Shakeup in Pascoag Fire District: Chief terminated, deputy chief suspended, Mathieu resigns

Chief Harold Carter

BURRILLVILLE – The Pascoag Fire Commission voted on Monday to terminate Chief Harold Carter and temporarily place Deputy Chief Richard Peck in charge, at a meeting that included major changes for the district, with little fanfare.

Chief Carter’s brother, Deputy Chief Keith Carter, was placed on a two week suspension in a separate action at the meeting on Monday, Nov. 11, and the commission’s short agenda also included approval of a new collective bargaining agreement.

And Commissioner Brian Matthieu resigned.

The chief, who has reportedly spent some 30 years within the village department, has not been present at the district’s monthly meetings since an incident in February where he clashed with residents.

The motion to terminate Carter was made without discussion by Commissioner Kathleen Polacek, and seconded by Chairman Chris Toti.

Commissioner Carmella White noted that she was against the decision, and Mathieu was not present.  Commissioner Jim Richard, meanwhile, recused himself from the action, putting the vote at 2-1.

“It is also the board’s intent that we will advertise for the position of chief,” Polacek said.

The four commissioners took the same positions on a motion to suspend Deputy Chief Keith Carter for two weeks, which also passed by a 2-1 vote. The motion specified that commissioners will hold a return meeting with the deputy chief after the two week period.

“He’s not fired,” said Polacek. “It’s a personnel issue. We can’t discuss it, but it’s based on disciplinary action.”

Polacek said that the deputy chief, “is aware of what’s happening… of the allegations that were made.”

“I just want it reflected in the minutes that I’m against the suspension,” said White.

Commissioners presented a united front, meanwhile, in ratifying a contract with the fire union with a 4-0 vote. The one-year agreement reportedly includes a two percent increase for staff.

In a letter, Mathieu noted that his resignation was necessary because he moved out of district, from Pascoag to Harrisville.

“It is with great regret that I tender my resignation as fire commissioner,” Mathieu wrote in a letter read by Toti Monday. “I have truly enjoyed the years I have spent in this position, and I am honored that I was allowed to serve.”

Commissioners said the topic of replacing Mathieu will be taken up at their next meeting.

In the public session held prior to the close of the meeting, residents did have questions, but unlike at past gatherings where discussions over business practices became heated, most seemed satisfied with the board’s actions.

“You are doing a good job,” said Julia O’Rourke. “I like some of the decisions that are being made.”

O’Rourke did ask about an employee who was recently terminated without a vote by commissioners, questioning the process.

“We want to trust the board,” she said.

“It’s an administrative function,” said Toti. “It doesn’t have to be voted on.”

Attorney Christopher Alger agreed.

“There’s definitely not an open meetings concern,” Alger said. “We can’t describe exactly what happened. It was not an issue that needed a board vote.”

Toti said the district will have answers to more pending issues soon, pointing to the recent hire of Business Manager Mark St. Pierre.

“If you will just give that a little bit of time, things are going to start to fall into place,” Toti said. “We’re getting there. A little more patience. There’s a lot of stuff going on.”

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