From Jim Russell | Special to The Republican November 9, 2020
GRANBY – An arbitrator on Wednesday determined the Selectboard lacked justification to suspend, without pay, the town’s former fire chief, John Mitchell, while he was still an employee earlier this year.
The Selectboard’s office has not responded to a request for comment.
“The Town is hereby ordered to immediately rescind the suspension, remove all references to the suspension from the Chief’s file, and make him whole for all wages and benefits lost as a result of the suspension, less any interim income he would not have received but for the suspension,” the arbitrator’s decision, dated Nov. 4, says.
Mitchell, who was terminated in July, and was suspended twice prior to that, is also fighting to get back wages, lost to him, for the other suspension the Granby board meted out, but that matter has yet to be decided.
An arbitration hearing to determine whether or not the board had cause to fire him has yet to be scheduled.
The Selectboard, in addition to firing Mitchell, voted to terminate his contract, which was due to expire June 30, 2021.
Mitchell was represented at the arbitration hearing that overturned his suspension by Worcester Attorney Andrew Gambaccini of the firm Reardon, Joyce & Akerson, P.C.
“The Town’s thirty-day suspension of Mitchell was based upon two allegations of poor driving, including traveling above posted speed limits, in April. The Town Administrator addressed both of those issues with Mitchell, once in person and once in an email, and the matter was closed,” the lawyer said in a written statement to The Republican on Monday.
“After that point, the Town tried to bring the issues back to life and imposed a thirty-day suspension on Mitchell. We believe the Town did so in order to create a foundation that could be used to separate Mitchell from employment (which the Town soon enough did). We told the Selectboard and the Town Administrator that they were wrong to impose the thirty-day suspension. The Selectboard and the Town Administrator did not listen. Now an independent arbitrator has told the Town the same thing we did,” Gambaccini wrote.
“This victory obviously is welcomed, but it represents only the first step for Mitchell in the larger battle concerning the legality of his termination. We will continue the fight to demonstrate that the Town’s termination of Mitchell was improper,” he said.