WAPAKONETA — When Tom Stinebaugh takes over as mayor of Wapakoneta on Jan. 1, one big issue of city business he will not be dealing with is the pending lawsuit he has against the city over his termination as a firefighter.
Stinebaugh filed a lawsuit in January 2014 against the city of Wapakoneta, Safety Services Director William Rains, and fire Chief Kendall Krites in federal court alleging retaliation over exercising his First Amendment right to free speech. He was fired in 2012, which he said followed statements he made to three members of City Council about the desire by the fire chief to purchase a new engine truck.
Stinebaugh said he is willing to settle for $200,000 in back pay, which is about $50,000 a year of his $80,000 annual salary, and if he is given credit for 25 years service so he receives a full pension, otherwise his nearly 20 years would only earn him half his pension.
At 56 years old, he said the time he could have been working cannot be made up.
“I went from an $80,000 a year job to being unemployed. I lost my health insurance. I lost everything,” he said.
The situation began in 2011 when Krites told Fire Department employees he planned to buy a new heavy rescue engine for $474,000. The city had what some considered relatively new trucks and Stinebaugh, a captain at the time on the Fire Department, felt it was not a good use of taxpayer money.
Stinebaugh, on his own time from home, called three members of the council to talk to them privately as a citizen, not in his official capacity with the Fire Department.
Rains and Krites were not happy someone from the Fire Department called three members of the council who questioned them on the possible purchase, which later the council approved and the truck purchased. Initially, when Stinebaugh was asked if he were the caller, he denied it. He later admitted he did make the calls.
In February 2012, he was placed on leave and Krites wanted to fire Stinebaugh. Rains demoted Stinebaugh to firefighter and reduced his pay.
In June 2012, Stinebaugh was on a call over a fallen tree limb when he left for a crash on Interstate 75. There was some dispute over whether he was authorized to go to the crash and he ultimately was written up and fired in August, according to court records.
Stinebaugh then filed the lawsuit.
Wapakoneta Law Director Dennis Faller could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
As mayor, Stinebaugh said he will not be able to participate in any settlement talks or action on his lawsuit nor will other city employees be able to consult with him on the matter.
He said he hopes the matter can be resolved but he is not willing to take less than back pay and his full pension.
Stinebaugh said Krites is retiring Dec. 31 and Rains retired Monday.
If the case does go to trial, something he would rather avoid, he said he could potentially win everything he is seeking in the settlement and his job back with the rank of captain. If that happens he would have to make a decision whether to go back to his job of $80,000 a year or continue on as mayor, a part-time position at the pay of $12,000 a year.
“I cannot be a captain and be mayor at the same time,” he said.
Reach Greg Sowinski at 567-242-0464 or on Twitter @Lima_Sowinski.