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Petitioners want answers on non-renewal of Reid's contract

Updated 12:01 pm, Thursday, April 3, 2014
  • An online petition seeking a public explanation as to why Deputy Fire Chief Art Reid's contract was not renewed has been started by local resident Carson Miller. Photo: Genevieve Reilly / Fairfield Citizen

    An online petition seeking a public explanation as to why Deputy Fire Chief Art Reid's contract was not renewed has been started by local resident Carson Miller.

    Photo: Genevieve Reilly

 

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A local man has started an online petition seeking answers from both the Fire Commission and the first selectman as to why the contract for Deputy Fire Chief Art Reid will not be renewed.

Started Friday by Carson Miller, the petition -- at http://chn.ge/1mznm9M -- as of Wednesday had been signed by 356 people. It states: "The Fire Commission and First Selectman must be honest with Fairfield on why they decided to not renew Reid's contract. Backroom conversations and deals are not acceptable in our town government."

Miller said his family knows Reid, a neighbor on Blaine Street, very well and has "always admired how he conducts himself in all aspects of his life," and that's why they started the petition. He said he expects the number of signatures to grow "substantially."

"This issue has struck a nerve with everyone I have spoken with so far," Miller said. "Not just the blatant retribution toward DC Reid, but because it illuminates a broader issue of corruption and backroom politics in our town."

Miller is uncertain that either Tetreau or commission members will respond. "What I do know is that if Mr. Tetreau ignores this he does so at his own peril. He no doubt has re-election ambitions and ignoring the will of his constituents would be unwise."

According to the petition, the deputy chief's position is one of a handful among town employees that requires a contract renewal process. "In the past and in most cases, those in these positions are not asked to formally re-apply for their roles should they be performing well and desire to stay in the position. In Deputy Chief Reid's case, despite more than a decade of stellar performance, he was asked to re-apply, then the Fire Commission voted to not renew," he said.

There was virtually no public discussion at the Fire Commission's March 21 meeting regarding whether or not Reid's contract, which expires in December, should be renewed.

Commissioner William Fitzpatrick, who made the motion to not renew the contract, stated he wanted to see the opportunity for qualified personnel to move up through the Fire department ranks. Commissioner Dorothea Brennan, who seconded the motion, said she agreed with Fitzpatrick's reasoning.

Chairman Craig van Steenbergen, who along Thomas Cieplinski were the only two to vote against Fitzpatrick's motion, said he had spoken to many deputy chiefs in area communities and had heard only good things about Reid.

There was no other discussion, at least in public session, by the commission at the March meeting. During the commission's February meeting, the panel had convened behind closed doors in executive session to review "an attorney-client privileged document" prior to the public discussion of Reid's contract renewal.

Reid, 61, was not allowed to attend the closed-door session, and during the public portion of the meeting, had to formally request reappointment to his job and list his accomplishments. There were also several questions from commissioners, but there were no comments made to indicate whether the panel was leaning toward renewal or not. Minutes from the meetings in the months prior to the vote also do not show any discussion of Reid in particular, or the deputy chief's position in general.

Under the state Freedom of Information Act, specific personnel can be discussed in a closed-door session, but they must be notified that they will be discussed and they have the option of having the meeting open to the public. General discussions about positions must be held in public session.

Miller's petition states the Fire Commission action could be construed as age discrimination as well as retaliation for Reid reporting, as required, an incident in 2012 when Fire Chief Richard Felner allegedly slapped a subordinate. The petition also raises the issue of Felner's promoting firefighters shortly before their retirement, bumping up pension payouts.

"Each of these issues are of concern for moral, ethical, and financial reasons to the town of Fairfield, CT. This kind of corrupt behavior (and non-action) by this department, the fire commission, and the town leadership overall is unacceptable. First, we do not want to live in a town that does not commend and reward ethical behavior (and implicitly rewards unethical behavior). Second, we will not tolerate decisions like this that are based primarily on politics and not on merit. And finally, a decision to not renew someone's employment for discriminatory reasons (age-ism or whistleblower retaliation) subjects this town to potential liabilities that we simply cannot afford, especially during a time when $8 million in tax increases is being discussed." the petition states.

greilly@ctpost.com; 203-556-2771; http://twitter.com/GreillyPost