Jerusalem Township trustees on Wednesday voted unanimously to appeal a recent court decision to reinstate ex Fire Chief Harold Stanton to his former position.
Trustees met with the township’s attorney, John Borell, of the Lucas County prosecutor’s office, to consider their options at a special meeting on Wednesday.
“We simply discussed with our counsel what are options are at this point,” Trustee Joe Kiss said after the meeting. “We weren’t sure we were going to make a decision today, but after speaking with our counsel for over an hour, we decided to appeal the judge’s decision.”
Stanton filed a lawsuit against the township after trustees fired him on March 19 for allegedly permitting an individual who was not a member of the fire department to actively participate on emergency calls. Trustees initially suspended Stanton, who had been part-time fire chief since 2008, then later decided to dismiss him following a hearing.
Trustees had stated in a letter to Stanton that they had repeatedly instructed him to not permit individuals to assist in the fire department during emergency situations unless they had been lawfully appointed Jerusalem Township firefighters.
“This action is potentially dangerous to the individual, significantly increases the township’s potential liability and violates Ohio law,” trustees stated in the letter. “You have failed to follow the instructions of the township trustees. Your conduct and failure to follow instructions constitutes misfeasance, malfeasance, nonfeasance, and misconduct in the performance of your official duties as chief of the Jerusalem Township Fire Department.”
Stanton insisted he never had invited the individual, Jim Gray, to fire scenes and that he would just show up. He also said he had informed Gray in the past that trustees did not want him responding to calls.
Stanton believed his dismissal was politically motivated because Gray is the brother of former Trustee Joe Gray, with whom Kiss was often at odds when both served on the board of trustees.
On August 19, Lucas County Common Pleas Court Judge Dean Mandros ruled in favor of Stanton, and ordered that he be reinstated as fire chief.
“The court holds that the board’s decision is illegal, as the trustees failed to comply with the procedural requirements of the Ohio Revised Code and the township’s personnel policies and procedures manual,” stated the ruling. In addition, the court held that the board of trustees had violated the chief’s due process rights by its multiple role as investigator, prosecutor, witness, and judge.
“Consequently, the board’s decision to terminate the chief is vacated, and he is to be restored…” the court ordered.
“We totally disagree with the ruling,” said Kiss. “I don’t think we did anything illegal or violated anyone’s constitutional rights. We respect the judge’s decision, but our counsel and the trustees don’t see it that way. Mr. Stanton has every right to do what he thinks is right, By the same token, we have every right to do what we think is right.”
Kevin Greenfield, Stanton’s attorney, was surprised by the trustees’ decision to appeal the ruling.
“It’s just amazing to me. It boggles my mind,” Greenfield told The Press. “The judge was pretty firm that there were clear violations of the law. Trustees violated Stanton’s constitution rights, violated their policies and procedures, and didn’t follow Ohio Revised Code to do the investigation. That’s pretty cut and dry. What’s concerning to me is now that trustees have filed a motion to stay execution of judgment, if they lose this appeal, they have to pay his back pay and benefits while they don’t have him in service. They are just wasting taxpayer money.”
Greenfield said Stanton will now file a federal lawsuit based on the violation of his constitutional rights.
“He didn’t want to do any of this. But if they’re going to make this contentious, that’s the way it’s going to be,” said Greenfield. “The facts were so uncontroverted at the hearing. I don’t understand. Other than they just don’t want him anymore. Stanton has a lot of support in the department and the community.”
Kiss said he had no comment on Stanton’s plans to file the federal lawsuit. “We’ll deal with that accordingly,” he said.
Borell could not be reached for comment.