Township dismisses fire chief

Clark County chief says process was unfair.

Staying with the story

The Springfield News-Sun has followed the investigations into Mad River Twp.’s fire chief since last fall and will continue as his lawsuit against the township proceeds.

The fire chief here was fired late Monday night in a unanimous decision after trustees found him guilty of failing to follow several of their directives and a portion of the Ohio Administrative Code.

Their decision during a public hearing requested by Mad River Twp.-Enon Fire and EMS Department Chief David Leist was in connection with gross neglect of duty and other allegations.

Leist, who already has a lawsuit pending against trustees for a previous suspension that they later reversed, said the process was unfair.

On Monday night, trustees found him guilty of four of six charges, including, per trustee directive: failing to remove from the schedule those personnel who’d not been given proper training and orientation; failing to provide training and access to current policies and place in each personnel’s folder written documentation of the training; and failing to take at least four or more paid on-call shifts per month.

He was also found guilty of not following state code when he failed to file changes in personnel with Ohio Board of Pharmacy within a specified time frame.

Trustees acted as the judge in the administrative hearing. Clark County Assistant Prosecutor Andrew Pickering prosecuted the case, and Leist’s attorney, Mark J. Bamberger, acted as the defender.

Last fall, Leist was the subject of an informal investigation by another township’s fire chief that resulted in Leist’s administrative leave and suspension. He was later reinstated with back pay without a hearing because no specific charges had been filed as required by the Ohio Revised Code.

Leist has a pending defamation lawsuit in court in connection with that first investigation. That suit demands monetary compensation and individually names as defendants Mad River Twp. trustees Joe Catanzaro, Kathy Estep and Robert McClure Jr. plus the township and the fire department.

In the most recent investigation and the one that led to his firing, specific charges were levied against Leist by Cincinnati-based attorney and labor consultant Kelly Babcock, a shareholder and account manager with the same firm the township contracted with to review and update its police manuals.

It was a process that was unfair and unjust, Leist said.

“I’m upset, but I’m more hurt due to the inconsistencies of the board’s investigative procedures,” Leist said. “When you face your prosecutor, your judge, your jury, the ones that brought the charges up against you, I don’t see where you’d have due process.”

Leist and Bamberger said they would discuss an appeal but had made no decision on the matter. “As far as I’m concerned, we just gained additional evidence that we’re going to use in our civil case,” Bamberger said.

Bamberger formally objected to the proceeding before the hearing.

“We believe it is an overt and inherent conflict of interest that the board of trustees here have a judgmental and decision-making role, given the fact that they are currently named as defendants of a civil action … It is, to put it lightly, impossible for these trustees to judge objectively the evidence that they are about to hear,” he said.

He requested they recuse themselves, but

trustees chose to proceed.