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Embattled Waukesha fire chief Jesse Alba's hearing scheduled for Aug. 21

Has been accused of sexual harassment of a former female part-time department employee

Aug. 6, 2013

Disgraced Fire Chief Jesse Alba's fate will be determined by the Police and Fire Commission at a 5:30 p.m. hearing Aug. 21.

Allegations of misconduct by Alba involving two women on staff recently surfaced.

However, no red flags popped up during interviews with Alba and others in the search for a new fire chief.

City Administrator Ed Henschel called it a "sad day" for the City of Waukesha. Mayor Jeff Scrima said "integrity will be restored" to the City of Waukesha Fire Department.

These comments come on the heels of an investigation that alleges Alba sexually harassed a part-time female employee at the Fire Department and broke other city rules.

Through an open-records request, Waukesha Now received a 14-page investigative report filed by Attorney Warren P. Kraft of Murphy Desmond Lawyers, who interviewed witnesses. Scrima also released a statement of charges against Alba.

The complaint says Alba requested a co-worker to resign because of his infatuation and romantic attraction to her and for the benefit of his own employment and promotion opportunity.

Outside of a four-year stint with the City of Brookfield Fire Department from 2000-04, Alba has been with the Waukesha Fire Department since 1986. He replaced retiring Chief Allen LaConte in April after an extensive search that cost the city about $16,000.

Henschel said hiring the investigator has already cost the city "several thousand dollars" and the city has also hired a local attorney to act as special counsel for the city at $250 per hour, which will also cost the city another "several thousand dollars."

An outside attorney was needed because the city attorney is representing the Police and Fire Commission.

When asked if there was any indication of this behavior during the hiring process, which was done in collaboration by an outside search firm — Voorhees Associates — and the PFC, Henschel said "unfortunately no." Henschel said he didn't believe the two women prominently featured in the complaint were interviewed by Voorhees.

"(Voorhees) had no knowledge of this even though (the person conducting the search) talked with several department employees throughout the process," Henschel said.

Allegations

Scrima filed the complaint with the city's Police and Fire Commission on July 23, and along with Henschel, held a news conference July 31 discussing the allegations against Alba.

"If it was up to me, he would be fired," Scrima said.

Henschel said after the investigation was complete, Alba was asked to resign (which he declined to do).

As a result, Henschel and Scrima have asked the Police and Fire Commission that Alba be suspended.

"If it was my decision I would have put him on administrative leave immediately," Henschel said.

Alba makes about $110,000 as fire chief.

Tells employee to resign

According to the complaint, on March 22 — while Alba was still Waukesha's assistant chief of operations — he requested that a part-time female employee resign from her position after he developed a romantic attraction to her.

Alba asked for her resignation a second time in April. According to the complaint, he said that if she did not submit her resignation, when he became chief, she would no longer have her position. In his interview for the investigation, Alba confirmed this, the complaint said.

However, he did not think the requests violated the city's anti-harassment policy. Henschel said Alba views the matter as "a personal" one between two close friends.

The complaint begins by saying Alba grew sufficiently comfortable in a friendship with two female Fire Department employees in 2012 to the point that he started sharing information with the two women — one a full-time administrative employee and the other a part-time employee — about his marital difficulties.

In August 2012, the complaint says Alba asked his wife for a divorce. Around Christmas, Alba and his wife informed their two children of the pending divorce, and Alba continued to share his frustrations with the women, the complaint said.

Alba said that during this time, he fell in love with the part-time employee and had a crush on her, the complaint said. He believed the woman felt the same way toward him, the complaint says.

However, during the recent investigation, Alba said the woman never indicated she felt the same way toward him. According to the investigation, Alba informed the women he would return to his marriage to work out the issues.

Tells woman he loves her

But in March, Alba called the part-time female employee, who only worked for the department three to four days a month, and told her he loved her, the complaint said.

He told her he could smell her perfume in the station even when she was not present, and that she needed to leave the WFD, the complaint said. He added that he could not get his mind off her, which impeded his ability to focus on his job and the upcoming interview for the fire chief position, and that ultimately he felt it was not possible for him to continue to work with her under these circumstances, the complaint said.

Four days later, the complaint says, the woman told a co-worker that if Alba was named chief she would resign from her position with the department even if she didn't want to.

Employee 'devastated'

In April, Alba again talked with the woman, this time at Fire Station 1, and told her how her being in the building affected him and twice asked her to resign as a friend, not as a subordinate or employee, because he needed to focus on the second round of interviews for fire chief, the complaint said.

After Alba was appointed chief on April 18, the woman told a co-worker that the appointment was "horrible" and she was "terribly devastated" by the decision, the complaint said.

The woman resigned with the City of Waukesha on June 1.

"While Chief Alba does not believe that his request for (the woman's) resignation based on his infatuation for her rises to the level of sexual harassment, it is clear that his statements were intended to force (her) departure as an employee," the complaint reads.

The complaint states that while there were no requests for sexual favors, the two female employees perceived Alba's romantic desires and that he believed the only way to control his desires was to seek the part-time female employee's removal from the workplace.

When Alba was interviewed for the investigation on June 6, the complaint says Alba told the investigator "I know asking (her) to quit was the most selfish thing I've done. I get it."

More allegations

Scrima held a mandatory predisciplinary meeting with Alba on July 3 after an independent investigation was finished and following reports to the Human Resources Department.

After the meeting with Scrima, Alba then discussed the investigation with two co-workers, the complaint read.

On July 5, according to the complaint, Alba went into the female administrative employee's office, closing the door and window shades while speaking about the investigation. He said the report was not accurate.

The complaint says the woman became upset and asked him to leave her office. The woman informed the Human Resources Department about the incident.

In addition to the violations while assistant chief, Alba on at least two occasions violated the City of Waukesha's Anti-Harassment Policy, the complaint said.

Alba's attorney fires back

Alba has not commented on the investigation, but his attorney, Victor E. Plantinga of Rose/deJong Attorneys at Law in Milwaukee, provided a statement last week.

"Concerning the statement of charges that has been released by the City of Waukesha, Chief Jesse Alba's contention is that the statement of charges does not mention, or even reference, the information that he offered to the investigator and city officials during the investigation," Plantinga said. "This information discredited the individuals whom the city is relying on to establish these charges.

"The credibility of these individuals is not 'here nor there' as City Administrator Ed Henschel has asserted in the media. As anyone who reads the statement of charges can determine, the city's contentions are based solely on statements from individuals and nothing else. Whether these individuals were truthful with the investigator is not a peripheral consideration as Mr. Henschel implies.

"It is troubling that the city claims that it is difficult for Chief Alba to manage his Department because of the attention that has been focused on this, yet the city is contributing to this by making statements to the press and holding press conferences. It is not our intention to try this matter in the press. It is unfortunate that the city is not taking this same approach to this sensitive matter."

The complaint adds that Alba's actions are "causing strained and uncomfortable relationships with a significant number of city employees within the department."

Relationships strained

Scrima expressed his disappointment on behalf of the city.

"We are extremely saddened by this situation," Scrima said, but added "we will restore integrity to the City of Waukesha Fire Department."

Henschel echoed this but admitted the strain the alleged violations has caused for all parties.

"The department will continue to provide a high level of service to the community," Henschel said. "We all agree while this is an administrative distraction, it has no bearing on service to the community.

"It has no impact on service but it does put a strain within the department.

"I will admit there is a strained relationship between Mr. Alba and the city administrator."

At a glance

City of Waukesha's Sexual Harassment Policy

Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature where

a. Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual's employment.

b. Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as a basis for employment decisions affecting such individual

c. Such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment

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