Licking County News

Fox will face malfeasance charges Jan. 14

Hearing will determine if council member should be removed from office

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Councilman Mike Fox was issued a letter Nov. 25 informing him Pataskala City Council next month will hear charges of malfeasance he allegedly committed by participating in disciplinary proceedings for former West Licking fire chief David Fulmer.

The letter also listed charges of malfeasance that occurred July 22, 2013, when heavy rains caused a section of foundation to collapse at a building at the northeast corner of Front and Main streets. Fox's businesses, Fox's Locks and Security and Fox's Archery and Firearms, are based in the building.

Mayor Steve Butcher had to serve the letter to Fox. The city charter requires the mayor to act as the "charging official," according to section 11.01.

The charter says the charging official, "if he or she has reason to believe there is probable cause for the removal of an elected official or member of a board or commission, shall give notice of the alleged cause for removal and the time, date and place of the commencement of hearing for removal."

Pataskala City Council will preside over the hearing, according to the charter.

The hearing is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 14 in Pataskala City Council chambers; the letter said the hearing would continue day to day from 6:30 to 9 p.m. until its conclusion.

Fox will be unable to vote in the proceedings, and two-thirds of City Council would be required to remove Fox from office, according to the charter.

The Jan. 14 hearing will "determine whether (Fox) committed malfeasance on the charges and whether (he) should be removed from office," according to the letter.

"The malfeasance finding is based upon your participation in executive sessions involving the disciplinary hearing of ... Fulmer in direct contradiction to council's instructions," the letter said. "Council's decision for you not to participate in the proceedings was to protect the integrity of the disciplinary proceedings after receiving concerns of your ability to remain impartial.

"There is also probable cause to charge you with malfeasance based on your response to public officials trying to manage the partial collapse of a building where your businesses are located. Your attempt to obstruct official business by interfering with the fire department trying to secure the area for the purpose of protecting the public is malfeasance."

Fox, who was Pataskala's representative to the West Licking fire board through October 2012, said no charges have been brought against him in previous investigations, and he believes this proceeding will yield the same results.

Fox has been the subject of three investigations related to the firing of Fulmer as chief of the West Licking Joint Fire District.

Pataskala City Council in September 2013 hired outside legal counsel to initiate the third investigation after City Attorney Rufus Hurst said he found evidence indicating Fox might have failed to comply with the directive from City Council prohibiting him from participating in the Fulmer proceedings.

Hurst said he reviewed court depositions related to statements from Fox, Randy Foor, Etna Township's fire board representative, and Mark Van Buren, Harrison Township's representative.

The depositions were part of the fire board's appeal of Licking County Common Pleas Court Judge Thomas Marcelain's ruling in April that the fire board did not have enough evidence to dismiss Fulmer, who was fired in November 2012.

Hurst said the depositions he reviewed mention that Fox participated in executive sessions related to Fulmer's situation.

Fox and council member Bernard Brush countered that Fox did what City Council requested.

"Council requested he recuse himself from the disposition (sic) of Chief Fulmer at the hearing, which he did. He did not participate in the hearing," Brush said Sept. 3.

Fox said he recused himself from the fire board's vote to dismiss Fulmer. He said he sat in on fire board executive sessions related to personnel as a member of the fire board's personnel committee and as part of his regular duties while serving on the board.

Prior to the third investigation, Fox was accused twice of improper dealings related to Fulmer.

In September 2012, a woman named Mary K. Wolfe alleged via email that Fox made a race-related 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 restaurant.

Hurst investigated the complaint and, he said, found no evidence to support a recommendation that Fox be removed from the fire board.

However, Hurst did caution Fox about the "appearance of impropriety" associated with his representation of Pataskala on the fire board, leading to City Council's request that Fox recuse himself from the "disposition" of Fulmer at the hearing, according to the minutes from the Oct. 1, 2012, meeting.

Fulmer made the other complaint in November 2012.

The fire board had dismissed Fulmer earlier that month, citing misconduct in office and malfeasance related to personal information about former employees from another department he kept on his work computer.

Some of the information was considered sensitive and included Social Security numbers, according to the investigation proceedings.

Fulmer said Fox did not serve objectively in the investigation against him. He also alleged Fox did not completely recuse himself from the investigation proceedings, per Pataskala City Council's directive.

Hurst investigated and at the time, found no evidence for City Council to take action against Fox.

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