Jun 232014
 

According to documents obtained by The Groton Line as the result of a Public Information Request, Deputy Fire Chief Clarence Jefferson and firefighters Ben Miele and Steve Tervo seem to have been terminated from their Groton Fire Department jobs because Town Manager Mark Haddad believed Jefferson lied to him during an investigation and thought he may have leaked confidential information; because one of the firefighters (not identified by name) “has an awful attitude;” and because the second was “less than truthful.”

Haddad’s conclusions capped a two-week investigation ordered by the Board of Selectmen into discrepancies uncovered by a private investigator in her investigation of an unfounded claim of harassment against fire department command staff. The board of selectmen used Haddad to conduct the follow-on investigation rather than expand the scope of the professional investigator’s charge to save an estimated seven or eight thousand dollars, according to selectmen Peter Cunningham and Josh Degen.

Email reports from Haddad to the board sent at the beginning and end of Haddad’s effort provide a general picture of how the investigation was conducted. There does not seem to be a paper trail of details of the actual findings of Haddad’s investigation — they may not exist, or town officials may have decided that they were exempt from this particular Public Information Request. The documents that were released have been redacted to remove the names and identifying positions of people.

Chair of the Board of Selectmen Josh Degen said that interim reports by Haddad on his progress were verbal reports to him and Cunningham.

On Friday, June 20, the Board of Selectmen issued a news release summarizing the investigation, that includes the line: ” … after the conclusion of the investigation of alleged harassment within the fire department, the Board of Selectmen reviewed the investigator’s findings and asked the Town Manager to conduct follow up interviews.”

That corresponds with an email from Haddad sent to BoS members on May 20 that documents what Haddad thought the BoS told him to do, and defines the scope of the “follow-up interviews:”

As directed by the Board, l am working with both Chief Bosselait and Human Resources Director Melisa Doig to look into the issues raised by the Board. Specifically, I am investigating whether or not a Firefighter referred to [redacted] as [redacted] in a meeting, whether or not [redacted] was coached about the meeting with Chief Bosselait, and [redacted] and if anyone leaked the contents of the meeting between [redacted].

To this end, I have scheduled meetings with [redacted] to start. These meetings will take place over the next two days. Depending on the information gathered, we will determine if any additional follow-up is necessary. I will keep you apprised of our progress.

Based on this email from Haddad to the Board of Selectmen, his charge from the BoS was to determine:

  • If a firefighter referred to another firefighter as [redacted] in a meeting
  • Whether someone was coached about a meeting with Chief Bosselait and another person
  • If anyone leaked information about another meeting between unnamed people

Two weeks later, on June 5, he reported to the Board of Selectmen in another email that:

After conferring with the Chief and Melisa it became apparent that the best course of action would be to meet with all parties at the same time to fully vetted [sic] the issues. To that end, I required that the listed individuals meet with me on Tuesday, June 3rd at 5:30 p.m. I asked Town Counsel to participate in the meeting as well. For whatever reason, [redacted] and [redacted] refused to attend this mandatory meeting. [redacted] claimed [redacted] had a family emergency and [redacted] stated to Firefighter [redacted] that “[redacted] didn’t have time for this shit.” | find their response to this meeting to be completely unacceptable.

Although Haddad’s email states that the meeting was “required” and “mandatory,” that seems not to have been communicated to Jefferson, Meile, or Tervo. Or anyone else. They, and six other firefighters (Haddad and Bosselait are CC:ed), received the same email from Human Resources Director Melisa Diog, inviting them to a meeting. “Required” or “mandatory” attendance is not mentioned.

The full text of the email received by the firefighters reads:

Subject: Meeting
Date: Wed, May 28, 2014 9:16 AM

Dear Members of the Fire Department,

As you are aware, the Town recently concluded an investigation that involved members of the Fire Department and allegations of harassment and retaliation. What the Town continues to hear with regard to morale and operations within the Department is concerning. At this point, the Town Manager would like to meet with you all in a joint meeting to discuss this further. The Town Manager has reserved the 1st floor meeting room at Town Hall on Tuesday, June 3, 2014, at 5:30 PM for this purpose. The meeting will be confidential and the public will not be invited to attend.

Please kindly confirm your attendance via e-mail.

