Fired New Lebanon staff speak out, file suit; police chief calls votes malicious

Details of allegations only listed for contracted law director, not police chief, service superintendent or CFO; ousted village manager takes legal action

Three village of New Lebanon employees plus the contracted village law director, all of whom had been placed on administrative leave in February pending an internal investigation, were fired last week, just days after former Village Manager Glena Madden was officially ousted by council.

As village manager, Madden had reported directly to village council. The other employees had reported to Madden.

Interim Village Manager Rob Anderson on March 22 issued identical letters of separation to Chief Financial Officer Phillip Hinson, Police Chief Curtis Hensley and Service Superintendent Scott Brock, notifying the three that their employment with the village was terminated effective at 5 p.m. that same day.

“This decision has been made following recent events at the village of New Lebanon, leading us to believe that it is in the best interest of both the village of New Lebanon and the citizenry at large that we serve to end our employment relationship,” the letters read.

Each letter states the decision to terminate was made “for cause,” but fails to cite specific contributing factors.

Special counsel Mike McNamee, who is leading the village’s internal investigation, declined to comment on the specifics regarding the termination of these employees, but said more information will be released in the future.

“The reasons for the for-cause determinations will be fully disclosed once special counsel’s investigation, and the state auditor’s investigation, is completed,” McNamee said.

Fired village staff speak out

In a statement emailed to this news organization Thursday, Hensley described his firing as “malicious.”

“I am deeply distressed and saddened by the improper and unlawful termination of my employment, especially since this action is unsupported by proper cause, which undeniably violates my employment contract,” he wrote. “This current village council’s imprudent actions, save for the three dissenting members, have and will continue to be proven detrimental to the village of New Lebanon, where I’ve honorably served as chief of police for over two years now with no disciplinary action or personnel complaints.”

Hensley added that he plans to fight his termination in court.

“I am certain that their actions will not withstand legal scrutiny,” he wrote.

Brock also spoke out publicly Friday for the first time since being placed on administrative leave in February.

“Having served as an employee of the New Lebanon Service Department for over 22 years, including 17 years as superintendent with consistently positive reviews, I am deeply troubled by the recent unlawful and unfair actions taken by the newly elected council members and mayor,” Brock said in a written statement to the newspaper.

Brock said he was notified of his firing via mail.

“It is shocking to receive a termination letter in the mail without any prior communication or explanation,” he said.

Brock added that he has filed an appeal with the village to fight his termination.

“However, I have a concern of the impartiality of the board,” he said.

Hinson could not be reached for comment at his residence Thursday afternoon.

Limited details about firings

Mayor David Nickerson issued a letter March 19 to the fourth worker, Law Director Ron Keener, notifying him that his services were no longer needed. Keener was recruited to work on a contracted basis and was not an officially designated employee of the village.

Keener’s separation letter includes a bit more detail, specifically referencing the ongoing investigation into the village’s administration, financial and legal departments. This inquiry was launched in February via a council-approved resolution introduced by Nickerson.

In the letter to Keener, Nickerson cites “legal and ethical standards” allegedly violated by former Village Manager Glena Madden, who was fired by council last Tuesday, asserting that Keener failed to bring violations to light.

“... (T)here was a failure to administer the duties expected of the law director effectively,” the letter reads. “The lack of appropriate legal advice and the failure to inform the village of potential misconduct, consistent failure to comply with the village’s charter, and the laws of Ohio has led us to a juncture where we must take decisive action to safeguard the interests of our community.”

At his New Lebanon law office Thursday afternoon, Keener declined to comment on the issue.



Political infighting

The votes to put all five people on administrative leave, and the vote to fire Madden, were 4-3 votes by village council, with Nickerson, Vice Mayor Nicole Adkins and councilmembers Melissa Sexton and Timothy Back voting in favor. Three of the four (all but Adkins) were elected in November. Councilmembers Tammy Loch, Gale Joy, and Lyndon Perkins voted against the measure.

Christopher Sands, who ran unsuccessfully for village council last fall as a write-in candidate, said back in October that Back, Sexton and Nickerson had “a hidden agenda” and intended to fire the village manager and others.

Joy has argued that under the village’s charter and ordinances, Nickerson doesn’t have the authority to take the steps he has.

Madden fights back in court

Madden has also called her firing “illegal,” further categorizing the investigation as “a witch hunt” by “the mayor and his friends.”

On Monday, she filed a writ of quo warranto with the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas against both Anderson and the municipality of New Lebanon. In the suit, Madden calls for her reinstatement to the position of village manager and the ousting of Anderson.

The filing asserts Madden’s termination was improper and in violation of her contract, which was previously approved by council in October. This contract, court documents outline, states that Madden could be only be terminated by a council vote of at least 5-2 rather than by the simple majority of 4-3.

As such, the filing contends Anderson was “unfairly and improperly placed” as the interim village manager role, and that his assumption of the role violates the village charter.

Nickerson has staunchly defended his actions and those of the council majority, recently remarking that the preliminary findings of the internal investigation were “more than what I expected,” and adding that, “It just (solidifies) my drive to continue to do what needs to be done as a mayor to take care of my community.”

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