More than two years after being demoted from his position as Waukesha's fire chief, Jesse Alba's fight to regain his former post resumes this week.
Alba, who was demoted to the rank of firefighter in 2013 after a disciplinary hearing, is the subject of another two-day hearing before the Waukesha Police and Fire Commission. The hearing begins Wednesday morning at City Hall, 201 Delafield St.
The hearing comes on the heels of the Wisconsin Court of Appeals ruling last fall that Alba is entitled to another hearing. That hearing, however, is taking place before the same panel that previously ruled Alba violated department policies for asking a part-time female employee to consider resigning as "a solution" to help both of them get past an affair the two had while he was an assistant fire chief.
Fighting for position
While Alba accepted his new role, he has fought to regain the chief position, one in which he only held for six months.
Alba saw his annual salary substantially decrease as a result of his demotion. As fire chief he made $110,000, compared to $65,500 as a firefighter.
He first filed an appeal to the Waukesha County Circuit Court, saying his demotion was not supported by "just cause."
After Judge Lee S. Dreyfus denied his statutory appeal, despite saying Alba's due process rights were violated, Alba then took his case to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals. After a year of reviewing the case, the appellate court determined Alba should be given another chance at regaining his old position.
To some extent, the city has left the door open for that possibility. Steve Howard has served as Waukesha's acting fire chief since Alba's demotion. The Waukesha Police and Fire Commission has held off on naming a permanent chief with Alba's case pending.
A question of policy
The case in 2013 rocked the Waukesha Fire Department as it put the department's top official in a negative spotlight.
Following an investigation, a statement of charges was filed by the city claiming Alba violated the city's anti-harassment policy and other city and department rules for asking a part-time emergency medical services educator to consider resigning after he developed a romantic attraction to her. It was later revealed during subsequent hearings the two had a consensual sexual relationship.
The female employee resigned in the weeks after Alba was named fire chief this spring. She never spoke at Alba's disciplinary hearings despite being called to testify.
As the disciplinary hearings played out in 2013, Alba was placed on administrative leave. Despite concluding Alba did not violate the anti-harassment policy, the commission ultimately determined Alba was unfit for a chief's role.
But among the points of contention during the case has been whether Alba was truthful with the commission's president, Cheryl Gemignani, during his interview for the chief position in early 2013.
Gemignani interviewed Alba for the fire chief position in spring 2013 and one of the questions was whether there was anything in Alba's professional life that may reflect negatively upon his performance or would be embarrassing. Alba responded "no," because he viewed the matter part of his personal life.
His attorney, Victor E. Plantinga, said it was a mistake to allow Gemignani to then sit in on the hearings and to recall what happened during that interview.
And during the disciplinary hearings, Alba and the commissioners disagreed over the exact nature of the interview questions.
As a result, Dreyfus said the charges related to not being truthful regarding the affair when he was interviewed for the chief's position in early 2013 should be omitted in this week's hearing. (In his decision, Dreyfus suggested that the commission used their personal recollections from the chief interview rather than basing the disciplinary finding solely on evidence presented at the hearings.)
The Court of Appeals agreed, saying the commission cannot reconsider Alba's alleged lack of candor during the interview.
"The issue is off the table," the Court of Appeals wrote.
However, in addition to a new hearing, Alba had hoped it would be before a new panel. The appellate court did not concur.