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For Jesse Alba, the former Waukesha fire chief, the reward outweighed the risk when he decided to appeal his demotion to the rank of firefighter more than two years ago.

It's why he continued to fight so long, why his fight is likely not over, and it's why he was willing to tap into funds he had been saving for retirement or his kids' college in order to pay for his own attorney fees.

After all, Alba believed the best case scenario would take place: He would resume his role as fire chief, a position he worked 27 years for, have his name be cleared and regain the prestige and monetary benefits that went along with being Waukesha's top fire official.

The worst case scenario?

He is fired.

"I understood the risk," Alba said.

'Surprised' by ruling

The worst case scenario played out for Alba last week when the Waukesha Police and Fire Commission went further than its decision it made in 2013, deciding to "discharge" him from the department for violating city and department policies instead of merely demoting him. The five-person panel was unanimous in its decision.

In 2013, after a statement of charges that included violating the city's anti-harassment policy (a charge the PFC initially determined in 2013 he did not violate but has now changed its position) was issued against Alba, the PFC ruled Alba was nonetheless unfit for a supervisory role and demoted him to firefighter status within the department, a dramatic fall in the ranks for Alba.

However, he recognized last week that decision still allowed him to have a job in a department in which he started in 1986. Now, Alba must leave the department after losing his appeal. 

"How I will provide for my family," Alba said, "is what is keeping me up at night now."

The PFC's decision comes more than a month after Alba and his attorneys presented a case on why his demotion was not warranted. It was the second time Alba testified before the panel.

A Waukesha County Circuit Court judge said in 2014 Alba's fundamental due process rights were violated during the first hearing and the Court of Appeals in 2015 also noted he was entitled to a second hearing.

However, the judge ruled that the new hearing would have to be before the same panel that demoted him.

Alba, who was not at the brief hearing at Waukesha City Hall last week to hear the ruling because of a pre-planned trip to Arizona to visit his parents, said in a phone interview with Waukesha Now he was shocked by the PFC's decision.

"I'm actually very surprised," Alba said.


Waukesha NOW Poll: Do you agree with the commission's decision to fire Jesse Alba from the department?


Interpreting his conduct

Alba, along with his attorneys, felt information revealed at the hearing in January would have shown the PFC that he didn't violate any policies and that the sexual relationship he shared with Mary Jo Hoppe, the part-time emergency medical services educator, was consensual, that he didn't use his power to force her to quit, and that Hoppe's discussions with witnesses (including that Alba made unwanted advances toward her) were lies.

At the January hearing, Alba reiterated he asked Hoppe to consider resigning on two occasions because of "problems" he said she was having in getting over the affair the two had, which had ended mutually. Alba said he and Hoppe had a sexual affair from February 2012 to August 2012.

"The commission got all of the real facts this time," said Alba, who was the assistant fire chief and in the process for interviewing for the chief's position when he made his requests to Hoppe. "They heard that any information Hoppe told to employees who then shared it during the investigation didn't have any real validity."

At the January hearing, Alba said he was never threatening in his offer and that "it wasn't an ultimatum." He said he only made the offers because of how difficult it was to see "someone struggling." Alba's attorneys showed emails from Hoppe to Alba showing her struggle in getting over the affair and how teaching at the department was "painful" for her.

Hoppe, who resigned shortly after Alba was selected fire chief in April 2013, had been reluctant to share information during the initial investigation and did not testify at any of Alba's disciplinary hearings.

When the city's attorney, Christopher Riordan, questioned Alba on why asking Hoppe, who only worked at the station three days a month, to resign was the best option, Alba said the other options, such as him taking EMS classes at another location, and having her teach from a different site, presented difficulties.

Tougher decision

The PFC, in its written report, was not satisfied with Alba's understanding of his wrongdoing.

"The additional testimony and evidence presented during the hearing has shown a continuation of Alba's dishonesty, his lack of integrity and professionalism, and his misuse of his position to intimidate and improperly pressure Hoppe to resign," the PFC wrote. "Alba has exhibited an absence of remorse or any realization that he is responsible and accountable for his present circumstances.

"Alba's failure to accept that responsibility and correct his earlier dishonest conduct presents character failings and misconduct beyond those found at the September 2013 hearing."

Alba said that he and his team of attorneys find it most telling that the PFC, in its written decision, claimed that he did not show enough remorse. Alba said he didn't view the hearing as an occasion when he was supposed to plead for forgiveness, as in a sentencing hearing.

None of the PFC members contacted by Waukesha Now wanted to speak about their decision, and PFC Chairwoman Cheryl Gemignani did not return a call seeking additional comment. City Administrator Kevin Lahner said the city supports the PFC's decision.

Fight not over

Alba said he doesn't want this to be what defines him in what has been a long and, up until this point, distinguished career. "I don't want it to be the end of my career," Alba said.

But having now been fired from a department at age 50, he acknowledged how "difficult" it will be to continue his career.

That's why he is likely not ending this fight.

"I'm seriously considering going through the same path that I went before," Alba said.

That means going to the Waukesha County Circuit Court and appealing the panel's new ruling.

"I want a fair and nonbias judicator," Alba said. "This isn't just about me but for anyone in the future so that they are treated fairly."

Alba said in the days since the announcement many of his fellow firefighters have offered their support for him.

"I had to charge my phone twice a day as I received so many voice messages in support," Alba said. "But that doesn't surprise me."

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