WABASH TOWNSHIPS, Ind. (WLFI) - Trust continues to deteriorate between the Wabash Township Trustee and the fire department.
After abruptly canceling her funding meeting Tuesday night, Trustee Jennifer Teising is saying she will be forced to take more drastic budget cuts if she doesn't get cooperation.
"I believe she has created a work environment that keeps people from wanting to be there," said former Fire Chief, Ed Ward.
As we previously reported, Ward was fired in December and was not given due process. This is one of several events adding to mistrust between the fire fighters, the board and Trustee Teising over the past year.
Trustee Teising had intended to share her funding plan to create a fire district as funding options for the department are dwindling. The township can only take out state fire loans for three consecutive years, which it has currently applied for two.
"I think she knows that the possibility of getting these things done, the windows are closing very quickly," said Ward.
Ed Ward said the problem is not the plan itself, it's how Trustee Teising is going about it. He said he believes she has done research into the different plans, but that he doesn't believe she has consulted others about what would be best.
"Research is also investigating and talking to people who have done it and what the process is, talking to an attorney," he said. "And even sitting down and talking with the people of your own department and say, let's talk about it, let's figure out what we want to do together."
He said that conversation never happened while he was fire chief. He said bridges with other departments that might work with Wabash to become a fire territory were burned, exhausting another potential funding option. There are feelings that she has not been transparent about the plan.
Now, she is tasking the volunteer firefighters with getting 6,000 signatures of support. Ward believes this is her way of putting all the responsibility for the future of the township on the firefighters' shoulders instead of hers, which he said is inappropriate.
"I think we are already asking too much of firefighters that are working their tails off, that we now hand them a clip board and say hey go door to door and try and get some signatures to do a job that's not yours to do," he said.
He also warned that township residents who have been paying attention to this saga should rightfully be skeptical about signing on to support such a plan. He also said getting the signatures is only the first step in forming a fire district. It still has to be approved by the county commissioners, along with other tedious logistical hoops.
As we previously reported, Tuesday night's meeting broke down and nothing was accomplished. Ward said this meeting was a big waste of people's time, especially those who took off work or made accommodations to be there.
In an email shared anonymously with News 18 sent Tuesday night, she wrote that the department members have until Friday to come to her to learn the plan, or else she will be forced to fire the three paid department employees for budget purposes. Two of whom haven't been employed for a full year yet.
"What kind of leadership is that?" asked a baffled Ward. "It doesn't work when you say you need 6,000 signatures and then you start threatening the jobs and the people that work there, telling them that they are going to do that job for you."
Members of the department continue to ask for transparency from Trustee Teising. In an email shared anonymously with News 18 sent on Wednesday, she said, "The future of WTVFD is up to you."
"This is the 50th year Wabash Township Fire Department has been in existence and this should be a banner year for us," said Ward. "Instead we're here trying to decide if this is still something we want to do."
News 18 reached out to Trustee Teising on Tuesday and have not heard back yet. In another anonymously shared email, she said she will be on vacation during the next Wabash Township Board meeting on March 16th, however she had already previously said that board meetings are a waste of township resources.
Board President Angel Valentin sent the following statement to News 18 about Tuesday's meeting:
"We continue to proudly stand by our firefighters and our department. We have nothing further to add about yesterday's events, the circumstances speak for themselves."
Tippecanoe County Commissioner Tom Murtaugh said the county has no authority over what happens in the Wabash Township. He said the only way an elected official can be removed from office is if a township resident files a lawsuit, and convinces a judge that the official is not following the law. President Valentin said he is unaware of any such lawsuit being filed at this point.