Waukesha Fire Chief Jesse Alba's rank lowered to firefighter

Todd Ponath
Police and Fire Commission Chairwoman Cheryl Gemignani talks to the attorneys during one of former Fire Chief Jesse Alba’s disciplinary hearings last month at City Hall. Gemignani and the PFC voted to demote Alba to the rank of firefighter for violating multiple city rules.
Published on: 10/16/2013

Less than six months after the Waukesha Police and Fire Commission named Jesse Alba Waukesha's 19th fire chief, that position is no longer his.

He has been demoted to the rank of firefighter.

It's a position he was at when he began his career with the Waukesha Fire Department 27 years ago.

He crafted a strong resume over the years that put him in prime position to become the new Waukesha fire chief in 2013. In April it was official as Alba had finally reached the top. He was the face of the department.

But he now finds himself back where he started.

The Police and Fire Commission announced its decision to demote Alba Monday afternoon following months of investigation and hearings. Alba was accused of violating the city's anti-harassment policy and other code of conduct rules.

However, the PFC ruled he did not violate the city's anti-harassment policy, but that he is unfit to serve in a supervisory role.

The PFC made its decision in a 3-1 vote. Catherine Jorgens voted for Alba to be fired.

"We are pleased that the Commission agreed with our contention that Chief Alba did not violate the sexual harassment policy," Alba's attorney, Victor E. Plantinga, said in an email a few hours after the PFC made its decision.

Plantinga added he and Alba have not decided how they will proceed.

PFC: Not personal matter

A statement of charges was filed by Mayor Jeff Scrima in July after an outside investigation revealed allegations of sexual harassment. Alba had asked a part-time emergency medical services educator to resign due to his infatuation with her.

After being placed on administrative leave in August while the disciplinary hearings continued, Alba admitted he and the woman had a mutual sexual relationship (the woman, who later resigned, denied this and did not cooperate during the investigation).

Alba said asking the woman to consider resigning was a "solution" to the difficulties both were having getting over the affair they had in 2012.

Alba said during the hearings that while the woman coming to the station was a "distraction," he didn't believe it was a rule violation because it was a personal matter.

The PFC didn't have the same opinion.

"The board considers his actions to be egregious," the commission reported in its findings of fact and determinations. "Chief Alba's continued insistence that his relationship with (the woman) was purely private and had nothing to do with the workplace, and therefore, he committed no rule violations is totally unacceptable and not supported by the evidence. His actions created an adversarial workplace situation that cannot be tolerated.

"The board finds it alarming that Chief Alba believes he has done nothing wrong in light of the overwhelming substantial evidence that supports the contrary."

The findings also conclude, "the board finds there is sufficient basis to terminate Chief Alba, based on the seriousness of his conduct."

Service commended

But because the board is required to consider Alba's record of service with the department, the PFC ultimately felt termination was not fully warranted.

"No one can dispute the fact that he has performed in a commendable manner in his 24 years of service (he also worked at the Brookfield Fire Department) with one minor exception," the findings state. "Although the board finds the more severe measure of termination was reasonably available in this case, we conclude that termination is not appropriate in light of Chief Alba's commendable past record with the department.

"This does not outweigh his failure as a supervisor and cannot prevent the board from finding he is not suitable as chief or in any supervisory capacity."

Scrima, in his initial statement of charges, and city attorney Stan Riffle said Alba violated 14 rules, including the city's anti-harassment policy. The PFC determined the evidence did not support this violation.

Riffle also added adultery to the statement of charges when an affair was brought up at a hearing. But the PFC said while adultery was committed, it did not include it as a basis for punishment.

As the fire chief Alba made $110,000 annually. City Administrator Ed Henschel said as a firefighter, Alba's annual salary will drop to $65,574.

By rule, assistant fire chief Steve Howard will act as the interim chief, but Henschel said he anticipates the PFC will make a formal decision at its next meeting Oct. 28.

Henschel isn't sure whether another national search will be conducted to find a new chief, something that was done for Alba's selection.

The PFC said there was substantial evidence in the record that Alba violated six rules, including the City of Waukesha's Fire Department Rules of Conduct and its Core Value Statement Section relating to integrity and ethics.

"As chief of the Fire Department, the findings clearly show that Chief Alba's conduct lacked strong leadership capabilities and prudent decision making abilities which were repeatedly reflected in his poor judgment regarding matters that affected and became part of the workplace," the findings state. "Self-discipline, professionalism and treating others with dignity are all characteristics that are imperative for one holding a supervisory position.

"Chief Alba's conduct falls far short of those qualities expected of a chief and supervisor.

"As chief of a fire department, this affects the entire operation and negatively impacts the morale and confidence that the employees have in the department and their chief."