The West Licking Joint Fire District board voted July 10 to terminate Fire Chief David Fulmer – for the second time.
Fulmer’s attorney, David “Chip” Comstock, confirmed Fulmer will appeal the decision – also for the second time.
Fulmer, 44, first was fired Nov. 8, 2012, but won an appeal when Judge Thomas Marcelain ruled April 18, 2013, in Licking County Common Pleas Court that the fire board dismissed him without proving him guilty of wrongdoing.
Marcelain ordered Fulmer had to be reinstated but declined to require the fire district to issue Fulmer back pay.
The 5th District Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling Jan. 9.
The fire board voted Feb. 13 to reinstate Fulmer but immediately put him on paid administrative leave, pending another investigation. Fulmer makes $98,800 a year and was hired in 2009.
The most recent charges alleged Fulmer violated provisions of the fire district’s policy on technology “through his deliberate misuse and reckless mismanagement of district-owned laptop computers and thereby (committing) misconduct in office, malfeasance, nonfeasance and gross neglect of duty.”
The charges included specifications of Fulmer allowing his family to use the computer, of having inappropriate material downloaded to the computers and of using the computer to view sexually explicit websites.
He also was accused of using the laptops for private business ventures for profit, constituting misconduct and malfeasance.
A fifth charge, brought forth June 12, reiterated the charge that he violated the fire district’s policy on technology by “using a district-owned cellphone to transmit an image of a naked woman’s torso and exposed breasts” to a potential employee.
A sixth charge alleged that by texting the image, Fulmer violated the fire district’s sexual harassment policy, which constitutes misconduct and malfeasance in office.
The fire board heard almost 18 hours of testimony in the case during hearings June 17 and July 8. Both hearings lasted until nearly 3 a.m.
Attorney Mark Fishel presented the case against Fulmer. He questioned Fulmer and four other witnesses: Tara Metzger, the fire district’s former human-resources specialist, who claimed Fulmer texted a photo of a woman’s nude torso to her days before she accepted a job with the district; Steve Little, the fire district’s administrator;
Andrew Keck of Profile Discovery, which completed the forensic investigation of Fulmer’s two laptop computers; and attorney Douglas Duckett, who conducted the investigation on Fulmer.
Comstock and Paul Bittner, who also represented Fulmer, questioned Fulmer and called two other witnesses: Kristopher Haley of Keytel Systems, which provides the fire district’s information-technology support; and Scott Blough, associate professor of cyber defense in Tiffin University’s Department of Criminal Justice and Security Studies.
During the July 10 meeting, fire board members voted on each specification of each charge before determining disciplinary action.
The board voted unanimously that Fulmer violated the three specifications of the first charge of “misuse and reckless mismanagement of the district-owned laptop computers” with specifications of allowing family members to access the computer, allowing the computers to be used to view sexually explicit websites and using the computer to view websites that contained discriminatory information.”
Board member Derek Myers, a Jersey Township trustee, said there is evidence that some of the sexually explicit photos downloaded to the district laptops came from an external device owned by Fulmer.
Board member Randy Foor, an Etna Township trustee, said Fulmer testified he would like to continue working for the district. However, Foor said, leaders must hold themselves to a higher standard and be above viewing or storing the types of images found on Fulmer’s computer.
Board members voted unanimously to terminate Fulmer, effective immediately, based on the first charge.
Board members did not agree on the second charge of using the laptops for “private business ventures for profit.”
The board voted 5-1, with Foor voting against the first specification, which alleged Fulmer used the district computer for “paid training and speaking work” separate from his district duties.
Foor said the evidence that Fulmer was paid to teach a class did not interfere with his duties as chief.
The board voted unanimously to drop the second specification that Fulmer had information on the computer about a private hunting club where he retains membership, saying it could not be established as a business that Fulmer profited from.
The third specification that Fulmer used the computer to sell ammunition was dropped during the June 17 hearing.
Foor made a motion to drop the entire second charge, which received a second but was voted down 5-1, with Foor casting the sole vote in favor.
Board member Tim Hickin, a Pataskala City Councilman, made a motion to put a letter of reprimand in Fulmer’s personnel file, which died for lack of a second.
The board then voted 5-1 to suspend Fulmer for six months without pay and request he sign an agreement stating he would not violate any of the district's policies in the future. If he refused to sign the agreement, he would be terminated.
Hickin cast the dissenting vote, saying the penalty seemed too harsh.
The board was split on the third charge of mismanaging the district laptops and not enforcing district policies.
The board voted 4-2, with Foor and Hickin dissenting on the first specification that Fulmer failed to protect the Macintosh laptop computer with a password as directed by the district’s technology policy.
The board unanimously agreed that Fulmer failed to secure the computers and violated the technology policy, which was the second specification of the third charge, before voting 4-2 to terminate Fulmer effective immediately on the third charge.
Foor and Hickin cast the dissenting votes.
The board unanimously voted in favor of the fourth charge, which stated Fulmer was dishonest when interviewed by Duckett, and unanimously approved termination effective immediately for that charge.
The board voted 4- 2 to drop the fifth charge that Fulmer used district equipment to text a sexually explicit photo to a potential employee. Brian Denton, who represents Kirkersville, and Mark Van Buren, a Harrison Township trustee and board chairman, dissented.
The board voted unanimously on the sixth charge, as well, that Fulmer violated the district’s sexual harassment policy and unanimously approved termination effective immediately for that charge.
Comstock said Fulmer would file an appeal, as he did when he was fired in 2012.
“Neither Fulmer nor his attorneys were surprised at the outcome (of the July 10 meeting),” Comstock said. “We are prepared to go through the same process as we did in the first case, in which we will look to the court to address what we believe is the wayward decision of the board.”
Van Buren said the fire district could not move forward and seek a new chief until a second appeal, if filed, is addressed.
Assistant Fire Chief Ken Mathews served as acting chief from 2012 to May 23, 2014, when he retired. Assistant Fire Chief Todd Magers has served as acting chief since May 24.
Larry Moon, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 3025 said he has “full confidence in the board and their ability to make the right decision.”
Moon called Magers an excellent person and said Magers “is doing better or just as well as anybody who would be brought in from the outside for that position.”
Van Buren said the fire district continues to provide good service to the area it serves, which includes Etna, Harrison and Jersey townships, the village of Kirkersville, city of Pataskala and portions of Reynoldsburg.
The board is expected to place two levies on the Nov. 11 ballot. The levies would replace two existing levies that expire at the end of 2015.