Waukesha Fire Chief Jesse Alba on paid leave until hearing
Says relationship with part-time female employee was consensual
How Jesse Alba's career moves forward — at least within the Waukesha Fire Department — will be decided in two weeks.
That's when the now suspended fire chief's final disciplinary hearing takes place on the allegations that he sexually harassed a part-time female employee earlier this year and violated other city rules relating to the issue.
The Waukesha Police and Fire Commission will hear from attorney, Stan Riffle, who is representing the City of Waukesha, as well as Alba's attorney, Victor E. Plantinga, at a 9 a.m. hearing Sept. 12 at City Hall.
City Administrator Ed Henschel said it will resemble a court setting with the four-member Police and Fire Commission acting as the "jury." The allegations are not criminal.
A majority vote is needed in the PFC's final ruling to be enforced.
Plantinga said he wasn't surprised the PFC made its decision to suspend Alba with pay at a preliminary hearing Aug. 21.
"We're glad that we have a hearing date that's so close so we can resolve these matters," Plantinga said.
Alba was present Wednesday night but did not speak.
A recent investigation alleges that Alba violated the city's anti-harassment policy after it alleged that he asked on two separate occasions that a part-time female fire department employee resign from her position after he developed a romantic attraction to her, the complaint said.
The employee, who only worked at the station three to four days a month, resigned in the weeks after Alba was named fire chief this spring.
PFC Chairwoman Cheryl Gemignani said that although the PFC is suspending Alba, she asked that judgment be withheld and that it doesn't imply guilt.
Mayor Jeff Scrima, however, said he has all that he needs to know and has previously asked that Alba resign after the investigation. It includes 14 pages of witness interviews and testimonials from Alba and others involved in the case and was complete July 1. After Alba didn't step down, Scrima filed a statement of charges to the PFC July 23.
Alba's attorney, however, said the entire story has not been told through the complaint. The investigation, which centered on Alba, the part-time female employee and the department's full-time female administrative assistant, who were all close friends, said "none of the three indicated that there was any sexual nature to their relationship at this time, although others interviewed for this investigation indicated there were rumors and innuendos to the contrary."
Alba, according to the investigation, was experiencing marital problems last year and shared his feelings with the woman. Earlier this year, the investigation says that Alba "fell in love" with the part-time employee and he believed she felt the same way toward him. However, the complaint notes that Alba says the woman never indicated this to him.
And despite telling the woman earlier this year that he was going to return to his marriage, Alba, on March 22, called the part-time female employee at her full-time job saying she needed to resign because "he can smell her perfume in the fire station even when she is not present, that he couldn't get his mind off her, and that she needs to leave her employment (with the fire department)," the complaint said.
The woman in a later interview with the Human Resources Department said that Alba did not make any advances toward her of a sexual or physical nature, the complaint said. While she told HR that Alba did not suggest that her job was dependent upon having a relationship with him, he could not tolerate her around when he felt this way about her, the complaint said.
Plantinga, in a statement, said the facts provided, however, are not true and Alba and the woman had a consenting sexual relationship. That's why Alba has told city officials that he believes this to be a personal matter and not one that violates the city's anti-harassment policy.
"We do not believe the city has provided accurate information pertaining to the nature of the relationship between the complainant and Chief Alba," Plantinga said. "We believe the evidence will establish that prior to Chief Alba being promoted to chief, he did engage in (a) consensual sexual relationship with the complainant that lasted for many months. This relationship never occurred on duty. This relationship also ended before the process for hiring a chief took place.
"While Chief Alba regrets the decision he made in his personal life, it is unfortunate that the decision must impact Chief Alba professionally. We look forward to presenting this evidence and questioning the credibility of witnesses whom the city is relying on to bring these charges."
Before the PFC went into closed session, Riffle stated why Alba should be put on administrative leave, something Henschel said he would have done immediately.
Plantinga also stated his case saying the allegations took place before Alba was chief.
"There's been no violation of city rules that would warrant what they are seeking," Plantinga said.
Henschel said the investigation has caused low morale within the department and Alba's behavior while chief and before becoming chief in April warrant a suspension.
"They are stressed," Henschel said. "(With a) brand new fire chief, they were looking forward to working with him as their leader and now they're calling into question his ability to lead and it is creating difficulties."
But Plantinga accused the city of creating this low morale by making statements to the press.
"He has continued performing his job responsibilities," Plantinga said. "If there's low morale it was created by Mr. Henschel that undermines his ability to lead the department. There's been a lot of firestorm of media on this and I think that's to be expected.
"He's been doing his job competently by just putting together a budget for next year, meeting with the mayor on a host of issues as well as the city administrator and he's able to do his job. But the commission has spoken on this."
Alba started with the department in 1986, while working his way up the ranks. He replaced longtime chief Allen LaConte, who retired in March 2012, just four months ago.
The search cost the city more than $16,000. Henschel said hiring the investigator to look into the allegations cost the city "several thousand dollars" and now hiring an attorney to represent the city on this matter has cost another "several thousand dollars."
Alba makes about $110,000 annually as fire chief.
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