Cleared in 2nd probe, Granby fire chief back at work

  • Granby Fire Chief John Mitchell is shown in his office in July 2018. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 9/13/2018 12:18:20 AM

GRANBY — An investigation into the Fire Department’s vote of no confidence in Fire Chief John Mitchell has found no reason that he should lose his job, and the chief resumed his work Monday after being on paid leave since mid-July.

The investigation, the second conducted by special labor consultant John M. Collins, concluded in a report that “the chief’s lapses in judgment, communication or leadership, nor his angry outbursts, excessively fast driving, or alleged ‘my way or the highway’ attitude” do not provide sufficient basis for termination.

Collins’ report was made public at the Sept. 4 Select Board where members of the board announced that Mitchell would be returning to the department starting on Sept. 10 with a six-month probationary period.

“The board has decided to bring Chief Mitchell back,” Chairman Stephen A. Chojnacki said at the meeting. “We are looking forward to working with him and the department as a whole to start the healing process.”

The board met with the Fire Department’s command staff prior to the meeting, and Chojnacki said the board “understands and recognizes that a lot of things have gone wrong.”

Mitchell’s reinstatement came with a revision of his contract, according to members of the Select Board, but details of those changes were not made public. Additionally, a mentor and mediator, provided by the Fire Chiefs Association of Massachusetts, will be assisting the department, according to board members.

“Chief Mitchell’s contract with the town is going to be amended, based upon the issues that the labor attorney found out,” Jay Joyce, Select Board member and liaison to the Fire Department, said. “Chief Mitchell is going to be responsible for meeting those benchmarks and requirements amended in his contract.”

Mitchell said Wednesday he is looking to “rebuild bonds” and “find the right ways to move forward.”

“This is an incredible department and the members of this department have impressed me over the time that I’ve been here … I am very proud to be a member of this department,” Mitchell said.

He became Granby’s fire chief in January 2017.

“We want to get to where we were six or seven months ago when we were a close-knit department,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell was placed on administrative leave when a letter dated June 4 — where 20 out of 30 members of the Fire Department signed a vote of no confidence — was delivered to the Select Board.

Lt. Mike Pandora, president of the fire department’s union, then filed a formal complaint against Mitchell on June 19 which was the subject of the first investigation conducted by Collins.

That initial report, dated July 30, only looked into claims by Pandora and concluded that, although there appeared to be an “obvious lack of trust” between Mitchell and Pandora, there were no actions by Mitchell that amounted to harassment or created a hostile work environment.

At the time, Town Administrator Christopher Martin said the first report “vindicated” Mitchell of charges laid out by Pandora as Collins wrote that Mitchell had not violated any state or federal anti-discrimination laws.

Collins’ second investigation also looked at the resignation of former Assistant Chief George Randall in May as well as the termination of Deputy Chief Bruce Carpenter.

The report stated that, “What could not be as easily explained was the decision of Mr. Randall to retire. There were not any apparent signs of disagreement between he and the Chief … Not a single department member or even the Chief had anything derogatory to say about Mr. Randall’s performance in the department.”

As for Carpenter’s termination, the report found that many members of the department agreed with the deputy’s leaving. Collins wrote in the report that, “Interestingly, many members expressed agreement with the Chief that the former Deputy probably should have retired years ago.”

Select Board member Glenn Sexton addressed members of the Fire Department during the Sept. 4 meeting, and said, “I appreciate everyone’s service to the town … I am asking, for what it’s worth, that you stay on and help us through the humps and bumps going forward.”

“There are changes that are going to happen, simple as that … There are a lot of issues and concerns that we heard through this report and we took it very seriously,” Sexton said.

Luis Fieldman can be reached at lfieldman@gazettenet.com


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