EATON — The Gasper Township Fire Chief, Assistant Chief, and a third employee were terminated from their positions on Monday, May 21, following claims of time card fraud, according to Gasper Township Trustee Eric White. White added, trustees voted to remove Fire Chief Tyler Claybaker, Assistant Chief Andrew Bekemeier, and EMT Justin Rike after receiving claims they were submitting and approving hours they did not work.
Tim Sean Halcomb, who was a captain with the department, was promoted to Interim Chief. According to Ex-Chief Claybaker, six individuals walked out of the department during the meeting. White stated, while many did walk out of the meeting, some came back as the meeting progress. Gasper Township lost a total of three fire department employees, White said.
He explained, “Three employees were terminated due to time card fraud. On the EMT side, they are hourly employees and it just so happened, as far as the Fire Department getting drug into this, that Tyler Claybaker, Andrew Bekemeier, and Justin Rike, we let those three go.
“The fraud was caught mostly from complaints made by those who had to stay after to cover for these employees. Unbeknownst to us, the time clock had stopped working, mysteriously. Basically, the time sheets that were turned in were all submitted on the computer and they got paid, it wasn’t a whole lot of money, but it was enough that it was wrong.”
He added, Claybaker and Bekemeier are friends, while Rike saw those two committing what White considers time card theft and asked the chiefs to “help him out.”
It was originally reported, the department had a walkout following the decision and many were worried 24/7 EMS and fire coverage for Gasper Township would cease, but White said those accounts are exaggerated.
“We had a few people walk out, but we are still up and running. They wish we had a walkout, basically. Another thing, it has almost been a recruiting tool. I kept getting complaints anyways. They didn’t want employees talking to the trustees, but our levy does not pay for the full time EMS and Fire Department, so the trustees supplement out of the general fund,” he said.
They reported the situation to Preble County Prosecutor Martin Votel, who attended the meeting on Monday. They went into executive session and when they came out, White made the motion to terminate employment of the three employees, Trustee Bill Roell voted in the affirmative, and Trustee Bill Hapner voted against the motion. The motion passed.
White added, “Everything as far as staff looks like we are going to stay 24/7, just like we have been. We are hardly ever out of service and I think we are going to be fine.”
Claybaker tells a slightly different story. He said, “I knew two or three months ago that my job was on the line. The interim chief right now was under investigation two or three months ago for harassment in the workplace. [The trustees] have been pretty hard to work with. I think the interim chief is going to try to compromise in that way, I know we tried several times. It is just one of those things where they have one point of view and we have another. We’re trying to evolve the fire department, but they want it to stay the same. It keeps going back and forth.
”From my point of view, what they’re calling time card fraud, there is no fraud there. I went from Eaton to Gasper, was clocked out at Eaton at six and clocked in at Gasper at six. They’re calling out the 15 minute difference between the two, but what they do not understand is I have a radio and pager in my vehicle and that is also the way I was taught.
“I was never taught any different and there is not policy that says you have to be on the premises or in the building [to clock in]. I was going to show up on the call no matter what happened. They also went off other people’s words, them saying their time sheets are correct and they made it a one sided argument.”
He added, the walkout was not due to the decision to fire him and the other two employees, but rather in protest of a long history of decisions made by the trustees.
“I believe six walked out. The reason they left was because they couldn’t stand to work for the trustees any longer, because of what happened months prior, leading to this point. The now interim chief being under investigation and his punishment of a 15 day suspension (with a 90 day probation). At that point, the employees began to wake up and realize that we can’t do what they want us to, because our hands are tied by the trustees.
“It is always two trustees against one. The other trustee wasn’t involved in anything. When the email went to Martin Votel about the current Interim Chief, the trustee didn’t even know what was going on and had to call Mr. Votel to find out what was going on. He is the current President of the Board of Trustee, so that shouldn’t happen. It is one point of view against another. One trustee leads them all, the other follows, and the last has no leg room to get a word in.
“I think the decision was made several months ago to find a reason to terminate our employment. I do not believe this was an out of the blue thing, I believe this has been planned for awhile.”
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH