Attempts by the public to ask Fire Commission members questions about their recent decision not to renew the contract of Deputy Fire Chief Art Reid were doused Thursday night.
The commission, with virtually no public discussion, last month voted 5-2 not to renew Reid's contract, which expires in December. The panel, which similarly had little discussion of Reid's contract at earlier meetings, took the vote after Commissioner William Fitzpatrick said only that he wanted to give qualified personnel the opportunity to move up through the Fire Department ranks.
As the commission began to adjourn what had been a brief Thursday meeting, Lisa Winkel, a member of the Community Emergency Response Team, tried to get the board to allow her to ask a question. "I want to say something before you adjourn," Winkel said. "I want to know why Deputy Chief Reid is losing his job?"
But Chairman Craig van Steenbergen said there was no item on the agenda for public comment and gaveled the meeting adjourned.
That didn't deter Winkel, who with some others in the audience, continued to press the issue. "So you're not going to answer my question?" she said.
"I have no answer," van Steenbergen said, and Commissioner Dorothea Brennan said, "Commissioners don't answer questions at a meeting."
Van Steenbergen said the public is allowed to attend its meetings, and the minutes are posted on the town's website. "Under the FOI, that's what is required," he said.
Some municipal commission and boards, like land-use panels, are required by state statute to hold public hearings on certain applications, but boards like the Fire Commission do not have to allow public comment. Some town boards, however, do anyway. The Parks and Recreation Commission, for example, sets aside a time for public comment on any item not on the agenda and allows the public to address any agenda item as it comes up for discussion.
Another resident, Blaine Street resident Ellen Gilmore, asked how the matter could be added to the agenda of a future Fire Commission meeting.
"This isn't the forum for that," Commissioner Patrick McCabe said. "You can reach out to any of the individuals. It's not a public participatory board."
Since the commission's vote, a petition posted online to demand an explanation from First Selectman Michael Tetreau.
As the commissioners filed out of the meeting, Reid supporter Rocky Sullivan voiced what some believe is the reason for not renewing Reid's contract: "It's retaliation."
Two years ago, Fire Chief Richard Felner was accused of slapping one of his assistant chiefs, George Gomola. When Gomola filed a formal complaint with Reid, the deputy chief informed the first selectman's office and the Human Resources Department, as he was required to do. Felner has made no public comments on Reid's contract.