Stockbridge fire chief on partial, paid leave over billing issue

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STOCKBRIDGE — The town's fire chief has been placed on partial administrative leave, with pay, amid ongoing discussions about his role in a town billing snafu.

The Select Board voted 2-0 during an executive session on Monday to sideline Chief Ernest "Chuckie" Cardillo. The chief, who also is a selectman, recused himself from the vote.

Effective immediately, Deputy Chief Neil Haywood will serve as interim chief; Peter Socha, who has been the assistant chief, will now serve as deputy.

Selectman Terry Flynn announced the board's decision Wednesday at a public meeting attended by scores of town residents and volunteer fire department personnel.

"Negotiations are ongoing and none of us can talk about them," Flynn told the crowd.

The decision stems from disclosure in early November that the town had received excessive bills of at least $45,000 in a "scam" involving questionable transactions initiated by two New York vendors. The unneeded materials, including foam, heavy duty truck wash, hose and gear cleaner, ice melt and face-mask wipes were being stored in one of the town's outlying fire stations.

The town's attorney believes the town was victimized by aggressive sales tactics that amounted to a "scam," but both companies say the orders were requested by Cardillo.

Under the terms of his leave, Cardillo will no longer perform the duties of fire chief, but he will continue to be the fire inspector, a certified EMT for the town, and handle additional tasks assigned by Haywood, the temporary fire chief.

The agreement calls for Cardillo to be present at the central fire station from 7 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. weekdays. He will be available for a minimum of 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.

The term of Cardillo's leave has not been determined, said Town Administrator Danielle Fillio, who noted the Select Board "needed to do something right now."

She said the action was taken 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."

She also noted that Cardillo no longer has any involvement with the budget or with Fire Department personnel issues. He is now a senior fire captain, technically the third-ranking member of the department at fire scene operations.

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Addressing attempts by the town to recover charges by Pioneer Products of Great Neck, and Noble Industrial Supply of Mineola, Select Board Chairman Donald Chabon said the town counsel has been instructed to "use their best judgment" concerning legal costs versus "probable positive results."

He told the audience that "we will continue to monitor our activities, correct errors and improve as needs and resources permit, and advise you of all future developments as we have done to this point."

The town is also seeking a report from its auditors, Adelson & Co. of Pittsfield, to assess purchasing and procurement practices and make recommendations, Chabon said, with the findings expected in January.

"Preliminary indications are that this was an isolated circumstance," he pointed out, referring to the excessive orders received by the Fire Department during Cardillo's tenure as chief since mid-2012. Executives of the two vendors have told The Eagle that the fire chief 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 vendors since December 2012, compared to typical costs of $60,000 for the products, the town counsel informed the Select Board in verbal and written reports. All but $20,000 of the invoices have been paid.

All town department heads were in meetings Wednesday to hear a presentation of the town's formal procurement policy adopted by the Select Board in November 2017 and recently updated.

"We will emphasize compliance and also we will make a statement to all our employees," Chabon said.

"So this situation occurred in spite of our having formal, known procedures in place," he said. "Nonetheless, we decided to make a few changes in policy."

New requirements involve bills of over $2,000 or from vendors with multiple billings to be approved by Fillio, the town administrator and chief procurement officer. Further policy modifications may be made, based on the auditor's recommendations.

All Fire Department bills need authorization by Fillio for payment, said Chabon, adding that "if we find any additional departments, vendors or situations requiring additional oversight, we may extend this requirement further."

After the auditor's report is received, "we'll review the situation with our financial team to see if any additional policy decisions need to be considered," he added, "and this covers all points in the town counsel's recommendations."

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.


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