I-Team: Former Sharonville fire chief forced out amid prostitution scandal remains city employee

Posted at 3:04 PM, Sep 26, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-26 19:33:09-04

SHARONVILLE, Ohio -- Forced out amid a prostitution scandal, Sharonville's former fire chief isn't really gone yet.

The WCPO I-Team found Ralph Hammonds remains a city employee and continues to accrue time toward his pension -- even though he resigned his position as leader of the Sharonville Fire Department in a deal signed Sept. 13.

According to a Reading Police Department report, officers investigating prostitution complaints on Ohio Circle saw Hammonds' pickup truck at the scene in late June.

During an interview with police in mid-July, Hammonds admitted he paid $60 to a woman for sex after contacting her on a classified ads website, according to the report.

Police told Hammonds to have no more contact with the woman or he would be charged, according to the police report.

Sharonville Mayor Kevin Hardman said in mid-August that Hammonds was on leave before announcing the agreement Sept. 13. Hardman told the I-Team the city spent about $6,400 on private investigators to look into Hammonds' behavior.

"When I first learned of the allegations, my first inclination was termination, plain and simple," Hardman said.

Hardman said private investigators told him there was risk to firing Hammonds. He said there was a possibility Hammonds would sue to get his job back because of how he handled the accusation. Police also never charged Hammonds with any crimes and he had a clear disciplinary record after 26 years as a city employee.

"It's not the act itself, it's the cover-up. And he didn't do that. He didn't try to cover up what he did," Hardman said.

The specifics of the situation led to a deal allowing Hammonds to continue working as a consultant to the city, earning minimum wage -- $8.10 an hour -- for 30 months. He's not a consultant in the traditional sense of an outside contractor; instead, he's a city employee with the title of fire consultant.

"We actually have a fire consultant job that has been on our table of organization that has been there -- I don't even know where it came from or how it got there," Hardman said.

This 2015 ordinance lists the Fire Department Consultant as a city position:

The city is funding Hammonds' salary through unused sick time he earned during his 26 years with the Sharonville Fire Department. He'll pay taxes and his pension contribution, but Hardman said the deal doesn't include any other benefits.

The I-Team also found Hammonds will receive a lump-sum payment of about $5,000 for his unused vacation time.

Under the terms of the agreement, Hammonds cannot speak publicly about the deal. His attorney said in a statement that Hammonds looks forward to serving in his new role.

"(Hammonds) is honored to have served Sharonville’s citizens for many years and deeply regrets any negative impact his actions may have had on the city and its employees," attorney Elizabeth Tuck Loring said. 

For Hardman, the agreement was the best option to keep Hammonds from possibly returning to his job as fire chief.

"I know that would have done a lot more harm to the city than good," he said.

Read the terms of Hammonds' agreement below: