Mad River Township Trustees announced at their June 3, 2019 meeting that they will no longer speak about or answer questions concerning the investigation into the leadership of the emergency services department.
The report was received by the township at their last regular meeting on May 20 but residents had no opportunity to read and ask questions about the report until now.
The statement was made following an executive session in which the trustees stated they would discuss the department behind closed doors. In his statement, President of the Board Bob McClure stated “the investigation is over”. He went on to state that “we won’t be addressing the report moving forward”.
This session followed a resounding endorsement of the department leadership by trustee Kathy Estep. Estep spoke on behalf of the board following the regular report of the department chief. She praised the leadership for their service following the resignation of over a dozen employees at their meeting two weeks ago. No mention was made to thank the members who left for their years of service to the community.
Prior to the executive session, trustees also approved applications for four more individuals including one that Estep stated had no training or experience for the position. The board met in a special session to approve 12 members on Friday, May 31 pending background checks. Trustees also approved a $1 per hour raise for the employees. A 50 cent per hour raise was given in January.
According to Fiscal Officer David Rudy, the fire department has excess funds and the additional $26,000 was covered by that budget line.
During the meeting trustees admitted that the same officers that interviewed Steve Schaefer who was the key to the investigation following an alleged sexual assault at another department continue to be the ones interviewing new hires.
The only change is that was noted in their comments to public questions is that the township now has Clemens-Nelson the company who conducted the investigation doing the background checks. Trustees could not confirm whether or not previous employers would be contacted related to new hires or exactly what the process entailed.
The firehouse meeting room was filled to overflow capacity as members of the community came to hear what the trustees would say about the investigation results. After being told that they could not ask questions related to the report, citizens did ask other questions about the mass resignations and shared their concerns.
One resident asked about whether or not the trustees knew that the “independent investigator” that they hired actually worked for Clemens-Nelson their HR firm prior to engaging his service to conduct an independent review of the department. Trustees denied knowing that he was working with the firm and did not check his affiliations prior to employing his services.
After a few statements from residents, trustee Estep moved to adjourn the meeting which was met with a resounding sign of displeasure from the citizens in the audience. The motion failed to receive a second and did not go to a vote.
Resident Ned Clark asked the trustees about the public records retention policy and when the required public meeting was held to discuss what records could be destroyed and what records must be maintained. He also inquired about the “records commission” that the township must consult regarding which records can be destroyed.
Estep referred the question to fiscal officer David Rudy after stating that she did not believe Mad River Township was alone in not having a policy or required commission in place. Rudy stated that no meeting has ever been held.
Trustees also could not answer Clark when he asked about use of a shredder by members of the emergency services administration last year and whether or not those were records that should be maintained by the township.
The question prompted others to ask about the recordings made by the fire department leadership that were noted as “missing” in the investigators report. Trustees could not provide an answer to the questions related to maintenance of public records by the township.
Kyle Busey a former member of the department asked about the policy for trustee approval of allowing the chief and assistant chief to make audio recordings of meetings with department members.
Estep stated that trustees had known about and approved the leadership to make recordings. Trustees did not appear to know where those recordings are stored and were not aware of what has been recorded since Chief Wendling was appointed.
During the meeting in response to certain questions, Estep gave a partial list of items the trustees intend to change. One of which is a redo of the policies and procedures, however she stated that they “have not had time” to start that process. Additionally she noted that there would be changes in communications within the department but gave no details.
Bussey asked the trustees about training for department members related to work place environment and sexual harassment. He stated that he had been with the department for over 15 years and had never received any training of this type in the township workplace.
Trustees had no answer as to why their employees have never received this type of training and could not address the concerns Bussey brought to the floor suggesting that had this been provided to all employees, the members of the department would have had the information that they needed to report situations that arose in the department.
A member of the Hustead EMS Department brought a recommendation to the floor that the trustees consider making it easier for their department to respond to emergency calls to decrease the response time from nearby departments. She noted that currently any call after 6 pm is not dispatched to the Hustead department by the local dispatchers.
Enon-Mad River Township does not use the 911 dispatch service in Clark County, they rely on a few local dispatchers who work from their homes. Calls to the 911 center are rerouted to the local dispatchers.
Trustees agreed to look into the matter. The Hustead Fire Department and the Hustead EMS Department are jointly managed by Mad River Township Trustees and Green Township Trustees in Clark County. Both trustee boards would need to agree at a joint meeting for changes to be made.
Several of those who attended the meeting spoke about the lack of action by the trustees. Those who spoke about the need for “charges” to be made against Chief Wendling and Chief Ashworth questioned why they could not have been removed from the leadership positions and demoted to the ranks. Trustees did not respond to this question.
Many of those attending the meeting said that they would be back as they were not aware of what has been occurring in the township until recent media outlets began reporting.
The trustees meet twice a month on the first and third Monday beginning at 7:30 pm at the fire house.