After discussions in several executive sessions over the last few months, Bainbridge Township Trustees agreed Monday to suspend Fire Chief Brian Phan for two days…
After discussions in several executive sessions over the last few months, Bainbridge Township Trustees agreed Monday to suspend Fire Chief Brian Phan for two days without pay for allegedly failing to file written reports on most of the 11 traffic crashes involving department vehicles during the last two years.
Trustees expressed dismay that details of the disciplinary action were brought to light during the public comment portion of the trustees meeting, when a man identifying himself as Phan’s attorney blasted them for their action before the vote was taken.
Mike Piotrowski told trustees he is a public sector labor lawyer representing Phan, and said his client is being suspended for failing to file written reports about traffic crashes involving fire department vehicles.
According to the township’s employee policy manual, crashes resulting in damage to township-owned vehicles must be reported by the department head, in writing, to the township fiscal officer within three days of the incident.
“What the township didn’t prove was that any report took longer than 48 hours to receive,” he told trustees, who tried to curtail his comments.
“We had an executive session this evening with our legal counsel about this,” Trustee Jeff Markley said, adding trustees usually do not reveal details of what is discussed in executive session regarding personnel matters.
“What you’re doing right now is putting it in the paper,” Markley said, referring to two reporters in the audience.
“I’ve been doing this 20 years and am fully aware,” Piotrowski shot back.
He told trustees there was no evidence Phan had neglected to file the required reports.
“Other than the fact we never got them,” Markley told him.
“Hold on, hold on,” Trustee Lorrie Sass Benza interjected.
Piotrowski said trustees had to have been aware of the crashes because they had approved paying for the repairs.
“That’s not an appropriate way to issue discipline,” Piotrowski said. “In the very rule in Section K of your policy manual, it says a supervisor can determine if there is minor damage, that it did not need to be reported. All were reported in written form as soon as he was aware of them.
“Two days’ suspension in this matter is inappropriate,” he told trustees. “You denied him the ability to defend himself properly.”
Neither Phan nor Fiscal Officer Cheri Measures attended the meeting.
After further public discussion on another topic, trustees unanimously voted to suspend Phan for two days without pay, with the dates to be determined.
During a brief break in the meeting, Benza said fire department vehicles had been involved in 11 damage accidents during the past two years and Phan had failed to report “some of them,” but did not indicate how many went unreported.
Later Benza said Phan had not followed policy procedure for most of the 11 incidents, and trustees had learned about some of them from other sources, including a Nov. 11, 2012 incident in which a fire department employee lost control of a department-owned Dodge Durango during icy conditions on Pettibone Road while on an errand.
Township records show the vehicle sustained $6,133 in damage during that incident. Benza later said the SUV was totaled and the driver cited by the Ohio State Highway Patrol, who notified trustees.
The report, titled “Motor Vehicle Incidents 2011-2013, Bainbridge Township Fire Department,” obtained on Tuesday, shows 11 incidents involving fire department vehicles from Jan.31, 2012 to Oct. 8, 2013. The accidents ranged from minor bumps and scrapes while backing up, to major collisions with other firefighting equipment.
Phan had neglected to issue reprimands to any of the personnel involved in the incidents, and had failed to submit written reports on virtually any of them, Benza said later.
Monday night, trustees said Phan had been given a verbal warning in 2010 about failing to report a missing credit card, and trustees had given him a written reprimand about a similar problem in 2012.
The missing credit card was later traced to a department employee, who faced criminal theft charges.
“You have to understand, this has been ongoing,” Markley said. “This has been a progressive discipline according to our policy manual.”
Trustees also said they have been concerned with ongoing reporting problems in the fire department regarding keeping track of part-time employees’ hours.
Trustees last year established a policy that limits part-time employees to 29 hours per week.
Monday night, Benza said there have been “too many snafus” and too little discipline about keeping an accurate track of the number of hours each employee works.
“We asked the chief to document everything and haven’t received anything,” she said, adding the issue will be discussed further at the next meeting.
Trustees said they will consider taking steps, including a possible time clock, to remedy the problem.
Phan, a township resident, works full time for the University Heights Fire Department and served as interim chief there for several months in 2013. At the same time, he was serving as part-time chief in Bainbridge. He has served as Bainbridge fire chief since 1998.
When called for comment Tuesday, Phan referred all questions to his attorney.
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