Year in Review: A turn-around for Pascoag Fire?

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In the second segment on the top stories in Burrillville in 2019, NRI NOW turns to the Pascoag Fire District, where stories drew thousands of readers both praising and criticizing actions by members of the governing commission throughout the year.  

The district, which had seen multiple ethics and Access to Public Records Act complaints filed in 2018, continued to see troubles in early 2019.

In January, the Rhode Island Ethics Commission found probable cause that Commissioner Linda Carter had violated rules on nepotism when she failed to recuse herself from approving payments from the district to herself and members of her family.  The commission would later order Carter to pay a civil penalty of $500.

The Ethics Commission ruled in February that Commissioner Brian Mathieu violated state ethics law when he failed to recuse himself from votes to approve more than $11,000 in payments to his employer, Burrillville Motor Sales. Mathieu was ordered to pay a civil penalty of $1,000 for the infraction.

Tensions in the district would also boil over during a meeting in February, when Chief Harold Carter publicly clashed with a group of residents and walked out of a meeting. 

In April, Chairman Robert Keable would resign from the board.

But in May, new leadership stepped in with the goal of increasing efficiency in the Pascoag Fire District, and establishing new personnel and fiscal management procedures to governance. Remaining commissioners appointed Chris Toti, a former volunteer firefighter with decades of military experience, to replace the chairman. 

The district has since seen some structural changes, such as the hiring of former Harrisville Fire District chief Mark St. Pierre as business manager, and other efforts focused on cash savings.

Toti was the top vote getter at an election for the commission held in September, and fire dispatcher Kathy Polacek also secured a seat on the board.  

The pair surprised many residents in November by terminating Chief Harold Carter and placing his brother, Deputy Chief Keith Carter, on a two week suspension. 

While the commission did see an additional ethics fine come through in November against former member Peter Droin, it was related to an infraction that had taken place years earlier.     

As the year draws to a close, some residents have continued to express concerns about spending and management in the district, pointing to the hiring of additional office staff.

But the second half of 2019 has seen far less tension at meetings, and Toti has remained optimistic, saying there are more positive changes to come. 

NRI NOW will continue to count down the top stories of 2019, calculated primarily by traffic to the website, through the end of the week.

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