July 23, 2016

Mostly sunny

Judge rules Andrew Wurstner still is Lodi fire chief

MEDINA — A judge has ruled Andrew Wurstner was never properly terminated from his position as Lodi’s fire chief and thus is legally still the chief.

Common Pleas Judge Christopher J. Collier issued his ruling Tuesday and said Wurstner will be chief unless Village Council takes the proper measures to remove him.

On Feb. 14, Council voted to fire Wurstner for insubordination after he reportedly went on runs with the Fire Department after being ordered not to by Mayor Dan Goodrow because he was on medical leave for a work-related injury.

According to court documents, Council told him his position was probationary, as dictated by the mayor, and therefore they did not have to hold a hearing before terminating him.

Collier’s decision states the Ohio Revised Code does not have provisions for a probationary fire chief, and thus the village had to hold a hearing before terminating Wurstner.

Wurstner and his attorney, Steve Bailey, filed a request for injunctive relief from a Monday hearing, which was set to determine whether Wurstner would be removed from the department altogether.

Bailey argued at a hearing before Collier last week that Council would be unable to give Wurstner a fair hearing because members already voted once to remove him.

In his injunction complaint, Wurstner said he was not on medical leave at the time, and there is no process for medical leave for his position.

In his decision, Collier said the injunction was unnecessary because Wurstner had not yet been removed as fire chief, and the village would have to do that before deciding whether to remove him as a firefighter.

Bailey said he was happy with the judge’s ruling.

“I will be instructing (Wurstner) to report back to work, because he’s the fire chief again,” Bailey said Wednesday.

He said he is anticipating the village will move forward to remove Wurstner properly. If that happens, he said he again will file for an injunction in order to ensure his client’s right to due process. If the decision is up to Council again, he said it would not be fair to Wurstner to have to face a panel of people who already voted against him once.

Goodrow said he believes the village is moving forward with Monday’s hearing.

A request for comment from Lodi Law Director Irving B. Sugarman was not returned Wednesday. Councilman John Carpenter said he was unable to comment Wednesday night.

Contact Jennifer Pignolet at (330) 721-4063 or jpignolet@medina-gazette.com.