BURRILLVILLE – Pascoag Fire Commission Chairman Robert Keable has resigned from the role following a difficult several months where meetings have regularly been dominated by shouting and complaints from angry village residents, and two commissioners have been found guilty of ethics violations.
Keable was appointed to the role after former Chairman David Carpenter lost his reelection bid for the board last September.
But neither Keable, nor Chief Harold Carter have been present at the past several meetings as problems in the district have led to increasingly tense and chaotic monthly gatherings. Commission member Brian Mathieu has served in his place, often struggling to be heard amid yelling.
The meeting on Monday, April 8 lasted for more than three hours, and while much was said, little was accomplished. In addition to the usual public comment, the agenda included eight items for discussion submitted by residents.
Among many issues raised Monday were discrepancies in the amount of gas used in emergency calls, volunteers washing their vehicles with fire district resources, and the fact that district tax collector Laurie McCutcheon has been suspended with pay for well over a year.
“Why isn’t something done about it? What are we paying her for?” asked resident Donald Howard. “How long is this going to last? This is costing us big money. I’d like to be paid to sit home too.”
Resident Cynthia Lussier said that vandalism of vehicles during the meetings has also become an issue.
“It’s an ongoing problem,” said Lussier. “It seems to be intensifying. Nothing has been done. There’s a failure of leadership and now there’s a further failure of public trust.”
On an agenda item for the hiring of a non-union supervisor, an action that commissioners approved at their meeting last month, Attorney Christopher Alger advised that the board would need to revote on the issue, as it was not advertised correctly under the state’s open meetings law.
Alger was named to the position in January after Attorney Albin Moser resigned from the role after just two months of service. Moser cited, in part, the public’s ability to disrupt regular business at the district meetings.
“It was advertised as discussion only,” Alger said Monday of the hiring.
But Commissioner James Richard questioned why a posting for the position had been taken down.
“What gives you the right to just decide ‘oh I’m not doing that.” Richard asked Mathieu, noting that Chief Carter is supposed to have a supervisor to help with district operations.
“We don’t have a supervisor right now,” said Richard. “Well guess what? He has another employee sitting in that person’s position. A union person shouldn’t be doing non-union work.”
The confusion that ensued following Richard’s statement included shouting by both him and residents, with Mathieu occasionally calling quietly for order.
“When this district goes down, we know why. It’s all your fault,” yelled one resident.
“Shame on you all,” yelled another.
A motion to hire a supervisor died for lack of a second, and no action was ultimately taken on the item.
Video of the meeting can be viewed here.