|Two Pittsfield Firefighters Resign After Residency Challenged|
|By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff|
03:59AM / Tuesday, June 18, 2019
|It was determined that three newly hired firefighters were not eligible for the residency preference they were granted. |
All five new hires came from the group that took the 2016 exam.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Two newly hired firefighters resigned after Civil Service ruled they were incorrectly given a residency preference on the Civil Service exam.
The Civil Service Commission called for an investigation into the matter after a bypass appeal was filed late last fall. Justin Brady had taken the exam but did not get a position with the Pittsfield Fire Department.
He filed a bypass appeal claiming three candidates above him — Lucas Perry, Jonathan LaCasse, and Nicholas Amuso — did not qualify for the residency preference they were given.
Brady's bypass appeal was denied since all of the candidates scored higher on the exam so technically he hadn't been bypassed. But he requested an investigation believing those three should not have been above him on the list because of the residency preference.
Brady stated that both Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski and Director of Personnel Michael Taylor were unaware of the 12-month residency rule and he challenged the city's efforts to ensure that rule was followed.
"My belief is that proper verification of residency was not performed on the gentlemen mentioned above by the city of Pittsfield. As previously mentioned, those representing the city of Pittsfield, named above, were unaware of the basic Civil Service residency verification rule. Therefore, I am formally requesting that an independent investigation be performed," Brady wrote to the Civil Service Commission.
The candidates had to have been residing in the city from between April 16, 2015, and April 16, 2016, to qualify for the residency preference. The exam was given on April 16, 2016. The three candidates were hired in the fall of 2018 and had completed the state fire academy in April of this year as the investigation was ongoing.
The Civil Service Commission called on the city to investigate in the wake of the allegations.
"Had firefighters A, B, and C had not been appointed, Mr. Brady and at least one other individual would have recommended for appointment," reads a letter to the city from Civil Service Commission Chairman Christopher Bowman.
Brady had been tied for eighth on the list and did have residency, which the city did not dispute. Five firefighters in total were hired based on the exam results and if those three named had not been hired, Brady would have been.
At the first hearing, one candidate presented rent receipts signed by a relative to back his residency claim, another acknowledged that he did not live in Pittsfield during that specific time frame, and the last provided voter registration and a list of neighbors who could verify that he had lived in Pittsfield during the time period.
Brady submitted his own documents calling the residency of all three into question -- though it is unclear what those documents showed or how he obtained them -- and the commission did not feel what the firefighters provided was enough.
"Currently the information submitted by firefighters A and C, standing alone, does not sufficiently show that firefighters A and C resided in Pittsfield during the residency window," Bowman wrote.
The city conducted further investigation in the wake of the commission's decision. The city's labor attorney Fred Dupere submitted the findings in Feb. 1, 2019, which ruled that all three candidates did not qualify for the residential preference.
The five candidates hired at the time were all asked to provide documents establishing residency.
Matthew McNulty provided proof of car insurance, voter registration, tax information, and bills sent to his Pittsfield address during that time period. The city said he did meet the qualifications. Jeremy Ostrander provided 2016 mortgage interest statements, voter registration, and W2s from that time frame and was also proven to have met the qualifications.
LaCasse had admitted that he was not a resident during that time period. Amuso provided no further documentation, and Perry's residency could not be "conclusively" verified, according to Dupere's findings.
"The city has reviewed documents submitted by Justin Brady to the commission and my office. After review of the documents submitted, the city does not dispute that Justin Brady resided in the city of Pittsfield during the period of April 16, 2015, through April 16, 2016," Dupere wrote.
The city then proposed a remedy: The department will soon be hiring more firefighters and suggested keeping all three on, since all would likely be hired by the next cycle anyway, but switch the seniority dates. City officials had hoped to keep the firefighters employed.
Brady would be hired from the new cycle and his seniority would be matched to the last hiring cycle — for Civil Service purposes only and would not include back pay or benefits.
Only Perry, however, could show that he lived in Pittsfield during the period of time required for the newest certification.
The ordeal led to Amuso and LaCasse's resignations. The two will have to re-take the exam either without the preference or with the documentation to prove they lived in the city one year prior to the new exam date in order to be re-hired by the city.
Taylor said on Thursday that the Fire Department is responsible for checking residency. He said the department did so in this case as well and hadn't noticed a problem, took the documentation "at face value" and moved forward and that it was the Civil Service Commission that didn't find the documentation sufficient.
"I really don't think it is a matter of the city not doing its due diligence, but a difference in opinion with Civil Service about how to provide proof of residency," Taylor said.
The candidates are asked to apply for residency when they take the exam, Taylor said, and it is up to the city to verify that prior to employment. Taylor said if the city does see discrepancies in residency, it will bypass the candidate.
Mayor Linda Tyer said she doesn't want to cast blame but said there was a "flaw in the process" that the city looks to address.
"We are working with the Fire Department and our personnel office to strengthen our background check process for firefighter candidates," Tyer said on Monday.
Taylor said the next round of hires will be of 10 so the city changed its application to outline specifically what a candidate needs to show for residency -- something that hadn't been in place before.
"We are trying to strengthen this up a bit more than we have now," he said. "We don't want anyone to go through this again."
The firefighter job application has been updated to require candidates to provide at least three of any of the following with their names on it: utility bills, real estate or excise bills, voter registration, bank or credit card statements, driver's license, passport, license to carry, federal or military documents, W2s, or copy of rental leases. Language was added to make the time frame to qualify for the preference more clear.
Czerwinski did not returned calls seeking comment.