It was a long, emotional and revealing day at Waukesha City Hall.
For more than five hours, testimonials were given Thursday on suspended Waukesha Fire Chief Jesse Alba during his disciplinary hearing on allegations that he violated the anti-harassment policy and the fire department’s rules of conduct, among other rules.
A final decision has yet to be made as the hearing will continue in less than two weeks as Alba’s attorney, Victor E. Plantinga, will subpoena the woman who the fire chief is alleged to have sexually harassed.
The next hearing is scheduled for 1 p.m. Sept 25 at City Hall. Testimonials will finish on that day and Alba’s fate with the department will then be determined.
“We believe her testifying will (show) not only misleading the investigator but frankly not telling the truth,” Plantinga said. “Much of the investigation depends on the credibility of one person.”
Alba talked publicly for the first time Thursday since the statement of charges was made against him in July and since he was put on paid administrative leave three weeks ago by the Police and Fire Commission.
He admitted on the stand that he asked a female fire department employee to consider resigning on two occasions as a way to find a “solution” to the difficulties both were having stemming from the affair the two had last year.
Alba said he and the woman, who works with the department three days a month as an emergency medical services educator, engaged in a consensual sexual relationship while both were married.
Alba, who detailed their relationship in great detail, said their sexual affair began in February 2012 and continued through August 2012 while he was the assistant chief of operations after the two developed strong feelings for each other.
“It was inappropriate,” Alba said. “We let a friendship get out of control.”
The two, he said, became close in recent years and shared personal feelings with each other outside the workplace, including about their marriages.
Despite ending the physical relationship, Alba said the feelings did not go away even though he was trying to work out his marital issues with his wife. E-mail exchanges between Alba and the woman expressing these feelings continued and were presented by Alba’s attorneys Thursday.
“It was very difficult to completely end,” Alba said. Alba’s wife, who is supporting him, was in the audience and became emotional at times during the hearing.
The consensual sexual relationship that Alba says occurred was not listed in the statement of charges. Alba said he never was asked by the independent investigator if he ever engaged in a sexual relationship and if he would have Alba said he would have told him. The original statement of charges reflected an infatuation Alba had with the woman.
“Our feelings were very deep and were mutual,” Alba said. “It was a welcomed relationship.”
City attorney will add to charges
PFC Chairwoman Cheryl Gemignani asked Alba when the PFC asked him about his past while interviewing for the chief’s position this spring why he didn’t think his affair with an employee was reason enough to be brought up and that he asked her to resign, Alba said he believes it to be a personal matter and not one involving his professional life.
Alba thought asking her to resign was reasonable because it would eliminate the “difficulties both were having” and because the woman has additional higher-paying jobs.
“It was a personal request to a problem we both had,” said Alba, who added his feelings did not impact his work and that their sexual relationship occurred off duty.
Attorney Stan Riffle, representing the city, said he would file an amended statement of charges regarding state statutes of adultery.
“Based on evidence that comes into this hearing, we have a right to explore that,” Riffle said.
Plantinga didn’t think it was appropriate at this time, but Riffle planned on adding those charges after the hearing.
Alba, Warren Kraft, the independent investigator who compiled a 14-page case report, assistant fire chief Steve Howard, Kathy Stefan, the city’s full-time fire department administrative assistant, and Donna Whalen, the city’s Human Resources manager, took the stand Thursday.
Not consistent with investigation
Kraft said on Thursday the part-time female employee denied to him during their conversations for the investigation that there was a sexual relationship between her and Alba. This was consistent with what she provided to Kraft in the statement of charges earlier this summer.
The woman was reluctant to share information for the case, Kraft said in the statement of charges. But he added that she shared her version of events with other assistant chiefs.
Alba says he never threatened the woman and said he was “shocked” when he heard there were allegations against him of violating the city’s anti-harassment policy.
He said the woman suggested to him that when she comes into the Fire Station they could re-work their schedules to avoid each other, but Alba said that wouldn’t work because he would still know when she was there because of the strong perfume she wears and that he has to take a regular EMS class with her.
“It was a distraction,” Alba said.
The part-time female employee resigned a month after Alba was named chief in April.
Riffle asked Kraft based on his more than 30 years of experience how egregious – on a scale of 1 to 10 – Alba’s behavior is based on his findings.
“It would be a 10,” Kraft said.
Riffle, with Mayor Jeff Scrima and City Administrator Ed Henschel by his side during the hearing, said Alba has violated up to 15 city rules.
"Awkward" at fire station
Howard, who was interviewed for this case, said he believed Alba violated many of the city’s policies. He added the department is not as well served today as it was when the part-time employee was on staff.
“If suggestion(s) (are made with the department) that’s like an order,” said Howard, referring to Alba asking the woman to resign.
Howard said since the statement of charges was filed in July it has been “very awkward” within the Fire Department.
“A lot of questions,” Howard said when asked about the current morale. “It’s difficult for everyone.”
It was certainly difficult for Stefan to take the stand, a longtime employee of the WFD.
She broke down while on stand on a couple occasions.
She said when she heard Alba asked the woman to resign she was “shocked” and “couldn’t believe it.”
When she met with Alba after knowing about his request he told her that his suggestion to the woman was not performance based. As a result, Stefan told him that “it’s not fair and that we’re all employees” regardless if the woman is part-time.
She agreed with Howard saying it’s been an “awkward” working environment from the time the statement of charges was filed by Scrima until the PFC suspended Alba on Aug. 21.
“It’s the big elephant in the room, upstairs, downstairs in meetings,” Stefan said. “It’s the one thing everyone was whispering about and wanted to talk about.”
She said she believes there’s a loss of respect for Alba from employees.
When asked what the additional consequences would be if Alba were to be retained, Stefan became emotional.
“Some would leave,” she said. “Some have told me they would leave.”
Attorney says woman "untruthful"
Plantinga, however, said if morale is low within the department it is because of the part-time employee who “would tell things in the department that simply weren’t true. They were intended to shed her in a better light and cast a darker shadow over Chief Alba. She was untruthful in the investigation. And she painted a picture of Chief Alba. It’s not only untrue, but unfair.”
Alba, who makes $110,000 annually, started with the department in 1986. He replaced longtime chief Allen LaConte who retired in March 2012 after an extensive search that cost the city $16,000.
Hiring an outside attorney has cost the city several thousand dollars and bringing the investigator in cost a few thousand dollars as well.
“This case is tragic,” Riffle said at the hearing.