Complaint against Waukesha fire chief reveals allegations of sexual harassment

Christopher Kuhagen
A complaint against Waukesha Fire Chief Jesse Alba says Alba asked an employee to resign due to romantic feelings for her.
Published on: 7/31/2013

The complaint filed against Waukesha Fire Chief Jesse Alba shows that he allegedly violated the sexual harassment section of the city’s anti-harassment policy.

He did so, the complaint says, by requesting a co-worker to resign from her employment due to his infatuation with and romantic attraction to her and for the benefit of his own employment and promotion opportunity.

Mayor Jeff Scrima filed the complaint with the city’s Police and Fire Commission last week, and along with City Administrator Ed Henschel, held a news conference Wednesday morning discussing the allegations against Alba, who became Waukesha’s chief in April.

“If it was up to me he would be fired,” Scrima said.

The Police and Fire Commission will determine Alba’s fate at a hearing, which hasn’t been scheduled yet, Henschel said Wednesday.

Henschel said after the investigations revealed the results, Alba was asked to resign (which he didn’t do).

As a result, Henschel and Scrima have asked the Police and Fire Commission that Alba be suspended.

“If it was my decision I would have put him on administrative leave immediately,” Henschel said.

“I determined there were clear violations of city policy, department rules and regulations and it called into question Mr. Alba’s ability to make sound management decisions and to make good judgment as a leader of a large municipal (department).”

Incidents started before Alba was named chief

The investigation revealed that on March 22, when Alba was still Waukesha’s assistant chief of operations, he requested that after developing a romantic attraction with a part-time female employee, she resign from her position.

Alba also asked for her resignation a second time in April and that if she did not submit her resignation, when he became chief, she would no longer have her position, the complaint concluded.

The complaint begins by saying Alba grew sufficiently comfortable in a friendship with two female co-workers in 2012 to the point that he started sharing information with the two women about his marital difficulties.

In August 2012, the complaint says Alba asked his wife for a divorce. Around Christmas, Alba and his wife informed their two children of the pending divorce and Alba continued to share his frustrations with the women.

Alba then said during this time period he fell in love with the part-time employee and had a crush on her, the complaint said. He believed the woman felt the same way toward him, the complaint says.

However, during the recent investigation, Alba said the woman never indicated she felt the same way toward him. According to the investigation, Alba informed the women he was going to return to his marriage to work out the issues.

Tells female worker he loves her, but needs to resign

But in March, Alba called the part-time female employee, who worked for the Fire Department for only three to four days a month, while she was working at her full-time employment and told her he loved her, the complaint said.

He also told her he could smell her perfume in the station even when she is not present, that she needed to leave the WFD, that he could not get his mind off her impeding his ability to focus on his job and the upcoming interview for the fire chief position, and that ultimately he felt it was not possible for him to continue to work with her under these circumstances, the complaint said.

Four days later, the complaint says the woman told a co-worker that if Alba was named chief she would resign from her position with the department even if she didn’t want to.

Employee 'devastated' Alba gets chief's position, resigns

In April, Alba again talked with the woman, this time at Fire Station 1, and told her how her being in the building affected him and twice asked her to resign as a friend, not as a subordinate or employee because he needed to focus on the second round of interviews for fire chief, the complaint said.

After Alba was appointed chief on April 18, the woman told a co-worker that the appointment was “horrible” and was “terribly devastated” by the decision.

The part-time female employee resigned with the City of Waukesha June 1.

“While chief Alba does not believe that his request for (the co-workers’) resignation based on his infatuation for her rises to the level of sexual harassment, it is clear that his statements were intended to force (her) departure as an employee,” the complaint reads.

The complaint states that while there were no requests for sexual favors, the two female co-workers perceived Alba’s romantic desires and that he believed the only way to control his desires was to seek the part-time female employees' removal from the workplace.

When Alba was interviewed for the investigation on June 6, the complaint says Alba told the investigator "I know asking (her) to quit was the most selfish thing I've done. I get it."  

More alleged violations 

Scrima held a mandatory pre-disciplinary meeting with Alba on July 3 after an independent investigation was finished.

After the meeting with Scrima, Alba then discussed it with two co-workers, the complaint said.

On July 5, according to the complaint, Alba went into another female’s office, closing the doors and window shades while speaking about the investigation. He said the report was not accurate.

The complaint says the woman became upset and asked him to leave her office. The woman informed the Human Resources Department the incident.

In addition to the two violations while assistant chief, Alba discussing the investigation on at least two occasions also violate the city’s anti-harassment policy.

Henschel said Alba views the matter “a personal” one between two very close friends.

Alba's attorney: Not all information revealed

Alba has not commented on the investigation, but his attorney, Victor E. Plantinga of Rose/deJong Attorneys at Law in Milwaukee, provided a statement Wednesday afternoon in response to the city's news conference and allegations against his client.

"Concerning the statement of charges that has been released by the City of Waukesha, Chief Jesse Alba’s contention is that the statement of charges does not mention, or even reference, the information that he offered to the investigator and city officials during the investigation," Plantinga said.

"This information discredited the individuals whom the city is relying on to establish these charges.

"The credibility of these individuals is not 'here nor there' as City Administrator Ed Henschel has asserted in the media. As anyone who reads the statement of charges can determine, the city’s contentions are based solely on statements from individuals and nothing else. Whether these individuals were truthful with the investigator is not a peripheral consideration as Mr. Henschel implies.

"It is troubling that the city claims that it is difficult for Chief Alba to manage his Department because of the attention that has been focused on this, yet the city is contributing to this by making statements to the press and holding press conferences.

"The Commission will hear the evidence and render a decision. It is not our intention to try this matter in the press. It is unfortunate that the city is not taking this same approach to this sensitive matter."

The complaint adds that Alba’s actions are “widely known in the Fire Department” and are “causing strained and uncomfortable relationships with a significant number of city employees within the department.

“At least 90 percent of the department (is) aware of this situation,” assistant chief Steve Howard said in the complaint. Howard served as the city’s interim fire chief between the time Allen LaConte retired in March 2012 and when Alba was named chief in April 2013.

Costs adding up for city

Outside of a four-year stint with the City of Brookfield Fire Department from 2000-04, Alba has been with the Waukesha Fire Department since 1986. He replaced LaConte after an extensive search that cost the city about $16,000.

Henschel said hiring the investigator has already cost the city “several thousand dollars” and the city has also hired a local attorney to act as special counsel for the city at $250 per hour, which will also cost the city another “several thousand dollars.”

An outside attorney was needed because the city attorney is representing the Police and Fire Commission.

When asked if there was any indication of this behavior during the hiring process, which was done in collaboration by an outside search firm – Voorhees Associates – and the PFC, Henschel said “unfortunately no.”

“(Voorhees) had no knowledge of this even though (the person conducting the search) talked with several department employees throughout the process,” Henschel said.

Relationships are strained

Scrima expressed his disappointment on behalf of the city.

“We are extremely saddened by this situation,” Scrima said, but added “we will restore integrity to the City of Waukesha Fire Department.”

Henschel echoed this but admitted the strain the alleged violations has caused for all parties.

“The department will continue to provide a high level of service to the community,” Henschel said. “We all agree while this is an administrative distraction, it has no bearing on service to the community. It has no impact on service but it does put a strain within the department.

“I will admit there is a strained relationship between Mr. Alba and the city administrator.”

Henschel added regarding the PFC’s selection for its chief being investigated after just a few months on the job: “It doesn’t matter whether it was two months or two years after his appointment, we’re unhappy about (Alba’s) conduct in office.”