified at a public hearing Oct. 19 that he obtained the documents legally and did not know they contained sensitive information. Witnesses testifying in his defense stated that former public officials often need to retain files about prior employees in case they are called to provide testimony related to those employees.

Other witnesses said the documents contained medical information and Social Security numbers.

Board member Cornelius McGrady III, who represents Reynoldsburg, said the charge required disciplinary action, which, he said, could include termination, depending on the severity of the offense.

The board voted to fire Fulmer based on that charge, with Foor dissenting.

Foor said he voted against the firing because he questioned whether the charge was strong enough for dismissal. He said it is a charge the district could address without terminating Fulmer.

The other charges against Fulmer considered by the board Nov. 8 did not receive the two-thirds majority required for passage.

They were:

* Misuse of funds for purchasing challenge coins for $1,047.45 during "an economic crisis" and negotiating a work schedule with the union that was supposed to save the district money yet cost so much the district changed back to the original schedule.

Foor said the work schedule was changed after the union contract was approved by the fire board, even though he said the board later regretted the decision. Van Buren said the board did not know of Miami Township's failed attempt at using the same schedule prior to implementing it at West Licking.

Fire board Chairman Derek Myers, who represents Jersey Township, Brian Denton, who represents Kirkersville, and Van Buren voted for the charge. Foor and McGrady voted against it.

* Creating disharmony and mistrust in his employees by keeping some of the challenge coins purchased by the fire district, requiring employees to follow rules he didn't follow and for posting a negative comment about his employees on Facebook during union negotiations.

Myers said there was no evidence to support the claim that Fulmer's personal coin collection benefitted from the West Licking challenge coins.

Van Buren said Fulmer on Oct. 19 testified that he turned in credit card receipts late and Van Buren said there was no evidence presented that others did the same.

Van Buren said Fulmer on Oct. 19 also admitted to the Facebook post. Foor said that was addressed in one of Fulmer's annual reviews and he was asked not to do it again.

Van Buren and Denton voted in favor of the charge and Myers, Foor and McGrady voted against it.

The board unanimously voted to make Fulmer's termination effective at 7:42 p.m. Nov. 8, per Van Buren's motion. Van Buren said Fulmer can come in any time with supervision to remove personal items but he no longer wants Fulmer on the payroll.

After the decision, Pat Sagar, a Pataskala City Council member and past member of the fire board, said she was shocked and disappointed.

"Chief Fulmer was such a professional, knowledgeable man and we were very fortunate to have him accept our offer to work here," Sagar said. "He brought current policies and procedures to the fire department and filled in the blanks that were never updated over the years. He was good for this district."

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.

* In other business, the fire board approved the payment of $4,400 to firefighter Jonathan Sforza for schooling.

Assistant Fire Chief Harold Williams said Sforza was not yet out of his probationary period when Fulmer approved the payment for his schooling to receive his emergency-medical services certification, which violates the fire department's policy. Firefighters are not typically approved for schooling reimbursement until their probationary period is over and they have been with the department for a year.

The board approved the request unanimously.

Van Buren said he did not want the firefighter to suffer from an administrative mistake.

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