Waukesha Fire Chief Jesse Alba's hearing to continue, looking for one more testimony

Published on: 9/17/2013

Five hours of testimony last week that included many revealing — and sometimes tearful — accounts was not enough to conclude embattled Waukesha Fire Chief Jesse Alba's disciplinary hearing.

Alba's attorney, Victor E. Plantinga, wants one more person to speak.

Plantinga says the woman who is alleged to have been sexually harassed by Alba when he asked her to resign from her position within the Waukesha Fire Department (WFD) earlier this year could change the outcome in favor for his client.

"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."

Plantinga will attempt to subpoena the woman and have her testify when the hearing continues at 1 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall. Testimonials will finish and Alba's fate with the department will be determined by the Police and Fire Commission.

According to an independent investigation by Warren P. Kraft of Murphy Desmond Lawyers, the woman, a part-time WFD employee, has been reluctant to share information for the case, which stated Alba violated the city's anti-harassment policy as well as the WFD's code of ethics, among other rules.

Alba speaks

Alba, who started at the WFD in 1986, spoke publicly at the Sept. 12 hearing for the first time since the statement of charges was made against him in July and since he was put on paid administrative leave last month by the PFC.

He admitted 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 at the department three days a month as an emergency medical services educator, engaged in a consensual sexual relationship while both were married.

"Our feelings were very deep and mutual," Alba said. "It was a welcomed relationship."

The consensual sexual relationship that Alba says occurred was not listed in the statement of charges.

Alba said he was never asked by Kraft if he engaged in a sexual relationship with the woman. The original statement of charges reflected an infatuation Alba had with the woman and that it wasn't reciprocated.

Kraft said on Thursday the female part-time employee denied to him that there was any sexual involvement between her and Alba. Kraft said the woman was "emotionally reluctant to discuss these events, attempting to respect her husband's wishes to not have any further involvement in this matter."

But he added the woman, who resigned shortly after Alba was named chief this spring, has shared her version of events of Alba asking her to resign and their relationship with other assistant chiefs.

Difficult to end

However, Alba, who detailed their affair in great detail at last week's hearing, said he and the woman's sexual relationship 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. They would meet at hotels after going on runs together, something the two had in common, he said.

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, Vickie, who has been at the first two hearings and is giving him her full support.

"It was very difficult to completely end," Alba said.

E-mail exchanges and photographs between Alba and the woman expressing these feelings continued and were presented by Alba's attorneys Thursday. The statement of charges indicates that Alba's wife found pictures on Alba's flash drive and approached the woman's husband alleging Alba and his wife were having an affair. The woman did not confirm or deny this information to Kraft.

"It was inappropriate," Alba said. "We let a friendship get out of control."

A distraction for both

PFC Chairwoman Cheryl Gemignani asked Alba when the PFC interviewed him about his past 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. He added during his 27-year career he has only received one disciplinary action against him.

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," Alba said.

Alba says he never threatened the woman and was "shocked" when he heard there were allegations of sexual harassment against him.

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.

Adding adultery

Attorney Stan Riffle, representing the city, said he would file an amended statement of charges regarding state statutes of adultery because their affair wasn't revealed when the city reviewed the 14-page case report filed by Kraft earlier this summer.

In addition to Alba and Kraft, assistant fire chief Steve Howard, Kathy Stefan, the WFD full-time administrative assistant, and Donna Whalen, the city's Human Resources manager, took the stand last week.

When Riffle asked Kraft how egregious — on a scale of 1 to 10 — Alba's behavior is based on his findings, he said "it would be a 10."

"Awkward" at fire station

Howard, who was interviewed for the 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.

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."

Emotional testimony

It was certainly difficult for Stefan to take the stand, a longtime employee of the WFD and friend of Alba and the part-time female employee.

Stefan, who broke down on the stand, said when she heard Alba asked the woman to resign she was "shocked" and "couldn't believe it."

She agreed with Howard saying it's been an "awkward" working environment from the time the statement of charges was filed by Mayor Jeff Scrima until the PFC suspended Alba Aug. 21.

"It's the big elephant in the room; upstairs, downstairs, in meetings," Stefan said.

She said employees have lost respect for Alba. And when asked about additional consequences if Alba were to be retained, Stefan became emotional.

"Some would leave," she said. "Some have told me they would leave."

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 Alba," Plantinga said. "She was untruthful in the investigation and painted a picture of Alba that's not only untrue, but unfair."