Thursday, August 31, 2000

Fire chief case kept hush-hush

Nature of case cloaked as Mason avoids public record

By Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MASON — An investigative report into possible misconduct by Mason Fire Chief Billy Goldfeder was returned to a private investigator because the city “didn't want to create a paper trail.”

        “We specifically attempted to not create a paper trail,” said Paul Berninger, an attorney for Wood & Lamping, of Cincinnati.

        He said that was done in an attempt to protect the identities of people who were questioned in the investigation. He said the agency, which he would not identity, guaranteed anonymity to those involved.

        The Enquirer requested a copy of the summary Wednesday under Ohio's Public Records Act. City officials have declined to discuss the nature of the allegations against Chief Goldfeder.

        Mr. Berninger's statements came a day after Chief Goldfeder, 45, resigned unexpectedly. His resignation, effective Oct. 1, came amid an investigation that took place after “several employees expressed some concern about certain types of conduct within the fire department,” City Manager Scot Lahrmer said.

        The chief denied his resignation had anything to do with the inquiry. He stated he had grown tired of his role in Mason and wanted to explore new opportunities.

        Mr. Lahrmer confirmed that the city instructed its attorneys, Wood & Lamping, to contract with a private investigator to explore the allegations. The agency began its investigation in June. Several employees of the Mason Fire Department, Mason Police Department and Deerfield Township Fire and Rescue were questioned during the inquiry.

        Mr. Berninger said the investigative agency ended the inquiry once Chief Goldfeder submitted his resignation. He added that the summary, which included no findings, did not refer to any criminal activities by Chief Goldfeder.

        Mr. Berninger said the summary was returned to the investigative firm and no copies were made so there would be no public records available with the names of the people who participated.

        “Our purpose was not to create a public record if we could,” he said.

        But according to the state attorney general's office, under the public records act, “a public office cannot avoid its responsibility for public records by transferring custody or even the record-making function to a private entity.”

        The resulting records are public if they meet three conditions: the private entity prepared the records to perform responsibilities normally belonging to the public office; the public office is able to monitor the private entity's performance; and the public office may access the records itself.


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