BUCKEYE LAKE – Public Safety Committee Chair Bob Masone MD called his first committee meeting for 2018 and in recent memory for 6 p.m. Monday night before the regular village council meeting at 7 p.m.
Masone and fellow committee member Arletta Ruton have become the Buckeye Lake version of the “Never Trumpers” since Mayor Peggy A. Wells took office January 1. Like the Never Trumpers, who work tirelessly to obstruct every Trump initiative, Masone and Ruton have tried to derail most of Wells’ efforts to fulfill her campaign promise to “make Buckeye Lake better.”
Masone scheduled the committee meeting during the June 12 council meeting after former Police Officer Jeff Haas revealed that he had secretly tape-recorded his last conversation with Wells and Human Resources Director/ Fiscal Officer Rochelle Menningen. Haas claimed he had been told he could return to work if he spoke with a psychologist only to receive Wells’ letter four days letter demanding he resign or be terminated. Wells didn’t accept his interpretation of the conversation and added that another incident had occurred since the conversation. She offered to discuss the issues in an executive or closed session with council members, but declined to discuss the issues in a public meeting.
Masone called the committee meeting to hear Haas’ tape. The meeting turned out to be more of an opportunity for former police chief Jimmy Hanzey to complain that he has been treated unfairly than a detailed review of Haas’ secret tape recording.
Masone and Ruton were the only council members to clear Hanzey of all 22 administrative charges filed against him by Wells. Her charges were based on an internal investigation by the Pataskala Division of Police. A super majority (five) of council members agreed that Hanzey was insubordinate, acted inefficiently in the fulfillment of his duties as chief and neglected his duties as chief. He was terminated May 8. A simple majority (four) agreed with two other charges.
Masone has consistently called Hanzey a “hero” for entering a darkened Leisure Village trailer while on medical leave with a borrowed weapon in his non-dominant hand to “save” a reported person bleeding to death. Hanzey accidentally fired his weapon shortly after entering the trailer. No one was in trailer and it turned out the complainant has had some bouts of dementia.
After council member Doug Poorman commented that Hanzey’s action could have endangered the public, Masone attempted to equate it to an incident where Wells refused to allow Hanzey, while on medical leave, to respond to a burglary in progress call. After Hanzey told her that it might take a while for a sheriff’s office deputy to reach the scene, Wells drove by the home and took a photo of someone loading a truck from a garage. She did not stop. It later turned out that the “burglar” was the homeowner.
Hanzey said Wells endangered herself and should be fired. Apparently, Poorman’s facial expression triggered Hanzey’s outburst. He charged toward Poorman, loudly screaming profanities. He was restrained just before reaching Poorman by Haas and former police officer Jeff Vermaaten. Hanzey continued to curse as he was led out the door. Hanzey returned a few minutes later.
A village employee called the sheriff’s office and two deputies responded. The committee meeting ended with an unanimous recommendation that Wells reconsider Vermaaten’s termination (for refusing to take a voice stress test as part of the Pataskala investigation) and Haas’ forced resignation.
After the deputies agreed to standby for the council meeting and Haas, Hanzey and Vermaaten were checked for weapons, all three were allowed to stay for the council meeting.
During committee reports, Masone said Public Safety recommended that Wells reconsider and rehire these two officers. He added “and Jimmy.” Masone acknowledged that Haas and Vermaaten were “at will” employees and could be legally terminated by the mayor..
Masone focused on “paperwork errors” and said there were reasons they were made and claimed they have now been remedied.
The motion to ask Wells to reconsider was approved by a 4-3 vote with Ruton, Masone, Poorman and Tom Wolfe voting “yes.” When the results were announced, Wells calmly said, “I have reconsidered and the answer is ‘no.’ I have nothing more to say about it.”