This story has been updated for clarity.
STOCKBRIDGE — With Fire Chief Ernest "Chuckie" Cardillo remaining on partial paid administrative leave, the future leadership of the town's fire department remains a "front and center issue, a burning question and very difficult," Select Board Chairman Donald Chabon said Wednesday.
"It has a lot of parts and pieces, and many interested spectators," he told The Eagle last week.
Interim Fire Chief Neil Haywood, who submitted his resignation earlier this month that was scheduled to take effect today, has withdrawn the resignation and remains working for the department.
Despite the recent resignation of interim fire chief Neil Haywood, effective next Monday, Chabon said that he is "very comfortable" with the current and ongoing level of Fire Department coverage. In an Eagle interview, he said he is closely monitoring coverage to make sure the town is protected adequately.
Peter Socha, the former assistant chief and third in command, continues as the interim deputy chief and is not leaving the department, said Chabon.
Socha declined comment and Haywood did not respond to messages from The Eagle.
A posted executive session of the Stockbridge Select Board for Tuesday afternoon describes a strategy session in preparation for contract negotiations with Cardillo.
The agenda for Wednesday morning's regular public meeting of the Select Board includes an update on the Stockbridge Fire Department.
Negotiations are continuing with Cardillo over his role in the department, said Chabon. Cardillo, also one of the town's three selectmen, was involved in a billing snafu with two vendors who overcharged the department for a list of disposable materials to the tune of $45,000.
Cardillo, though not implicated in any wrongdoing, signed off on the purchases by phone with the two Long Island, N.Y., vendors. Town Accountant Raymond Ellsworth spotted the excessive charges over a six-year period and notified the Select Board last November. Cardillo was placed on administrative leave Dec. 17 by a 2-0 Select Board vote.
"We're moving toward a resolution as quickly as possible," Chabon said, with a Select Board executive session for negotiations coming up early next week.
"We are reaching out to Chuckie and his attorney for a meeting to resolve this," he said. Cardillo confirmed he is represented by longtime Pittsfield attorney Robert Fuster Sr.
Chabon is also awaiting a draft report from the town's auditors, Adelson & Co. of Pittsfield, related to the investigation of the "scam" involving the excessive purchases of foam, ice melt, face-mask wipes, heavy-duty truck wash and cleaners for hose and gear.
"I'm trying to move this along as openly as I can," Chabon said, noting that while no volunteers have left the department, some have indicated they may depart, depending on the outcome of the negotiations with Cardillo.
"It's a very unfortunate situation. Loyalty to the town needs to be paramount."
Chabon added that he hasn't decided whether he will run for a second three-year term on the Select Board. His first term expires in May.
Town Counsel J. Raymond Miyares has told the Select Board that he believes the town was victimized by aggressive sales tactics that amounted to a "scam," but executives of Pioneer Products in Great Neck, N.Y., and Noble Industrial Supply of Mineola, N.Y., claim the orders were confirmed by Cardillo in response to sales calls.
Under the terms of his leave, Cardillo no longer performs the duties of fire chief but remains as the department inspector, a certified EMT for the town, and has handled additional tasks assigned by Haywood.
The administrative leave agreement calls for Cardillo to be present at the central fire station from 7 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. weekdays, and be available for at least 40 hours a week to respond to any public safety emergency or call requiring Fire Department participation within the town or in neighboring towns under a mutual aid agreement.
Town Administrator Danielle Fillio said the agreement was intended to avoid putting the town "in jeopardy by not having somebody being able to respond to all fire calls, do all the inspections and to respond to EMT calls."
Cardillo no longer has any involvement with the budget or with Fire Department personnel issues. He is currently a senior fire captain, technically the third-ranking member of the department at fire scene operations.
Miyares, the town attorney, has been asked to use his best judgment in determining whether legal costs would outweigh potential recovery of overcharges from the two vendors.
The excessive orders for the Fire Department date back to the start of Cardillo's hiring as the town's first, full-time professional chief in mid-2012.
Executives of the two vendors have told The Eagle that he verbally approved the product shipments, and that recordings exist to verify those phone transactions.
The town has been billed about $105,000 by the two companies since December 2012, compared with typical costs of $60,000 for the products, the town counsel informed the Select Board. All but $20,000 of the invoices have been paid.
Under updated procurement policies adopted recently, purchases exceeding $2,000 or from vendors with multiple billings must be approved by Fillio in her additional role as chief procurement officer
Clarence Fanto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.