Will the same panel that demoted Jesse Alba for violating department policies more than two years ago now change its mind and reinstate him as fire chief?
After sitting through a two-day hearing in which Alba fought to regain his former position, the five-member Waukesha Police and Fire Commission must decide whether he should be given another shot at holding the city's top fire position.
Alba's attorney, Douglas Rose, said this week that he is "optimistic" the commission will alter its decision and Alba will win back his old job.
"I think the hearing went extremely well," Rose said. "Everyone got a completely different view of the case. It was put in a new context."
In 2013, the commission said Alba's actions, in which he asked a part-time female employee to consider resigning as a "solution" to get past the consensual sexual affair the two had a year earlier, was "egregious" and detrimental to the fire department.
Alba was demoted by a 3-1 vote to the rank of firefighter, a sudden fall for someone who six months earlier was just named fire chief and had risen up the ranks over 25-plus years.
Fighting for his post
Claiming his demotion wasn't supported by just cause, Alba took to the courts to win back his position. After a two-year battle in court, he was granted another hearing to state his case.
While much of the testimony last week was similar as the 2013 hearing and the witnesses who spoke were the same, Alba's attorney took more of a hard line to show that Alba was not an aggressor in getting Mary Jo Hoppe, who worked part-time as an emergency medical services educator, to quit.
When the initial statement of charges was filed by then-Mayor Jeff Scrima, Alba was accused of sexual harassment. He was told by Scrima if he didn't resign, the allegations would be released.
"I wasn't intimated by that," Alba recalled from that meeting in 2013. "I had the truth on my side."
Alba was subsequently placed on administrative leave while the commission determined whether to retain Alba as chief during the summer and fall of that year.
Waukesha NOW Poll: Should Jesse Alba be reinstated as Waukesha's fire chief?
Attorney makes case
Alba said during this most recent hearing that he felt like a victim after being accused of unwanted advances toward Hoppe, something she told fire department employees took place.
Hoppe did not testify during the hearing three years ago, despite being subpoenaed to speak, and Hoppe was not summoned to speak at the new hearing. Throughout the investigation, Hoppe was reluctant to share information with the Human Resources Department before resigning shortly after Alba was named chief.
During opening testimony last week, Rose used evidence to contradict statements given by various witnesses indicating that Hoppe told them she didn't want the relationship with Alba. Rose said Hoppe's comments to other employees were "vicious lies."
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 expressed 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."
Rose said two days after receiving this email, Alba talked with Hoppe and asked her if she considered resigning as an option. Alba last week said at that point in early 2013 he was in the process of working on his marriage with his wife and was moving past the affair. But he added that it was "difficult" for him to see "someone struggling."
"I was never threatening," Alba said in his offer to Hoppe. "It wasn't an ultimatum. It was something for her to consider."
Alba, who during this time was the assistant fire chief and was in the process of interviewing for the vacated fire chief's position, said during the second hearing that seeing Hoppe at the station didn't impact him professionally.
"It didn't affect my performance," he said.
But the city's stance is that Alba's actions weren't suitable for someone in his position.
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 only option he gave her. Alba said to him that the other options, such as him taking EMS classes at another location and having her teach from a different site, presented logistical difficulties.
"This had nothing to do with performance (or) the qualifications of a subordinate," Riordan said.
Riordan also said Alba wasn't truthful with investigator Warren Kraft when he was first interviewed and presented with the allegations in 2013.
"The issue is whether his conduct post-affair was appropriate: his conduct involving Mrs. Hoppe, others in the fire department, including those involved in the investigation," Riordan said.
Alba did not tell Kraft that he and Hoppe had a consensual sexual affair because Alba said he wasn't asked by Kraft about it.
Set to make decision
Despite being told by the investigator to not discuss the investigation with people involved in the case, Alba said he talked with the co-workers who were interviewed by Kraft because he wanted them to know his side of the story.
"I was being accused of something that I didn't do," Alba said last week. "It wasn't a one-sided relationship. I felt that my friends had been bamboozled (by Hoppe). I did not want them to believe that I was this person described in the report. I wasn't who I was described to be."
Nonetheless, Riordan added that Alba "did not act with professionalism and integrity" and his conduct "was detrimental to the fire department."
While the commission ultimately ruled that Alba did not violate the city's anti-harassment policy in 2013, despite still demoting him, Mayor Shawn Reilly's amended statement of charges also included anti-harassment violations.
As a result, Rose fought hard to disprove this, and some of the witnesses revealed in testimony that they now realized that Hoppe lied to them when she shared information with them.
"Can you un-ring that bell that you heard time and time again?" Rose asked the commission. "We're relying on you."
Both Alba's team and the city will send final briefs to the commission in advance of the commission meeting later this month to make its decision.