MOUNT VERNON — The status of Mount Vernon Fire Chief Shawn Christy is still up in the air as the Ohio Department of Public Safety board did not hear his case Wednesday.
“I’ve learned that it’s pretty commonplace for this department to do audits. The audit we’re talking about is an audit of their credentials. They’re required to do so much updating in their classes each year and each firefighter/paramedic is responsible for keeping track of that. Once they complete the course, they are responsible for submitting that,” said Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Mavis. “At random, I’m told, these folks will come in and choose people from any department throughout the state and start looking at whether they kept their credentials up. Basically, the information I was presented was the chief was one of those people who were being audited, and there were some questions being raised from that.”
Once those questions were raised, city officials determined it was best to place Christy on paid administrative leave until the issue was resolved.
The case is still under investigation by the state and will not be presented to the board until at least the next meeting, which is presently scheduled for August.
“I was not aware of that until I read it in the News,” Mavis said. “Basically, after reading it, I raised that question because it appears to me, if we’re going to depend on their investigation process and getting a result of that, all of a sudden we’re looking at August. What does that do? Frankly, I don’t have an answer and (Safety-Service Director) Dave (Glass) didn’t yesterday. I think we’re probably still searching for whether or not that means we’re not going to hear anything until August. I was surprised. When I read it, it motivated me to say something to Dave, ‘Where does this put us in our goal?’ Whether or not they have [special] meetings or whether or not it’s relegated to the August meeting, I don’t know have an answer for that. I guess at this point, I’d be extremely disappointed that this thing would be extended to that length of time before we could reach a conclusion.
“Clearly, we do not want this to linger until August. Here’s a guy who’s being paid to basically stay at home. This, in the eyes of the taxpayer, they want it resolved. The administration wants it resolved and the chief wants it resolved. It impacts directly him and his family, it’s impacting directly the staff there.”
Having the fire department’s leadership in limbo for several months is not something Mavis wants to have happen.
“The issue for us is, we’ve got a department that responds 24/7, 365 days a year and all of a sudden, their leadership is in question,” Mavis said. “Assistant Chief (Chris) Menapace can do a nice job down there, but I think when you have that many people working, there is that unsettled feeling. ‘What’s happening to our leadership?’ I think the motivation I had when I came back Tuesday was to get it resolved as soon as possible. If something happens in the city, we still have people who will respond. But, at the same point, you have the morale to deal with in the department.”
Geoff Dutton of the ODPS communications office said the state’s investigation is not complete. Because of that, Mavis said the city cannot move forward.
“Whether or not we have to wait until the next meeting or whether we can go in and say, ‘Hey, we’ve got an issue here locally and we’d like to resolve it as soon as possible and we need to hear what you’re investigation has confirmed.’
“I think we all, including the chief, want to get this resolved as soon as possible. The other thing we want to do is, if this investigation turns out to be something in the normal course of questioning in an audit and there’s nothing real serious, we’re not trying to ruin someone’s reputation either. Because questions were raised, I think we’ve handled it correctly so far and we want to continue along that line.”