Former Waukesha Fire Chief Jesse Alba's case will come to a close

Todd Ponath
Former Waukesha fire chief Jesse Alba, who was demoted last year after the Police and Fire Commission determined he violated city policies, will hear the results of his appeal on Monday in Waukesha County Circuit Court.
Published on: 6/4/2014

Jesse Alba and his attorney made their case.

Now, it's up to Judge Lee S. Dreyfus and whether he will change the Waukesha Police and Fire Commission's decision from more than seven months ago when they demoted Alba, the former Waukesha fire chief to the role of firefighter, for violating multiple city policies.

Alba appealed the Police and Fire Commission's ruling almost immediately last fall and along with his attorney, Victor E. Plantinga, finally appeared in Waukesha Circuit Court a couple weeks ago.

The city, represented by Alan Levy, also made their case on why the Police and Fire Commission's ruling should stand. Both parties will learn Dreyfus' ruling during a hearing at 3:15 p.m. Monday, June 9.

Dreyfus' decision will end the yearlong saga centered around the Fire Department's highest position.

A matter of report was filed to the Human Resources Department last summer after Alba asked a part-time department employee on two occasions to resign as a solution to get past their affair. An investigation was then launched by the city, who accused Alba of violating its anti-harassment policy, among other department rules.

The PFC ruled that Alba did not violate the anti-harassment policy but concluded he violated many other city and department rules and that he was unfit to hold a supervisory role last October.

While Alba has taken on his role as a firefighter and the PFC has moved on with Steve Howard as the city's interim fire chief, Alba has fought the PFC's decision.

Plantinga and Alba were in court on May 22 stating why there were flaws in the process that stripped him of his job. Among them is former city attorney Curt Meitz's role in the case.

"His office was involved in the investigation of the complaint," Plantinga said. "(Meitz) should not have been advising the PFC after the mayor went to him to get advice on how to proceed."

Plantinga also had a problem with PFC Chairwoman Cheryl Gemignani's role in the hearing. Gemignani interviewed Alba for the fire chief position in spring 2013 and one of the questions was whether there was anything in Alba's professional life that may reflect negatively upon his performance or would be embarrassing. Alba responded no. Plantinga said Gemignani then sitting in on the hearings and to recall what happened during that interview was a mistake. He compared it to a judge who was a witness to a crime who then served as a judge on the case.

Levy said that argument is flawed since one of the statutory duties of a commissioner is to be in the interviews for hiring people, while also determining disciplinary issues.

Levy also countered Plantinga's argument about Meitz.

"The city attorney is an independent elected official and one of his statutory duties is to be an adviser, including for the PFC," Levy said. "He didn't take any rule in pressing the case against Alba and wasn't the attorney bringing the charges against Alba. When the issue first came up the city attorney informed the mayor that the city needs their own attorney. I don't think that is legal advice or interfering in the case."

After the hearing a couple weeks ago, Plantinga wasn't sure what Dreyfus would decide, while Levy said he's "very optimistic."

"We think the PFC acted correctly and fairly and reached a reasonable conclusion that should stand," Levy said.