BURRILLVILLE – After a year dominated by tension between residents and commissioners, allegations of misconduct and misuse of funds, and complaints of potential ethics violations, Chief Harold Carter said he had enough Monday night, walking out of a meeting after a brief speech taken by many in the district as a resignation.
Carter’s action came Monday, Feb. 11 following public comment by dozens of angry residents who took control of the meeting from fire commissioners, citing a bylaw they said allowed them to “make motions,” if there was a quorum of 25 citizens.
Tensions in the district became public last year following the suspension of 17-year tax collector Laurie McCutcheon. McCutcheon remains on paid leave more than a year later, with the reason for her dismissal reportedly still under investigation by the commission.
Since the suspension, several residents have submitted complaints of ethics violations against the department, citing, among other issues, payments and promotions between members of Carter’s family, many of whom work for the small village district.
But other issues have emerged as well, including allegations of open records violations and misuse of funds. Recently, Jennifer Spaziano, a firefighter/EMT with Hose Company 2, put forth allegations of sexual harassment against Deputy Chief Keith Carter, the chief’s brother.
“I am a little disturbed after leaving the last meeting here,” said Jodi Carboni at the monthly commission meeting, citing Spaziano’s statements. “Everyone’s claiming she’s not being harassed. We walked out of here last time to spit on her car. We are setting ourselves up for a huge lawsuit.”
Spaziano said she brought her complaint to commissioners, who said it would be investigated. Since then, she said, she’s been expelled from the hose company and had hours taken away.
Resident Julia O’Rourke asked the chief if the department has had sexual harassment training and was told they had.
“I would encourage the department and the commissioners to do refresher training on sexual harassment,” O’Rourke said.
O’Rourke said that she learned via a public records request that in October alone, the department had paid out 494 hours of overtime at a cost of $17,000, including 64 hours of overtime in one week for one person.
O’Rourke made a motion to advertise for per diem employees, with Spaziano saying that according to district bylaws, residents can take the action if there are 25 people or more in attendance.
“I spoke to someone in Harrisville,” said O’Rourke. “They have minimal overtime. Like, zero.”
District union head Tom Smith said, “We’ve asked the commissioners many times about minimal staffing for a total of two per shift. We want that. We’re short-staffed because people don’t want to wok here.”
O’Rourke also said that contrary to previous assertions by members of the commission, taxpayers have been footing the bill for the legal troubles including at least $5,300 to defend Chief Carter against an ethics complaint. The complaint against the chief was ultimately dismissed, but other complaints have been found to have merit, including one that is still pending against Commissioner Linda Carter, the chief’s sister-in-law.
Spaziano asked about the chief’s qualifications.
“I believe people are at each other’s throats because of the way you manage this department,” said Spaziano. “All of this is lack of management.”
After around an hour and a half of the meeting, which included much shouting and little order, Carter spoke.
“I’ve been here 30 years of my life and got nothing from this place, and you know what? I’m going to walk out with my head held high,” he said.
The commission did not act on the verbal resignation Monday night, and Chairman Robert Keable said Carter’s possible resignation does not become official until it is accepted.
Carter is the second official to announce that frustration could lead to a departure in recent months. Attorney Albin Moser resigned from the district in December.
Carter could not immediately be reached for comment.
Video of the entire meeting can be seen here.