WEST ALEXANDRIA — West Alexandria Fire Chief Jeff Shafer has been ordered to attend ethics training and pay restitution to the village in the amount of $1,707.62 following an investigation conducted by the Ohio Ethics Commission, according to court documents obtained by The Register-Herald.
The investigation reportedly found Shafer had promoted, or ordered the promotion, of his son Brad Shafer to positions within the West Alexandria Fire and EMS departments. Shafer also allegedly recommended that council hire his son Zach Shafer to perform general labor within the EMS department, and later tried to have a position paying $10,000 per year created for Zach.
In addition, Shafer reportedly used $645.12 in village funds to pay for his son to attend a fire inspector’s training course at Sinclair Community College in Spring 2016. Zach Shafer reportedly left the EMS department in November 2016. He was elected to village council, on which he currently serves, in November 2019.
Chief Shafer spoke of the allegations against him in strong terms.
“It’s just a witch hunt. That’s all I’m going to say about that,” Shafer said. “And if it gets ugly, we’ll play the right cards.”
Zach Shafer had serious criticisms about the way in which the inquiry against his father was conducted as well.
“I was never talked to throughout this entire investigation,” Shafer said.
Shafer also criticized the behavior of other village officials with regard to allegations of nepotism against his father.
“They knew well and good that they could have taken him aside and said, ‘Chief, you can’t do this.’ But they just stood by and let it happen,” Shafer said. “It’s like they fed him to the wolves.”
Preble County Prosecuting Attorney Martin Votel took issue with this interpretation, however.
“Every person in a public position of trust and authority, whether elected or appointed, is charged with understanding and following the ethical rules that govern us all,” Votel said. “So this argument of ‘How was I supposed to know?’ is a non-starter.”
Votel felt the settlement agreement had resolved the investigation in a satisfactory manner.
“I think it was resolved in the interest of justice, and these types of agreements are routinely entered into in the case of ethical investigations involving public officials,” Votel said. “Chief Shafer has agreed to inform himself about the various rules of the State of Ohio in order to ensure that this never happens again.”
The settlement agreement between Shafer and the Preble County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office does state that council knew of Shafer’s intention to hire his sons, and that Shafer was advised by council to order then-Assistant EMS Chief Jeff Hickey to promote his son to avoid the appearance of nepotism.
“That’s true, but that was the previous council, the previous mayor, and the previous legal counsel that the village had at the time,” Hickey said.
Former mayor Carol Lunsford’s term ended in January, at which point she was replaced by Hickey; current council members Dan Utsinger, Zach Shafer, Ashley Myers, and Shannon Smith have all been elected since the actions of which Shafer is accused took place, according to Hickey.
Hickey indicated he was disappointed with the outcome of the investigation, but was hopeful the village would be able to put it all behind them.
“If this is what the prosecutor deems to be an appropriate punishment, then I will go along with that,” Hickey said. “Like the agreement says, the matter is now closed. The village will continue to support the West Alex Fire Department, and we look forward to a bright future.”
Reach Anthony Baker at 937-683-4057 or on Facebook @improperenglish