Pataskala City Council on Dec. 10 voted 4-2 to authorize Law Director Rufus Hurst to initiate a second investigation of Councilman Mike Fox related to allegations made Nov. 19 by former West Licking Fire Chief David Fulmer.
Bryan Lenzo, Merissa McKinstry, Pat Sagar and Dan Hayes voted in favor of the investigation. Bernard Brush and Mike Compton voted against it, and Fox, on Hurst's advice, abstained from the vote.
Fulmer claimed Fox, who represents Pataskala on the West Licking Joint Fire District board, did not serve objectively in the investigation against him. The board -- with Fox recusing himself -- dismissed Fulmer Nov. 8 because of misconduct in office and malfeasance related to personal information on non-township personnel kept on his work computer.
He also alleged Fox did not completely recuse himself from the investigation proceedings, which Fox agreed to do per City Council's direction after Hurst completed his first investigation of Fox in October.
That first investigation was prompted by a complaint Mary K. Wolfe emailed in September to City Council. 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 a local restaurant.
Hurst concluded 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."
Lenzo made a motion Dec. 10 to start the second investigation.
"The process is that if council feels that there is further investigation that is appropriate based upon the complaint, then council would instruct the law director to follow up on that complaint and report back to council through the mayor," Hurst said.
Lenzo said if the allegations are serious, council should investigate. He said if a complaint had been lodged against him, he would want to clear his name and Fox may want to do the same.
Fox said Dec. 10 that all Fulmer's complaints were addressed in the first investigation. He said Fulmer has appealed the fire board's decision in Licking County Common Pleas Court, which is where his allegations should be addressed.
Brush said he voted against the second investigation because Fulmer's rights are served by the court appeals process. He also said he is concerned City Council is setting a precedent when the city charter does not require every complaint to be investigated by the law director.
Fulmer said in his complaint "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. ... 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."
In addition to participating in several fire board meetings about the investigation, 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 said.