Alliance Police Officer Mark Welsh is one three Stark County police officers fired in the past decade and not reinstated by an arbitrator. Welsh later returned to the department that had fired him eight years earlier.
It was standing room only inside Alliance Police Department the day Officer Mark Welsh returned to the agency that had fired him eight years earlier.
Dressed in his black police uniform, Welsh stood before the mayor with his right hand raised and his left hand on the bible as he repeated the oath.
In the audience were patrolmen and supervisors he hadn’t seen in years. It was like a welcome home party.
“That was great,” said Welsh as he recalled the turnout at his November 2011 ceremony. “That was a super sign of support.”
The city fired Welsh on May 7, 2003, after he was accused of falsifying his time sheet and activity log. Welsh, then a five-year employee, had been working an extra four-hour shift patrolling Stark Metropolitan Housing Authority properties as part of Alliance’s drug elimination program grant. He had left about 90 minutes early due to illness. His time sheet, however, did not reflect the missed hours and his log showed activities that he wasn’t there to perform.
Welsh appealed the punishment to an arbitrator. During the hearing, he admitted the error and vowed not to do it again. He said he thought he could make up the missed time on a different day, similar to how another officer previously had done.
Arbitrator Virginia Wallace-Curry of Cleveland sided with the city and upheld Welsh’s firing. She said Welsh breached his oath to serve and protect by putting his own interests, such as taking money that was not earned, above the interests of the public.
“By his actions, (Welsh) has opened himself up to attacks on his credibility by defense counsel in any proceedings before the court,” Wallace-Curry wrote in her decision. “His usefulness to the city has been compromised. No rehabilitation can restore his reputation and make him impervious to credibility attacks.”
Welsh was stunned by the decision. The Louisville High School graduate, who had worked for several smaller police departments part time, a hospital and the Cleveland transit system, thought he had found his home when he came to Alliance in 1998.
“I made this job my life,” he said. “I was dismayed. It was, ‘Wham!’ and I was out the door.”
Welsh is one the few fired Stark County law enforcement officers not reinstated by an arbitrator. A Repository review of the past 10 years’ worth of arbitrator decisions found 10 of the 13 firings were later reversed.
Besides Welsh, the firings of Jackson Police officers Troy Ransom and Richard Leon were upheld. They could not be reached for comment.
In the rulings that reinstated the officers, multiple arbitrators said they believed that termination likely would be a death sentence for the officer’s career.
“Termination from one’s employment is a rather serious event,” wrote arbitrator Marvin J. Feldman in his 2005 decision to reinstate a Canton officer accused of not being truthful. “There must be good and sufficient proof so as to make the finder of fact believe that in fact there could be no other result.”
The Repository tried to locate not only the two Jackson officers whose firings were upheld by an arbitrator but also the 21 law enforcement officers who either never appealed their firings or whose appeal to a court or civil service commission were unsuccessful. The search revealed that at least 10 (42 percent) of the fired officers found a new job in law enforcement.
• Former Perry Police Chief Mark A. Machan, who was fired in 2004 for mismanagement, recently retired as police chief from the Millford Police Department and now serves as a consultant for the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police and is the interim public safety director at Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio.
• Former Alliance Police Officer Todd Aderholt, fired in 2010 for perjury and insubordination, now works as a corrections officer for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections.
• Michelle Bush, who was fired from the Alliance Police Department in 2007 after causing a high-speed crash, now works for the Sebring and Smith Township police departments.
ROAD BACK TO ALLIANCE
Welsh began working part-time for the Salineville Police Department even before Wallace-Curry had issued her ruling. He had worried that his commission could lapse by not being employed.
“It’s tough when you are fired from a job,” he said. “It’s like, ‘Oh, this guy must have done something real bad. He must be a real loser. ... In my case, I was fortunate that I worked with enough agencies outside of Alliance that my reputation was solid enough.”
Welsh left Salineville for the Sebring Police Department where he worked part-time while maintaining a full-time job at the Timken Co.
When he learned that Police Chief Lawrence Dordea had retired from the Alliance Police Department, he applied for the department’s job opening. He said he missed the type of police work he performed during the five years he worked for Alliance.
“The guys I worked with were just fantastic,” he said. “We did a lot of really good things together. The fact that the core of the department was still intact was a big consideration.”
Welsh aced the civil service test, scoring in the Top 10.
Police Chief Scott Griffith was eager to bring Welsh back. Griffith had been a sergeant for Alliance when Welsh lost his job. He blames the SMHA grant program supervisor, who no longer works for the department, for the problems in the program.
“I was here then and worked very closely with Mark and thought very highly of him as a police officer,” Griffith said. “I understood what the transgression was. I understood why the chief of police made the decision that he made. I also felt that the situation had been dealt with, rectified and would not be repeated.”
Griffith, who became chief in 2008, recalls that then-Safety-Service Director John Blaser had been understandably skeptical about bringing Welsh back.
“It’s kind of unusual that you do something like that in any profession, but certainly in a police department, it’s even more unusual,” the chief said.
It’s not the only time that Griffith has taken a chance on an officer who had a troubled past with another police agency.
“If you just take (the firing) at face value, you may be shortchanging your own agency,” Griffith said. “There are certain problems that may be germane to the agency they worked for before, but it may be irrelevant or close to irrelevant when it comes to your department.”
In December 2011, Alliance hired Christopher McCord as a part-time patrolman. McCord had been fired by the Jackson Police Department in January 2011 for violating the township’s discipline and corrective action policies. But before his appeal reached arbitration, McCord struck a deal with the Jackson trustees that allowed him to resign, effective Dec. 12, 2011. In exchange, the township paid him $15,000.
“We are incredibly happy that we took a chance with him,” Griffith said. “ ... Month after month, McCord is among the leaders in the patrol division in investigations and arrests and successful case investigations.”
Griffith said McCord was forthcoming about his troubles in Jackson during his interview.
“You don’t want to second-guess the decisions Jackson Township’s police administration made in dealing with McCord. I understand their situation. I just feel that our police department and our city is quite a bit different than theirs and there’s quite a bit of difference in the nature of the police work that we do. The problems that he had at Jackson Township were not very likely to be repeated in Alliance.”
Griffith said he would happily hire McCord as a full-time officer should the officer score well enough on the civil service test to be in consideration.
Reach Kelli at 330-580-8339 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter: @kyoungREP