Former West Licking Fire Chief David Fulmer filed a complaint Nov. 19 against Pataskala City Councilman Mike Fox, accusing him of being "incapable of serving objectively" on the West Licking Joint Fire District board during its recent investigation of Fulmer.
Fulmer also alleged Fox, Pataskala's representative to the fire board, failed to remove himself from deliberations on the investigation, per the direction of Pataskala City Council in response to another complaint made in September.
The fire board on Nov. 8 voted 4-1 -- with Fox recusing himself from the vote -- to dismiss Fulmer for misconduct in office and malfeasance related to personal information on non-township personnel kept on his work computer. Some of the information was considered sensitive and included Social Security numbers, according to the investigation proceedings.
Fulmer has appealed the decision in Licking County Common Pleas Court, alleging the board did not have just cause to fire him, did not follow the law in the process and several board members -- including Fox -- were biased against him.
Fulmer accused Fox of attending several meetings related to the board's decision even after Pataskala City Council on Oct. 1 directed him to recuse himself from the vote and any discussion about Fulmer's fate.
"I believe that the statements and actions of Councilman Mike Fox eroded and/or has had the appearance of eroding the right to due process, which is afforded through the Ohio Revised Code," Fulmer said in the complaint, citing Fox's public comments preceding and during the investigation. "Given the facts, it is difficult for me to believe that 'due process' was afforded to me through his actions.
"Furthermore, as a public official, he displayed no transparency or respect for the process as detailed in the Ohio Revised Code and has poorly represented the city of Pataskala as their representative to the West Licking Joint Fire District."
Fulmer said Fox also was "part of an illegal gathering with (fire board) attorney Frank Hatfield" on Oct. 3. The 13-minute meeting allegedly included Fox and three other fire board members, which would violate Ohio's open-meetings laws, and was "witnessed by a citizen," Fulmer told City Council on Nov. 19.
Fulmer urged City Council to investigate his complaint.
Fox said during the Nov. 19 meeting he would discuss the complaint with his lawyer. He cautioned City Council members about "setting themselves up for another unfounded investigation that has no merit to it."
Council members did not take action on the complaint Nov. 19, but council President Dan Hayes said he would email all members a copy of Fulmer's complaint, which was left with the council clerk during the meeting. City Council's next scheduled meeting is Dec. 10.
The Pataskala city charter authorizes City Council to initiate an investigation and to have the mayor review the results. The mayor would then decide whether to drop the claim or move forward with charges, which would require City Council to hold a disciplinary hearing.
If City Council members investigate, it would be the second investigation this year related to Fox's work with the West Licking Joint Fire District.
In September, a woman named Mary K. Wolfe made the first complaint against Fox via email. Wolfe alleged that in April, Fox made a racial comment about her and inappropriately asked John Rinard, president of the West Licking Fire Fighters Association, about Fulmer's hiring while she and Rinard were at arestaurant.
Law Director Rufus Hurst investigated and told City Council on Oct. 1 there was no reason to remove Fox from City Council.
However, Hurst said, because of the alleged comments Fox made before Fulmer was even put on leave, Fox's participation in the investigation proceedings and final vote on the charges pending against Fulmer could have the "appearance of impropriety." Fox agreed to comply with City Council's direction.
Fulmer was placed on administrative leave May 29 following a decision reportedly made by the West Licking Joint Fire District's 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. Doug Joseph, a former fire board member who represented Reynoldsburg, resigned the same day, saying his resignation was in protest of a "clandestine" approach to remove Fulmer from duty.