Jul 202014

Groton BoS Chair Josh Degen: "After thorough and complete review of the complaints ... the board has found the allegations advanced in the complaints unsubstantiated."

Groton BoS Chair Josh Degen: “After a thorough and complete review of the complaints … the board has found the allegations advanced in the complaints unsubstantiated.”

After four and a half hours of closed-door hearings Friday, the Groton Board of Selectmen dismissed complaints by four former call firefighters against fire department command staff and other employees. Selectmen agreed that every distinct point in each firefighter’s complaint was “unsubstantiated.”

Reading a statement from the entire board just after noon on July 18, Chair Josh Degen said,” The Board of Selectmen have reviewed the four complaints and at this time, the board would like to thank those involved who appeared before the board and provided information relative to these complaints. After thorough and complete review of the complaints filed, the board has found the allegations advanced in the complaints unsubstantiated, and the individuals named in the complaints are exonerated from having engaged in harassment, retaliation, or coercion, or any members of the fire department.”

After the meeting, Degen went further, saying, “It’s a shame that the four individuals cast allegations at various town employees that proved to be frivolous at best.

The complaints were made by former Deputy Chief Clarence Jefferson and former firefighters James Horan, Ben Miele, and Steve Tervo.

The exact nature of the complaints and the town employees each firefighter named in his individual complaints is not yet public. The town will not release the complaints because they are both under investigation as part of a personnel matter and because they may be precursors to one or more lawsuits. The firefighters’ attorney, Rob Bowen, has advised them not to release the complaints either. Bowen also told them not to comment on the outcome of the hearing, the firefighters said.

These complaints are not directly related to the town’s internal investigation that led to Jefferson, Miele, and Tervo not being reappointed to their jobs in June. Horan, the fourth complainant, resigned his position.

The hearings were conducted with the help of Town Counsel Brian Maser, Degen said, who functioned as a “technical adviser.”

Horan, Jefferson, Miele, and Tervo were not present at the hearings; only the people they alleged to have committed an infraction were interviewed by selectmen Friday.

Degen explained that the hearings, “… are for the board to interview the individual who has been accused. It’s as simple as that. If we’re in executive session, the board, will, after interviewing each individual, conduct a polling of the board to see whether the allegation is substantiated or not substantiated. If it’s done in executive session, due to privacy (requirements in state laws) that will not be released.”

Degen stressed that any of the people accused of wrongdoing could have spoken publicly during the hearings by telling the selectmen that they wished to talk in open session.

“It was up to each individual. Everybody that … came in to testify for each hearing (knew) that they could be conducted in executive session or they could open it up and have it done in public session. It would be televised and there would be reporters in the room — everybody understood. I want to make that clear — that everybody was afforded that opportunity,” he said.

The firefighters had an option under the town’s bylaws to request an advisory opinion from the town’s Personnel Board before the selectmen conducted their hearing; none of them did.

The selectmen’s statement concluded, “The board further recognizes the difficulties that this series of events have caused to those accused and appreciates the full and complete cooperation in an attempt to resolve this matter. The board has the highest level of confidence in the ability of the department to protect the public.

“We now consider this matter closed,” Degen read.