Ohio Ethics Commission Investigating Chief for Teaching at College

Today’s burning question: I’m a fire chief and I teach at the local community college. Some of my firefighters attend classes at the college and the fire department reimburses them. Is there anything unethical about that arrangement?

Answer: I honestly do not think so – but apparently some folks in Ohio believe it is, and as a result a fire chief is facing an ethics investigation.

Daryl Meyers is the chief of the Xenia Township Fire Department, and an adjunct professor in Sinclair Community College’s Fire Sciences Department. He is under investigation by the Ohio Ethics Commission, although the specifics of the allegations are somewhat unclear.

What is crystal clear is that Chief Meyers lacks support from at least one of his trustees. Trustee Jim Reed reportedly told reporters that many people are questioning Chief Meyers’ relationship with the college. Reed alleges that by teaching at the college, combined with “sending” firefighters to the college, Chief Meyers is really looking out for his own “job security”.

Here is a news story about the case.

If I am wrong – and this situation does somehow prove to be an ethics violation – and that decision is based on provisions in the Ohio ethics law that are similar to provisions in most other states – then there are going to be an awful lot of upset fire chiefs. And before the non-fire chiefs reading this start snickering, why would the ethics commission stop at citing the fire chief? Why would it be an ethics violation for the fire chief to teach but not, say a battalion chief, or even a lieutenant, if one of their subordinates is “sent” to the class. [Note: that also leads to a question about what is “sent”? If a firefighter’s officer strongly recommends that a firefighter take a class – is that enough?]

And why stop at college programs? What if a fire chief is an instructor at the state fire academy and he requires his firefighters to attend classes at the state fire academy?

On the other hand, if the chief (or any officer) requires (as opposed to allows) a subordinate to attend a specific program taught by the officer and the officer received compensation for that student’s attendance, then the case for an ethics violation would be a bit stronger. But if the officer was going to teach a college level fire science class anyway (whether his firefighters attend or not), and firefighters are free to attend any college with a fire science program, I am struggling to see an ethics violation.

Here is a copy of the Ohio Ethics law. I am open for any ideas anyone has. Chip – its your state – any thoughts?

Ohio Ethics Code

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
  • Mike Newbury

    Wow, must be political…or personal, or heck who knows…

  • Chip Comstock

    Curt-Thanks for the invite. I have been involved in a number of ethics issue cases (as a lawyer, thank you), and in this instance they tend to be very fact intensive. From what we know, I don’t think I could call it one way or another. However, I think from a practical standpoint, any employee of any level needs to check if he/she or his/her company does business with his/her political subdivision to make sure there is not a problem with having “an interest in a public contract.” Sometimes there appears to be an interest, and there is not; sometimes there can be an interest, but a course of prior dealing may excuse the interest or conflict. From the employers perspective, the political subdivision should have a Code of Ethics that apply to all employees, not just the fire department officers or members.

  • I am in agreeable with Chip’s analogy on this issue. After reviewing the Ohio Law with respect to Code of Ethics , it doesn’t address one way or another. However, it also doesn’t necessary address with respect to “Conflict of Interest” where a public official teaches at a local college and his/hers subordinates are compensated by the department for attending the classes. One could argue, is this truly a conflict of interest? Maybe, but where does it state in the language of the Ohio Law it is/or not?

    • Mike – the issue is not a firefighter being compensated for attending classes, but the department paying the tuition for the student attending.

      I just do not see the conflict unless the chief is ordering the firefighters to attend a specific class that only he teaches. If attendance is optional and the department has merely agreed to pay, or if going to college is required but students have the option of attending the school of their choice – I do not see a conflict.

      I will say this: if there is a conflict then it applies not only to fire chiefs but to all officers, and it applies not just to college courses but anywhere that the officer is compensated for teaching. That would include the state fire academy… As one person who emailed me on this case pointed out – if this is a conflict just who is going to teach at these schools? Will colleges and fire academies be limited to retired firefighters only?

  • Steve Scovil

    I think someone is looking to get the Chief fired for some reason, like they have someone in mind to hire?

    Chief Meyers is a good man and one hell of a firefighter. I’ve fought fire with him, been in his classes and responded to HAZ-MAT incidents with him. I think someone out in Greene Co. is pissed that one of the chief’s firefighters went to Sinclair for schooling instead of Greene Co. JVS.

    Get over it butthead.

    • Thanks Steve

      Very often when accusations like this are leveled there is a “snake in the grass” with a personal agenda.


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