Sincerely,
Melisa

Melisa Doig
HR Director

Jefferson did not attend the meeting. He explained his absence in an email to Bosselait afterward, writing that a family medical incident that afternoon required his presence. Jefferson refused to discuss the event because of privacy concerns, but said it can be easily documented when there is a legal requirement to do so.

Meile did not attend because he was at an Emergency Medical Technician class. Attendance is required at all classes in a series or the EMT potentially loses his or her certification, which would affect his or her status with the fire department. Meile said that he had made a commitment to the course instructor that he would be in class that day and had to honor that commitment.

Because of Jefferson’s and Meile nonattendance at the meeting, Haddad ended his investigation and concluded in the same June 5 email:

Based on my investigation, I have determined that [redacted] lied to me during the investigation. I believe [redacted] or someone in [redacted]‘s family contacted [redacted] and told [redacted] that “it’s a witch hunt and [redacted] is out to get you.” [redacted] should be removed from [redacted] position as [redacted] of the Department. In addition, [redacted] has an awful attitude and is, in my opinion, not fit to be a member of the Groton Fire Department. l also found [redacted] to be less than truthful and was later informed by several members of the Department that [redacted] goaded [redacted] into [redacted]. [redacted] should also no longer be a member of the Groton Fire Department.

There is no mention in this status email about the three items Haddad was tasked with in the May 20 email:

  • If a firefighter referred to another firefighter as [redacted] in a meeting
  • Whether someone was coached about a meeting with Chief Bosselait and another person
  • If anyone leaked information about another meeting between unnamed people

Instead, Haddad reported that:

  • He could not determine if either Jefferson or someone in Jefferson’s family sent a message to a person in the investigation, but that Jefferson had lied to him about it.
  • A second person, in Haddad’s opinion, had an “awful attitude” that merited not being reappointed to their job.
  • The third firefighter, alleged to be “less than truthful” and the subject of hearsay comments that Haddad heard was also deemed unworthy of his post in the fire department.

The Board of Selectmen’s June 20 news release contains this line:

After the Town Manager’s interviews, and after reviewing overall department operations, Chief Bosselait advised certain individuals that they would not be reappointed.

Degen reiterated that Haddad did answer all the board’s initial (May 20) questions, reporting to him and Cunningham verbally during the two-week long investigation. Based on those conversations, Cunningham and Degen were aware of new questions that came up and they directed Haddad to pursue them — the trail that lead Haddad to his conclusions.

“They were all addressed. Just because they didn’t get addressed in writing doesn’t mean that they weren’t addressed. When you’re conducting an investigation, based on the interviews you do with the individuals you’re investigating, you never know what paths they’re going to take you down. Answers can lead you down different avenues you didn’t expect,” Degen said.

Jefferson responded to the new information, specifically Haddad’s charges, quickly and firmly Monday morning. He said: “The only question that was asked to me by the investigator was that Cathy Lincoln had said that I said that Susan Daly was on a witch hunt, and if I had said that. And Mark Haddad asked me the same question. And I did not say that. And he wanted to know why did I believe that Cathy Lincoln would say that and I said: ‘I don’t know why she would say that. I would have no clue. I am not Cathy Lincoln; I can’t answer that.’ I didn’t lie to anybody.”

Jefferson also stated that he did not send anyone a message to anyone saying that. He also said that as far as he knew, his wife nor anyone else close to him did not send a personal message or post publicly on Facebook or anywhere else anything related to the investigation.

Tervo did not want to discuss the situation publicly. Miele initially did not return phone calls asking about the controversy, but after this story was published at noon on June 23, he contacted The Groton Line and confirmed the facts in this story. Haddad continued his yearslong policy of not replying to requests for comment.

If any additional emails, notes, memos, reports, or other written documentation exists either from Haddad’s investigation or from conferences between Haddad and any selectmen, they should have been included in the town’s response to The Groton Line’s Public Information Request, or an explanation on why they were not should have been provided.

Based on the two emails from Haddad, it also appears that although the BoS directed him to interview all the principles in the investigation, he delegated some of the interviews do Doig and Bosselait. He did interview Deputy Chief Jefferson on May 22, but there is no information if Haddad interviewed anyone else himself.