PORT CLINTON – Last week,’s firing of Safety-Service Director Olen Martin may not have been the first time Port Clinton Mayor Hugh Wheeler went after the job of someone with whom he had a dispute, according to a former city employee.
One current and one former city employee who are seeking a civil stalking protection order against Wheeler allege the mayor came after their jobs as well, based on testimony they gave under oath in Ottawa County Common Pleas Court last week.
Rochelle Stively, who previously worked as tax commissioner for the city of Port Clinton, was fired by Wheeler on the mayor’s first day in office in January 2016.
In her testimony, Stively testified that prior to Wheeler being elected mayor, he had been delinquent on his city taxes. Wheeler had been put on a payment plan for the amount of unpaid taxes. However, in 2015, after Wheeler missed two payments in a row, according to Stively, a complaint was automatically filed in Ottawa County Municipal Court.
Stively testified that filing was based on a computer-generated list of those who miss two payments in a row.
Based on her prior experience with the Wheelers regarding delinquent city taxes, Stively said she requested to meet with the then Mayor-elect Wheeler to discuss her job status in the new administration.
“I was kind of worried about my position,” Stively said in her testimony.
Her requests to meet with Wheeler were denied, she said.
‘My job was safe’
Stively said she eventually saw Wheeler at city hall a few weeks before he was set to take office and asked him then to talk.
Stively testified that Wheeler assured her that he would not be letting her go and that he had heard her job performance was good.
“I left there being told that my job was safe,” she said.
Then on Jan. 1, 2016, Wheeler called Stively and told her to come to city hall to collect her belongings because she was being terminated, according to her testimony last week.
Stively said she asked why she was being fired.
“He said, ‘You have embarrassed me and I will never forgive you,’” Stively testified. “And he said, ‘Come to city hall, we’ll talk then,’ and he hung up.”
But when Stively got to city hall after the phone call, Wheeler was not there, she said.
Now, Stively said alleged violent threats made by the mayor in January have made her fear for her safety and even her life.
“Given my past experience with Mr. Wheeler, I know how he can be and how he can flip on a switch. He’s hot-headed,” Stively testified.
Five separate threats of violence in less than a week were alleged to have been made by Wheeler toward Stively and her boyfriend, Robert Garcia, an equipment operator for the city.
“He doesn’t seem to be letting up,” Stively said. “He’s continually just going and going on these issues and it’s scary.”
Within days after the first alleged threats made early on New Year’s Day, former Port Clinton Safety-Service Director Olen Martin received an email from Wheeler alleging that there was gambling taking place at the city garage and claimed at the end of the email such action was a “terminable” offense, according to Martin’s testimony.
Further, it alleged that Garcia was using a city truck to facilitate gambling.
Martin testified that an investigation of the gambling allegations found no illegal activity. However, Garcia was given a written reprimand, for which he filed a grievance.
On his first day back to work after New Year’s Day, Garcia said he was told that he was not to be driving any city vehicles and that it was the mayor who ordered it.
According to Garcia, Tracy Colston, Garcia’s boss, was told by Wheeler that he wanted Garcia to do “physical labor” instead of what he would normally be doing.
Garcia said Colston told him that if Wheeler shows up at his job site and takes a swing at him to walk away. Garcia said he filed a grievance against Wheeler regarding that incident as well.
That was not the first time Wheeler tried to have Garcia fired, according to testimony from former street foreman Scott Haberman.
Haberman testified last week that a couple of years prior he had gotten into a “heated argument” with Wheeler regarding Garcia’s employment due to allegations that a city vehicle was driven on a flat tire.
“(Wheeler) wanted (Garcia) fired first thing. He wanted him then,” Haberman testified.
However, Haberman said when he looked into the allegations, he determined that the flat tire was reported as soon as it had been realized. As a result, Garcia was not fired over that incident.More: Port Clinton mayor accused of threatening violence against city employee
Safety-service director fired
Last week, Wheeler fired Martin less than 48 hours after Martin testified in court and corroborated allegations that Wheeler had threatened to kill Garcia.
Martin declined to comment when asked about the matter by the News Herald this week.
Wheeler also declined to comment regarding the firing.
On Tuesday, Port Clinton City Council went into a closed-door executive session to discuss an investigation into a public official. No members of city council commented on that matter.
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