Former Waukesha Fire Chief Jesse Alba's appeal will most likely wait until 2014

Todd Ponath
City Attorney Curt Meitz (left) represented the Police and Fire Commission, which included Chairwoman Cheryl Gemignani (pictured), during the investigation into former fire chief Jesse Alba earlier this year. Alba’s attorney, Victor E. Plantinga, says that having the city attorney (the city filed the statement of charges against Alba) represent the PFC was a conflict of interest and could help overturn the PFC’s demotion ruling.
Published on: 12/18/2013

Jesse Alba has been back with the Waukesha Fire Department for almost two months as a firefighter.

The former fire chief, however, still wants his old job back.

"Ultimately, that's our goal," said Victor E. Plantinga, Alba's attorney. "That's what our aim is."

And that's why Alba filed an appeal with the Waukesha County Circuit Court and has an upcoming date with Judge Lee S. Dreyfus, Jr.

Alba says there wasn't "just cause" in his demotion.

His appeal was scheduled for Dec. 20 but Plantinga has asked for the trial to be pushed back so he can review documents he's requested from the city.

"Right now we're sort of in limbo and if the judge grants our request we'll be in limbo a little longer," Plantinga said.

Questioning Meitz's role

The city had 30 days to produce the materials, which Plantinga said include any correspondence between City Attorney Curt Meitz and Mayor Jeff Scrima or City Administrator Ed Henschel that relate to the "inner-workings during the investigation."

Plantinga requested the documents because he says "it was improper that the city attorney was involved in deliberating with the PFC." The Police and Fire Commission (PFC) presided over Alba's disciplinary hearings and ultimately made the decision that he be demoted to firefighter.

Meitz represented the PFC during Alba's investigation, one that alleged Alba sexually harassed a part-time female employee. The PFC eventually ruled, after hours of testimony over multiple days, that Alba did not violate the city's anti-harassment policy.

However, it ruled that he did violate multiple city and fire department rules and code of conduct, deeming Alba unfit for a supervisory role.

Confident in appeal

But just a couple weeks after the PFC demoted Alba, Plantinga filed a writ of certiorari or reversal of the decision with Waukesha County saying that "by allowing the city attorney to participate in these proceedings, the Police and Fire Commission, which is supposed to be composed of an impartial body, tainted the appearance of the commission's independence and impartiality."

Plantinga said he expects Alba's appeal to be heard in January.

"We feel we have very good grounds to win," Plantinga said. "We'll allege that his participation is going to make the findings suspect."

Plantinga said that while Meitz's involvement is their "primary angle" they'll also present to Dreyfus that the PFC did not successfully meet the state statutes that outlines disciplinary actions for police and fire departments.

Plantinga said if Alba won the appeal the PFC's decision would be voided "as if it never happened."

The attorney, however, knows it won't be that easy. Plantinga said he anticipates the city would then file another statement of charges against Alba "starting (the process) all over again."

Long history

The appeal is coming after months of investigation and disciplinary hearings that centered on Alba asking a former part-time emergency medical services educator to resign. During testimony at one of his hearings, Alba called his request "a solution" to the difficulties the two were having in getting past the affair they had in 2012.

An investigation started shortly after Alba was named Waukesha's new fire chief this spring when a matter of report was filed with the city's Human Resources Department. The woman who Alba asked to resign quit before the investigation began and did not respond to requests to testify at the hearings.

Alba didn't believe he violated any rules because he said it was a personal matter and didn't impact his professional work.

Scrima called for Alba to be fired, while the PFC eventually put Alba on paid administrative leave during the disciplinary hearings. After hearing from Alba, co-workers and other involved parties, the PFC, in its facts and determinations, demoted Alba on Oct. 14 to the rank of firefighter.

The investigation, which spanned almost five months, cost the city almost $70,000. Meanwhile, the PFC has moved on with Steve Howard, who was named interim fire chief shortly after demoting Alba.