WEST ALEXANDRIA — West Alexandria Village Council voted 4 to 1 to remove Jeff Shafer from his position as Chief of the WA Fire Department during a public hearing held Monday, June 8. This comes only a few months after Shafer was ordered to attend ethics training and pay over $1,700 in restitution to the village following an investigation conducted by The Ohio Ethics Commission.
Over 40 residents, police, and Fire and EMS workers turned out for last week’s hearing, which took place at the village EMS offices located at 8 Marty Lane, though council president Ashley Myers announced there would be no public commentary allowed.
“Essentially this will operate like a jury trial,” village solicitor Aaron Glascow said. “You, the council, will be the jury.”
“Really, the single issue here tonight is whether the council will confirm the charges brought by the Mayor,” Glascow continued.
Glascow specified that neither Mayor Jeff Hickey, who initiated the ethics investigation against Shafer, nor council member Zach Shafer — the former fire department chief’s son — would take part in the council’s deliberations.
The OEC investigation instigated by Mayor Hickey reportedly found Chief Shafer had promoted, or ordered the promotion, of his son Brad Shafer to positions within the West Alexandria Fire and EMS departments. Shafer also recommended that council hire his son Zach to perform general labor within the EMS department, and later tried to have a position paying $10,000 per year created for Zach Shafer.
In addition, Chief Shafer 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. Chief Shafer, former Assistant EMS Chief Sherry Scott, current EMS Chief Tom Smith and Lewisburg Fire and EMS Chief Robert Sewert were called to testify during the hearing. Attorney H. Steven Hobbs appeared in Shafer’s defense.
Council president Ashley Myers ultimately moved to terminate Jeff Shafer; council member Holly Robbins seconded the motion. Myers, Robbins, and council members Geoff Justice and Shannon Smith voted to approve the motion, with Dan Utsinger voting against.
A brief physical altercation reportedly took place shortly after the conclusion of the hearing. According to witness statements and police reports, Chief Shafer’s daughter-in-law, Susan Shafer, stood up and began shouting at the Mayor after council voted to terminate Shafer, saying that the Mayor had violated the Ohio Revised Code. Shafer then claimed that JoEllen Hickey, Mayor Hickey’s wife and also a village employee, shoved her forcefully from behind, nearly causing her to fall, and that she wished to press charges.
JoEllen Hickey claimed she had simply given Shafer “a gentle pat on the back” to get her attention and ask her to calm down, and Officer Mike McDonald — who claimed to have witnessed the initial contact — wrote in his report on the incident that “it did not look as if any force was used.”
A written statement from witness Debbi Hornbrook claimed Hickey had shoved Shafer and called her “white trash,” however; a second statement from Donna Tubesing claimed Hickey “ran to Susan and shoved her a couple of times”; third witness Michael Sizemore claimed Hickey “shoved [Shafer] from behind while screaming at her”; and witness Kenton Tubesing claimed to have seen Hickey “run at [Shafer] and push her numerous times.”
At least three other witnesses claimed Hickey had shoved Shafer.
Though initial statements were gathered by the West Alexandria Police Department, the investigation of the alleged assault has now been referred to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
Council member Zach Shafer spoke to The Register-Herald after the verdict was issued.
“I can’t give you an opinion in my capacity as an elected official,” Shafer said. “But I was there as a son and as a community member.”
“Being on a volunteer fire department and having family alongside you is like a tradition,” Shafer continued. “Look at the West Elkton Fire Department, where there’s three family members who work there. Gratis EMS, there’s two family members who work there. New Paris Fire and EMS, there’s two family members. In Lewisburg you have a husband and wife duo. A county commissioner’s son works for county maintenance, and his wife used to work for the Clerk of Courts.”
Shafer also pointed out, a husband and wife, as well as their daughter, grandson, and son-in-law, work for the Camden and Somers Township Fire and EMS Department; and that Mayor Hickey’s wife works as a zoning inspector for the Village of West Alexandria.
Shafer voiced strong criticism of the sitting mayor and council.
“There’s a black-and-white path here. This is the third employee that this legislative body has fired in six months,” Shafer said. “Are we trying to get it so there’s no employees?”
Council voted to terminate village fiscal officer Wendy Chesney in February, with Mayor Hickey citing bills not being paid on time, minutes from previous meetings being submitted late, and a “general lack of ability to perform her duties in a proper and timely manner.” Council members Dan Ustinger and Shannon Smith opposed the measure.
Council also voted to eliminate a janitorial position, according to Shafer, resulting in a third village employee losing her job.
“Everything that’s been going on is so disheartening, to see what the village is turning into,” Shafer said. “We have somebody as our mayor that wasn’t even elected to the position. It’s just a shame. The personal vendettas and agendas are ruining this town.”
Shafer also said the mayor and council’s activities concern him as a taxpayer.
“My question would be, how many thousands of dollars have been spent since 2016, when this thing against the fire chief started?” Shafer continued. “How many thousands of dollars have been tied up in legal proceedings, legal documents, and attorney’s fees? If you can find that out, I’m sure the people of the community would love to know that.”
Emails to Mayor Hickey and Council President Ashley Myers received a form reply.
“Chief Shafer was charged with engaging in a pattern of violations of Ohio’s anti-nepotism laws and the Village’s own policies,” the statement reads. “Per the Ohio Revised Code, he was provided with a full hearing before council. After hearing all of the evidence, Council confirmed the charges and opted to remove him from his position.”
“The issue before council was not about Chief Shafer’s abilities as Fire Chief,” the statement continues. “It was about following the law and not setting a bad precedent for the Village. The Village is now looking forward to moving on under the capable leadership of Interim Chief John Glander and the rest of the West Alexandria Fire Department.”
Reach Anthony Baker at 937-683-4057 or on Facebook @improperenglish