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Erving fire chief issue heats up

ERVING — The search for a new fire chief remains contentious and mysterious, after a selectmen’s meeting Monday characterized by unanswered questions but included the temporary re-appointment of the current fire chief and the expansion of a search committee.

The Board of Selectmen this year began the search for a fire chief with Almon “Bud” Meattey still serving in the position.

Discussion of the search was on the agenda for Monday’s selectmen’s meeting, at the request of Meattey’s supporters, and approximately 40 people turned out.

Attendance was sufficient to move the discussion downstairs to the larger Town Hall meeting room, where the meeting was sometimes heated, with some in the audience calling for Selectman Margaret Sullivan to resign, or suggesting petitions to that effect. Others expressed confusion, with a confidential personnel issue repeatedly alluded to.

“When we deal with personnel matters as a selectboard we are bound by confidentiality, under state law, so things we may have discussed with anybody can’t be discussed in public unless that person chooses to do so,” said Chairman Andrew Goodwin.

The town’s lawyer, Donna MacNicol, sat with the board and participated in the discussion.

Resident Antonio Rubinaccio asked whether Meattey had done something wrong, or what he had done.

“There were decisions made in executive session we cannot discuss openly. I’m sorry, that’s the long and the short of it. I’m sorry. I know it’s not satisfactory,” MacNicol said.

All who spoke from the floor supported Meattey.

Resident Sharon Porlier praised Meattey’s experience and expertise as a firefighter, asking whether the call department’s firefighters would want someone else watching their backs at a fire.

“Granted, he’s not the smartest tack at paperwork, so hire him an assistant,” Porlier said.

Firefighter William Pease, who spearheaded a petition in support of Meattey, took issue with a statement Sullivan made to The Recorder.

Asked last month why the town was looking for a fire chief, Margaret Sullivan said, “With regards to a new fire chief, it just was the end of the appointment.”

“Why in January did you ask for his resignation, in January you asked for his resignation in this building, but you just put in the paper it’s just the end of an appointment?” Pease asked. “January 10th, you asked Bud for a resignation.”

“I’ve been told not to comment,” Sullivan replied.

Appointment of the fire chief is annual.

Following the meeting, Sullivan said she could not comment and probably shouldn’t even have said what she did last month but was caught at the end of a vacation. Sullivan also said she did not understand the question, which included reference to a “Support Bud Meattey” Facebook page she said she had not been aware of.

Meattey confirmed following the meeting he had been asked to resign and did not do so, but did not comment on the specifics.

“He’s getting railroaded. If he’s qualified to be chief, he should be chief, everybody should know,” Pease said. “If he’s not qualified then everybody should know he’s not qualified to be chief, but if there’s a bunch of trumped up charges that have come up, then people should know.”

Pease said he believes Sullivan has personal issues with Meattey, which Sullivan said she does not.

Pease later said he had heard Sullivan call Meattey a bully, and that he has never seen him bully anyone.

Sullivan said she couldn’t comment unless Meattey wanted to open his personnel file.

“I didn’t call him a bully; I asked if he’s a bully,” Sullivan added after speaking with MacNicol.

Asked why she couldn’t support a three-month appointment, Sullivan said Meattey knows why, a statement echoed by MacNicol when Meattey asked if the board had received any written, signed complaints about him.

“You know what’s in that file, Bud,” MacNicol said.

“That’s right, and it ain’t that bad Donna,” Meattey replied.

The confidential issue did not become clearer. Meattey said after the meeting he did not think now was the time to open the issue.

“What it comes down to is Bud is a fantastic operations person,” Sullivan said. “Nobody is denying that. He’s a fantastic operations man.”

Appointment of the fire chief is annual. Meattey’s appointment expired June 30, a point he raised in the meeting, asking who the current fire chief was.

Goodwin moved to appoint Meattey as chief for three months, a motion Sullivan did not second. The motion passed after Goodwin amended the period down to two months after Sulivan said she would support that number. With the third member of the board absent, all decisions required unanimity. A unanimous decision from Goodwin and Sullivan will also be required to appoint a new chief, as Selectman Eugene Klepadlo is prevented from voting or participating due to a conflict of interest.

Klepadlo is no longer a member of the Fire Department, but MacNicol said the state ethics commission has ruled he cannot vote on the topic because his son, a junior firefighter, has expressed the intention to work for the department.

Residents also questioned the composition of the selection committee, including Sullivan’s membership and that of a nonresident.

Sullivan said the committee contains all who applied to participate except two who had a conflict of interest.

Goodwin said the nonresident appointment was of a former fire chief, necessary to contribute firefighting expertise without using a current member of the department, who would have a conflict of interest.

Firefighter Shaina Kosloski said she has heard one of the applicants is the husband of an assistant to Sullivan, who holds jobs in town hall, including assessor and treasurer. Sullivan said she did not feel that is a conflict of interest.

In the end, the board appointed two volunteers from the attendees to participate on the selection committee.

Porlier and Winniphred Stone now join Sullivan, Joe Newton, William Bembury, Pete Sanders, Leonard Clark, Michael Hastings, Police Chief Christopher Blair.

Blair, who chairs the committee, said he has three applicants, all of them residents and two Erving firefighters, expects to begin interviews Monday, and will recommend two to the selectmen.

Meattey said he has applied for the position, which he has held since 2008 after serving with the department since he was 14, in 1982.

You can reach Chris Curtis at:
ccurtis@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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