To the Editor:
In July of 2014, after over 37 years of service, I retired as a Captain in the Stockbridge Fire Department. Throughout those years, Chuckie Cardillo was my friend and colleague. Chuckie is still my friend, but I do not think it is healthy for our full-time Fire Chief to be a selectman. It is legal, but it is not wise.
In recent years there have been many changes as the department passed to a new generation. Some of those changes have been productive, but one change that has not, involves the recurrent assertion by several members that the Select Board has no right to interfere with the Department. This assertion is false and potentially very damaging for the Department and the town. The truth is that the well-being of both depends on the Fire Chief and the Select Board building a strong relationship — one marked by mutual respect, and by well- informed and intelligent communication.
The Selectmen not only have the right, they have the obligation to oversee the Fire Department, and it is essential that they conduct their oversight in an energetic, fair and reasonable manner — one which enables them to accurately assess the Chief’s performance, and to provide the Chief with the resources and support, and with the space and freedom necessary to manage the department well. To do this they need to present the Chief with a clear and specific set of expectations for a full-time, fully-paid Chief. Hopefully some of these expectations will help the Chief create and maintain a variety of databases to make training and emergency response more effective, and presentations to the Select Board and Finance Committee more clear and informative. This last point is important, because it is essential that the Selectmen develop systematic ways to gain a deeper understanding of all the town’s departments, so they can anticipate personnel and other problems, and deal with them in a proactive and informal way, before people turn to legal action and the secrecy and distrust it brings.
If the Fire Chief becomes a selectman, every decision regarding the Fire Department, including the placement of articles on the annual warrant, and the reappointment of the Chief, will be made by two people, not three. This means that either one of the other two selectmen will be able to block any affirmative decision involving the Department. As I understand the “Strong Chief” statute, the Selectmen must inform the Chief, at least one year in advance, if they are not going to reappoint him. This means that by the summer of 2017, the Board will have to decide whether or not they are going to reappoint Chuckie as Chief in 2018. If Chuckie is on the Board, his mandated absence from the decision means that just one negative vote from the other two would stop his reappointment.
Overseeing the Police, Fire, and Highway Departments is one of the Select Board’s most important obligations, as it involves the public safety, millions of taxpayer dollars, and the livelihood of town employees. We need three people, not two carrying out this function. It will be best for all concerned, if Chuckie serves the town as Fire Chief and not selectman.
18 Interlaken Rd.