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What are the complaints against the Erving fire chief?

ERVING — Discussion of the fire chief’s position at Monday’s meeting of the Board of Selectmen centered on an apparent divide between the Erving center and Ervingside fire stations, but also featured some insight into the issue at the center of the debate and a new complaint against the chief of several years.

At the center of the issue is the board’s failure to reappoint Almon D. “Bud” Meattey as fire chief, a matter that has two members of the three-member board at loggerheads, with the tie-breaker unable to vote due to a conflict of interest. The nature of the apparent issue with the chief has not been specified, with both members and the town lawyer citing privacy protections in the Open Meeting Law.

At Monday’s meeting, Selectman Margaret Sullivan presented two letters from Meattey’s personnel file she said the attorney has decided can be made public. Neither is particularly revealing, but suggest, as has been hinted earlier, that the issue has to do with Meattey’s competence as an administrator rather than a firefighter.

One is a letter sent by the board to Meattey last year notifying him they intend to negotiate a contract, at the recommendation of the town attorney, rather than continuing to fill the chief’s position by appointment, and his future employment is therefore subject to successful contract negotiation.

The second, dated January of this year and signed by Meattey, asks the board to keep him on as chief until the expiration of his appointment in June, in order to find a new chief and ensure a smooth transition. Meattey’s letter also asks that the board allow him to reapply for his position as he continues to improve his weak points and to endorse him as “Operations Chief” — not presently a position — if he is not rehired.

An issue of administrative ability would not, alone, be protected by the privacy provisions of the Massachusetts Open Meeting Law.

The law allows most personnel issues to be discussed in closed session, at the pleasure of the individual employee or official in question, including discussion of reputation, character and mental health. Professional competence is specifically excluded from this privacy protection, but the remainder of the law is cloudy enough to conceivably allow any issue, including professional competence, to be discussed in executive session given the right combination of circumstances.

A letter of complaint submitted to the board Monday night by a firefighter in the audience accuses Meattey of making two political appointments in the atmosphere surrounding the recent uncertainty of his position.

“As members of the Erving Fire Department and Citizens of the Town of Erving, we have increasing concerns regarding our Fire Chief’s ability to perform his duties. Over the past several months, his job has come under question and he is not making sound decisions,” reads the unsigned letter, in part. “The most recent is he has appointed two members into ranking officer positions based on none other than the fact that they have backed him in the town meetings.”

The letter alleges that, in violation of the procedures and guidelines established by Meattey, the captain and lieutenant positions were not advertised to the full department and the chief’s appointees do not meet the experience or classroom requirements for the positions, both of which carry a pay raise.

“As members of both the town and Fire Department, we feel these decisions are increasingly endangering our lives and lives of others,” the letter continues, asking for a vote of no-confidence in Meattey.

Firefighter Cody Traceski said Tuesday he submitted the letter on behalf of himself and several other members from both fire stations who wished to remain anonymous.

“We tried to handle this in-house, with Bud and them, but you can never get a straight answer out of him, you can never get ahold of him even though he says his phone’s on 24/7,” Traceski said. “We’ve always tried to bring our issues up within our chain of command.”

Meattey did not return a call for comment in time for publication.

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

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