The Pic-A-Fay Joint Fire District Board met Thursday evening for an emergency personnel meeting to discuss what action to take in light of the charges brought against its fire chief.
Michael J. Murphy, 56, the former New Holland village administrator, was booked Wednesday after turning himself in on a summons on two counts of having an unlawful interest in a public contract. At Thursday’s meeting, Murphy was placed on a leave of absence as fire chief.
Back in 2012, the village of New Holland was in need of maintenance of trucks and other repairs. According to reports from the PCSO, Murphy, then as village administrator, allegedly paid his own company, Agri-Motive in New Holland, to take care of the projects. On top of his salary as administrator, Murphy allegedly paid these funds to his private company for various jobs, including work on village vehicles and for work on water plant machinery. Murphy resigned as village administrator on March 10, 2014.
The special fire board meeting, which lasted about 30 minutes at the New Holland firehouse, was missing a member of the board, the Marion Township representative to the fire district, Chris Cottrill, who was on vacation. The other two members, current president of the board and Perry Township representative Jim Peck and the Village of New Holland representative Dwayne Monical III, met with a crowd of concerned residents and volunteers. During the evening, the members of the fire board discussed what action to take concerning Murphy’s legal issues.
“Per the Ohio Revised Code, we need to place (Murphy) on a leave of absence,” Peck said. “On that note, I have contacted the Pickaway County Prosecutor and she highly recommends that he be put on a paid leave of absence. The reason is because if he is found not guilty we are going to have to pay him back for the time he was on leave. It is better to cover it that way now in my opinion.”
A few residents attending voiced immediate concerns about whether to pay him on the leave of absence or not. Monical was quick to support the opinion of several residents, who asserted that Murphy should be placed on an unpaid leave of absence. He said that he would be perfectly fine with paying him and reinstating him if he is found not guilty on the charges, but because of the seriousness of the crime, he did not want to pay him in the meantime.
“That being said, with that leave of absence, until these charges are resolved one way or the other, he needs to be escorted in this building and the codes here need to be changed,” Monical said. “The state auditor needs to be contacted and we need to do an audit of this department. I am not saying any wrong doing was done here, but because of the allegations about what happened (in New Holland) we need to make sure it didn’t occur here.”
The discussion continued about whether or not to pay Murphy for his leave of absence. It was decided that he be placed on a leave of absence with two out of three votes in favor. The question of whether to place Murphy on paid or unpaid leave has been tabled and will be discussed once the third member of the board is back home. In the meantime, the board has placed Ron Ihrig in charge as the interim fire chief and he will help with tasks that Murphy was in charge of. The vote to place Ihrig into the position was passed with both attending fire board members in agreement.
“Out of the options, (Ihrig) probably has the most experience with the job and would be the better choice for the position,” Monical said.
Reach Martin Graham at (740) 313-0351 or on Twitter @MartiTheNewsGuy