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.

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