Former Waukesha Fire Chief Jesse Alba was fired from his position in October 2013, but since then he has been trying to regain that post.
That objective was kick-started on Wednesday, Jan. 27, after he was given an opportunity to present his case once again to the Waukesha Police and Fire Commission, the same panel that demoted him more than two years ago for violating department policies.
In 2013, when the commission demoted Alba in a 3-1 vote to the rank of firefighter it said he was unfit to be chief after asking a part-time female employee to consider resigning as a "solution" to the difficulties they were having in getting past the affair they had a year earlier.
The five-person commission was down one member during the 2013 hearing, but that seat is now filled.
"His actions were not only detrimental to the fire department, but also not in the best interests of the city of Waukesha," the board wrote in its findings of fact and determinations in 2013. "The public trust is violated where superior officers request the resignation of subordinate employees for personal rather than performance based reasons. The board considers his actions to be egregious."
The city of Waukesha initially filed a statement of charges in 2013 citing a variety of policies it alleged Alba violated, including its anti-harassment policy.
Following the demotion, Alba immediately filed an appeal with the Waukesha County Circuit Court and subsequently with the Court of Appeals in an effort to win back his former job. He said there wasn't "just cause" in his demotion.
While the Court of Appeals and Circuit Court didn't rule he should be given his chief's position back, both said he is entitled to another hearing after saying his due process rights were violated during the first hearing with the city's PFC and during the investigation.
As a result, an amended statement of charges was once again filed by the city. The first statement of charges was filed by-then Mayor Jeff Scrima.
The anti-harassment claim was once again included in the charges despite the commission already ruling in 2013 that Alba did not violate that policy.
New hearing begins
Just as they did during the 2013 hearing, Alba, along with a handful of witnesses, including acting fire chief Steve Howard, gave testimony during Wednesday's hearing at City Hall.
But at the core of Alba's argument on Wednesday was the fact that the sexual relationship he shared with Mary Jo Hoppe, the part-time emergency medical services educator, was consensual.
He said he wanted to clear this up because Hoppe had told others within the department who then relayed it to the investigator and the Human Resources Department that advances were unwanted.
Alba also said he only asked her to consider resigning on two occasions because of "problems" he said she was having in getting over the affair the two had, which at this point had ended mutually. Alba said he and Hoppe had a sexual affair from February 2012 to August 2012.
"I was never threatening," Alba said in his offer to Hoppe. "It wasn't an ultimatum. It was something for her to consider."
The city's attorney, Christopher Riordan, questioned Alba why asking Hoppe, who only worked at the station three days a month, to resign was the best option. Alba said to him, the other options, such as him taking EMS classes at another location, and having her teach from a different site, presented difficulties.
Alba said Wednesday he wasn't having as near of a problem in getting past his involvement with Hoppe but it was "difficult" for him seeing "someone struggling."
"It didn't affect my performance," said Alba, who during this time was the assistant fire chief and was in the process of interviewing for the vacated fire chief's position.
Hoppe eventually resigned shortly after Alba became fire chief in April 2013, but she never testified during the first hearing in 2013 and isn't testifying at this second hearing.
Alba also said Wednesday he has felt like the victim after he was initially accused of harassment.
Attorney makes case
During opening testimony, Alba's attorney, Douglas W. Rose, used evidence to contradict statements that various witnesses gave an investigator in the initial statement of charges who indicated Hoppe told them she didn't want the relationship. Rose showed emails and racy pictures she sent to Alba in late 2012 and early 2013.
"I'm not sorry I fell head over heels in love with you," she wrote to Alba in December 2013. "I miss you already and cannot promise I can stay away. This girl loves her J."
Another email two months later showed similar sentiments.
"I miss sharing my days/life with you, the joy and the struggles," she wrote in February, while still employed with the department. "Teaching at the fire department is absolutely painful for me now, so I understand what you say about feeling anxious, yet happy and disappointed."
Alba's emails to Hoppe were not immediately available during the hearing, but Rose was going to offer them to all parties later on Wednesday or early Thursday.
At one point during Wednesday's hearing Rose asked Chairwoman Cheryl Gemignani to dismiss the charges, but that request was quickly denied.
Finishing on Thursday
Whether the Police and Fire Commission changes its mind and reinstates Alba as chief is to be determined.
"Can you unring that bell?" Rose asked the commission on Wednesday. "We're relying on you."
During his examination of Alba, Riordan focused on the fact that Alba did not present all of the facts of the sexual affair to the investigator in 2013. Alba said he was never asked if they had a sexual relationship and that he was truthful to the questions he was asked.
"He did not act with professionalism and integrity," Riordan said. "Mr. Alba's conduct was detrimental to the Fire Department."
Final testimony continues on Thursday as well as closing statements. The commission will then make a written decision on Alba's fate in the coming weeks.