Allegations against the Janesville fire chief brought by a former employee could be resolved in hearings scheduled for February.
The hearings could have some elements of a courtroom trial: Witnesses could be called and their testimonies would be heard to help the Janesville Police and Fire Commission and its retained attorney, Paul Schwarzenbart, take action on three charges of misconduct in public office against Fire Chief Randy Banker.
Former Janesville fire inspector Donald “Jeff” Bowen filed complaints stating Banker and Lt. Paul VerHalen wrongly removed him from his volunteer position as a citizen volunteer for Janesville Fire Department Explorer Post 555. Complaints also allege Banker, VerHalen and Fire Marshal Sue North lied about Bowen to Janesville police.
The commission, Bowen, the three defendants and attorneys for each met Tuesday night to schedule meetings to address the complaints.
Banker’s public hearings are set for Feb. 15, 22, 27 and March 1. Each one would start at 4:30 p.m. and last no more than four hours. Meetings would be relocated from the Janesville Police Department, where commission meetings normally are held, due to size constraints.
Hearings for VerHalen and North are tentatively scheduled for March 8. Depending on the outcome of Banker’s case, VerHalen and North’s cases could be dismissed, Schwarzenbart said.
Bowen’s attorney, Victor Plantinga, wanted the hearings together because the charges against the three overlap. Attorneys for Banker, VerHalen and North objected, so the hearings will be separate.
Plantinga said Bowen wants to amend his charges but not bring new ones. They have until Dec. 22 to do so.
Banker’s attorney objected, saying he has structured Banker’s defense on Bowen’s existing complaints.
Schwarzenbart said allowing attorneys to amend the complaints could make them clearer. If anyone takes issue with potential new allegations in the amended complaints, they can be addressed later, he said.
It’s possible the case could be resolved through written submissions before the hearing, Schwarzenbart said.
Bowen was a Janesville Fire Department employee from April 2015 to April 2017. After he quit, he continued to volunteer for the department’s explorer post.
According to Bowen’s complaints, Banker ordered VerHalen to remove Bowen from the post in August because Banker didn’t like what Bowen had said in his exit interview with City Manager Mark Freitag.
Later in August, VerHalen called Bowen and said he had been removed from the post for a different reason relating to complaints the department had received that Bowen and the post had damaged a dunk tank at National Night Out, according to the complaints.
On Aug. 30, Banker requested police conduct a welfare check on Bowen because he continued to seek a position on the post despite being told not to, according to a police report.
According to the complaints, Banker, VerHalen and North lied to police about his mental state and work record. Police quickly determined Bowen was not a threat to himself or anyone else.