South Hadley Fire District 1 Fire Chief Robert Authier hires lawyer after board fails to renew contract

By Jim Russell | Special to The Republican

The South Hadley Fire District 1 Prudential Committee has voted not to renew the employment contract of Chief Robert Authier, which expires on Dec. 31.

The board has begun a search process to hire a new chief, meeting minutes also show.

Contacted Tuesday, Authier said he has retained lawyer Andrew Gambaccini, of the Worcester firm Reardon, Joyce & Akerson.

The chief said his counsel is reviewing their options, should his employment with the town end, and that the committee has not cited him for any disciplinary action.

Gambaccini represented South Hadley police officer Mark Sowell, who was fired in 2009 — but was reinstated when an independent arbitrator ruled he was wrongfully terminated.

The lawyer is also representing municipal light department employee Robert Blasko, who filed a $750,000 whistleblower lawsuit against the agency last month.

The prudential committee, which governs the fire district, approved a motion by board member Greg Sheehan, on June 29, “to notify the chief that December 31, 2015 will be his last day of employment with Fire District 1 and his contract will not be extended.”

It was seconded by committee chairman Kevin Taugher, and the men approved the measure. The meeting minutes include no information explaining why the action was taken.

Ray Miner, who also serves on the three-member panel, abstained from the vote.

He supported negotiating a new contract for the chief, minutes from the June 4 meeting show.

Those minutes show that Sheehan said he “did not believe Bob (Authier) was the right fit for the district and in some ways a good fit for Bob.” That Sheehan “believed that the district needed more of a CEO-administrator in the role of fire chief,” and that Sheehan “didn’t think the district was getting from Bob what they were paying for.”

At a September meeting, one of the agenda items included: “Continued discussion on plan and schedule for the fire chief selection process.”

Those minutes note that Taugher “said it is likely that we will have to have an interim chief.”

South Hadley has two fire districts. Neither are under the jurisdiction of selectmen and town administrator. Both districts are governed by a prudential committee.

Prior to assuming command of District 1, Authier was deputy fire chief in Holyoke, where he had worked since 1991.

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