October 31, 2014

Medina
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42°F

Judge: ‘Confidential’ probe of fire chief is matter of public record

MEDINA — A visiting judge has sided with Litchfield Township trustees in a lawsuit filed against them by a former fire chief.

Joyce Teodecki said in her July 2012 lawsuit that she resigned as township fire chief a year earlier after reaching an agreement with trustees Nancy Wargo, Michael Pope and Dennis Horvath to keep confidential the results of an investigation into her job performance.

But visiting Judge Richard Markus ruled April 22 that there was no evidence of a confidentiality agreement, so Teodecki’s complaints had no merit.

And even if there was an agreement, Markus wrote, it wouldn’t be valid because the investigation is public record — and therefore cannot be confidential.

“The investigator’s report was clearly a public record,” he said, “prepared at a public agency’s request by its agent to report activities by another public agent, and retained by a public agency.”

Markus said Teodecki’s resignation included a written-in note by the Medina County Prosecutor’s Office that the results of the investigation would be kept private. Markus said there’s no evidence that language was part of an agreement.

“There is no evidence that the plaintiff or her lawyer conditioned the resignation agreement on any confidentiality agreement,” Markus wrote, “that the board formally approved that added language, or that the board had authority to bind the county prosecutor or his investigator to any restrictions on their use of that report.”

Teodecki was accused but not charged of malfeasance, misfeasance, nonfeasance and misconduct in office, creating a hostile work environment and gross neglect of duty.

Among the misconduct alleged by trustees was that Teodecki failed to complete grant applications on deadline, allowed her son-in-law to use a room of the Fire Department as a “show room” to “further his personal business,” failed to meet emergency management requirements and failed to train employees in the use of particular equipment.

The allegations came forth at a trustee’s meeting in November 2011, after Teodecki ran a newspaper ad criticizing the trustees near election day after her resignation. The ad stated no misconduct was discovered during the trustees’ investigation and that she was forced out of her position.

Trustees responded by voting 3-0 at a township meeting to make the investigation results public, and Wargo broadcasted the accusations at the meeting.

Eight months later, Teodecki sued in Medina County Common Pleas Court, claiming the trustees had breached a contract, defamed her and intentionally inflicted her with emotional distress. She asked a judge to grant an injunction to stop further release of the investigation and to award her with damages and attorney’s fees.

Teodecki also filed a federal lawsuit in the Northern District of Ohio in December 2011, but Judge Patricia Gaughan dismissed the case in April 2012 because the federal court had no jurisdiction.

Contact reporter Nick Glunt at (330) 721-4048 or nglunt@medina-gazette.com. Follow him on Twitter @ngfalcon.