Saturday, March 2nd, 2013
Celina police chief has history of reprimands
Slusser remains on administrative leave due to alleged misconduct
By William Kincaid
CELINA - Chief of police Dave Slusser, who remains on administrative leave due to allegations of misconduct, has been criticized for job performance multiple times by city administrators and has previously been suspended.
"The hardest thing for the public to grasp is they (civil servants) got this protection, they have this bubble, and it's under the Ohio Revised Code," mayor Jeff Hazel said. "And that bubble keeps you from going too far with it."
Slusser has been on paid administrative leave since Feb. 14 by order of safety service director Tom Hitchcock. City consultant Clemans Nelson & Associates and city law director George Moore are leading an internal investigation into unspecified allegations of misconduct. Hazel said the investigation may be concluded as soon as next week.
"At minimum there will be a suspension," Hazel told the newspaper Thursday. "I'm absolutely confident of that. At maximum, it could be termination."
But in all probability, Slusser, despite documented poor reviews and acts of insubordination over the years, will remain chief because of protection afforded by state law, Hazel said.
"It is difficult at best to ever separate one of those upper level civil service employees from employment," the mayor said.
Through the Ohio Civil Service Commission, Slusser can appeal termination or any suspension longer than three days.
The state board hears appeals about terminations, suspensions, fines and reductions in pay or position for disciplinary reasons. It can affirm, disaffirm or modify the decisions of the appointing authorities. Its decision also is appealable to the appropriate court of common pleas.
The current investigation will only take into account Slusser's most recent actions. Previous allegations of misconduct or dereliction of duty do not matter.
Hazel said the city will follow through with any disciplinary recommendation that Clemans Nelson makes regarding Slusser.
"If he's exonerated, he comes back and maybe we have to work with it differently," Hazel said, adding Slusser may have to be put in roles that better fit his attributes. "Now we can't take away the chief title. If he retains his job, he's still chief. We can't demote him."
Slusser joined the city police force in 1978 and was promoted from sergeant to police chief on June 3, 1991, after achieving the highest score on a civil service test, according to a memo in his personnel file.
Months before Slusser was promoted he was included in an internal affairs investigation into allegations of mishandled evidence.
His ascent to chief didn't sit well with 12 employees of the department at that time. In a signed letter to then mayor John Garman and council members, the employees expressed their displeasure and lack of confidence in Slusser.
Director of public services and safety Thomas Schwartz responded that the city was required to follow the Ohio Revised Code in selecting a chief and asked for the employees' cooperation.
Slusser's current salary is maxed out at $71,075 a year and annual evaluations - which were not conducted the last few years before the new administration took office - carry no financial consequences, according to the mayor.
Hazel said he never tried to get Slusser fired while serving as city safety service director from 2004 to 2009, he instead opted to try to make him a better chief.
"This is a horrid pattern ... every mayor that Dave's been under has kind of been under the same thing," Hazel said. "(Sharon) LaRue saw it too. And it isn't that you didn't want to try to do something with it."
Several memos in Slusser's file document Hazel reprimanding him for his lack of managerial responsibilities and timely filing of appropriate paperwork.
"The inconsistent management has proven detrimental to the department ... consistency in departmental management and documentation must start at the top," a memo dated Jan. 27, 2007, reads.
Hazel went on to add that police personnel have difficulty in locating and contacting Slusser.
"You leave the building without notification and rarely can anyone make contact once you are gone," he wrote.
On Jan. 8, 2008, Hazel imposed a five-day suspension on Slusser for failure to comply with directions and improper handling or accounting of public funds. But LaRue never signed off and the suspension was never served, Hazel said.
A two-day suspension imposed on Slusser by Hazel on Feb. 7, 2005, for "wanton or willful neglect in the performance of assigned duties" - related to the supervision and tracking of flex time of certain employees - did stick.
Hazel said Slusser is a good cop but a poor manager who doesn't follow through.
"He's got some really good skills," he said. "He's one of the best investigators in our police department. He's a bloodhound - he's got the nose for it ... he's a good cop but not everybody has administrative skills."
Slusser's file includes a letter from then state attorney Jim Petro congratulating him on being selected as a 2005 recipient of the Ohio Distinguished Law Enforcement Series Award.
But his file also is flush with criticism, rebukes and warnings, including the incident prior to his promotion.
"Sufficient evidence has been gathered to indicate that sergeant Slusser did mishandle evidence and retained both the 25 caliber pistol and three pop bottles in his personal possession," according to notes dated May 3, 1991, from Schwartz. "It should be further pointed out that the letter addressed to Judge Scheer requesting disposal of this pistol was misleading and perpetrated by Sergeant Slusser to cover his ass."
Schwartz also gave Slusser a verbal warning on Feb. 14, 1990, at the conclusion of another investigation into alleged unlawful entry of a filing cabinet at work, also known to those in the department at the time as the "Great Cookie Caper."
"The cavalier attitude of those involved is deplorable," Schwartz wrote. "The subject is not who crushed the cookies or the great cookie caper, as it was referred to by some, but is a much more serious matter of unlawful and unauthorized entry of a filing cabinet.
"There was no denial on your part that you had entered the cabinet in question, that the instance did occur and that you were aware that it was intrinsically wrong," Schwartz wrote.
Former Mayor Blair Williams wrote in a letter dated Feb. 19, 1986, his concerns about Slusser interfering with a sheriff's department investigation and furnishing police department information to an unauthorized person.
Many times throughout his career, Slusser's merit raise was denied or lowered due to performance.
As recent as March 18, 2011, Slusser was suspended for 10 days without pay by former city administrators Rick Bachelor and LaRue for failure of good behavior, dishonesty and neglect of duties related to not properly reviewing daily time records and compensation-time records of an employee.
However, a few days later, according to documents, LaRue backed off the suspension and decided to issue a verbal reprimand instead.
"I came to the decision that even though poor decisions were made and management practices were sloppy, there was no deliberate attempt to defraud the city nor to be dishonest, therefore, I replaced the 10-day suspension with a verbal reprimand," LaRue wrote, adding that she asked Slusser to improve his poor management practices and cooperate with the auditor's department.
A document summarizing a pre-disciplinary conference on June 21, 2010, states that Slusser allegedly violated administrative orders by calling an unscheduled meeting of police officers, sergeants and dispatchers on or about April 20 and revealed the city's plan to eliminate city dispatching services.
No outcome or ramifications from the alleged incident were listed in the summary, but the actions, according to the document, constituted misfeasance and/or failure of good behavior and violate the city's chain of command, therefore, constituting insubordination.
"The above actions also represent commission of similar offenses for which you have been previously warned, reprimanded and/or suspended," the document states.
An attempt by The Daily Standard to contact Slusser for this story were not successful. His recent notification of suspension included an order by Hitchcock to not discuss the current investigation with anyone.
Hazel said he certainly questions what will happen if Slusser remains the head of the police department if he is ultimately exonerated.
"I think it's a little clouded at this point," he said.