BURRILLVILLE – Members of the Pascoag Fire Commission told village residents last week that Chief Harold Carter remains in charge, and voted to hire a new supervisor to work with the department leader.
Talk of the chief’s possible resignation began last month after Carter walked out of the commission’s meeting following several tense exchanges with residents. Some questioned the part-time chief’s qualifications for the position, and blamed Carter’s leadership for problems at the independent fire district over the past year.
Issues at the small village department escalated last year following the suspension of long-time tax collector Laurie McCuthcheon and have included charges of ethics violations, a sexual harassment claim, and open meetings complaints. Some issues were dismissed following legal proceedings, but others are still pending, or were found to be violations.
As legal troubles filed by residents, McCutcheon and her husband have mounted, meeting participation – and disruption from some demanding answers – has also increased.
The tensions led to the walk out last month, which some residents have stated was an effective resignation, although Carter did not submit a letter stating such, as is customary.
Members of Pascoag Hose Company #1 documented their support of the chief in a letter last month.
At the meeting Wednesday, March 13, the questions continued.
“So he’s still our chief? Even though he publicly resigned?” asked resident Julia O’Rourke.
“Correct,” said Commission Vice-Chairman Brian Mathieu, who ran the meeting last week in the absence of Chairman Robert Keeble. “We don’t have an official resignation letter.”
The chief is currently paid $519 a week to work 30 hours.
“How come he’s not here tonight?” asked O’Rourke.
“I can’t answer that,” said Mathieu. “I’m sorry.”
Dozens of residents had turned out for the gathering, holding signs proclaiming phrases such as, “Cheaper isn’t always better” and “Where is the missing money?”
During discussion of the proposed new hire, Commissioner James Richard noted that by contract, the district is supposed to have a supervisor.
“I think getting a supervisor in there is going to be beneficial to us as taxpayers and it’s going to be helpful to the full-time personnel,” said Richard. “We’re supposed to have two, so I think we need to go back to how it used to run.”
The move to hire a new supervisor was approved by 2-1 with Richard and Commissioner Peter Drouin voting for the measure, Commissioner Linda Carter voting against it, and Mathieu abstaining.
The board’s next meeting is expected be held on Monday, April 8 starting at 7 p.m. at 141 Howard Ave. Pascoag.