Licking County News

West Licking fire chief Fulmer reinstated, put back on leave


Members of the West Licking Joint Fire District board agreed Feb. 13 to reinstate Chief David Fulmer but immediately put him on administrative leave, saying only that they need to initiate and complete another investigation of Fulmer.

"I think the board feels an obligation to make sure the air is clear and to make sure we look at everything before we put him back to work," said Steve Little, who was hired Feb. 13 as fire district administrator.

The fire district now will pay Fulmer a salary, even though he is not working.

Little said Fulmer earns $98,500 annually, which excludes what the district pays for him in benefits.

Little said he cannot estimate how much the current investigation will cost but said he's been directed by the fire board to hire outside legal counsel.

He said the board wants the investigation to be completed by an outside source while Fulmer is on leave "so that no one can point fingers in (any) direction."

Little estimated the investigation will take 30 to 60 days.

Fulmer declined to comment and referred questions to his attorney, Douglas Comstock, who could not be reached for comment.

The fire board voted 4-1 on Nov. 8, 2012, to terminate Fulmer, citing misconduct in office and malfeasance related to personal information on former employees from another municipality he kept on his work computer. Randy Foor, who represents Etna Township, cast the dissenting vote.

Fulmer appealed the decision, saying his constitutional rights were violated, the board did not follow proper procedures in firing him and the board did not prove he had done anything wrong.

Judge Thomas Marcelain agreed, ruling April 18, 2013, in Licking County Common Pleas Court that the fire board fired Fulmer without proving him guilty of wrongdoing.

The fire board on April 23 consulted with attorney Douglas Holthus in executive session before voting 4-1 -- with Foor dissenting -- to appeal Marcelain's decision.

But the 5th District Court of Appeals on Jan. 9 affirmed the ruling.

Fulmer was on administrative leave from May 29 to Nov. 8, 2012.

He was put on administrative leave following a decision reportedly made by the fire board during a May 23, 2012, 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.

Little said he has not calculated how much Fulmer earned while on administrative leave in 2012 and said he could not estimate the legal costs to the fire district associated with the previous investigations and court hearings, though he did say the fire district's insurance company paid for a portion of the legal costs.

Little was hired as an outside human-resources consultant in January 2013.

Mark Van Buren, the fire board chairman who represents Harrison Township, said the fire board voted Feb. 13 to increase Little's duties to include administration.

Little said his job remains a part-time position and he will serve the board by providing administrative direction and leadership.

He said he will earn $38 an hour and Van Buren said he is expected to work 30 hours a week.

Van Buren said Ken Mathews, who was the assistant fire chief under Fulmer's tenure, will continue to serve as acting fire chief. The fire board has not hired an assistant chief, Van Buren said.