Friday, May 25, 2012
KINGSTON, N.Y. — Former city Fire Chief Chris Rea wants Kingston to either give him his job back or tell him why he’s been suspended without pay for more than three months.
In a lawsuit filed Thursday, Rea claims his dismissal as chief and suspension from the fire department were not based on adequate investigation and were an abuse of discretion, a violation of his employment contract with the city and a denial of his due-process rights under the state and U.S. constitutions.
In the suit — which names the city of Kingston, Mayor Shayne Gallo and all 10 members of the Common Council as defendants — Rea asks the state Supreme Court to order the city to either reinstate him as assistant fire chief (the job he held before being promoted to chief) and pay him the salary he has been denied, or levy disciplinary charges against him so he can answer them.
Rea on Friday referred questions about the lawsuit to his attorney Michael Catalinotto. Catalinotto declined to comment.
Andrew Zweben, the city’s attorney, called the lawsuit “without merit” and said he will spell out the city’s position more fully in his formal response to the suit.
Gallo, who rescinded Rea’s appointment as chief and suspended him, did not return a reporter’s phone call Friday.
Rea, who joined the Kingston Fire Department in 1986, was appointed city fire chief by Gallo on Jan. 27, three days after Chief Richard Salzmann retired under a cloud of suspicion about what the mayor called “time in attendance” issues. Rea’s appointment was made on a provisional basis, pending him passing a chief’s test to be given by the state in January 2013.
On Feb. 9, Gallo, just five weeks into his term as mayor, rescinded Rea’s appointment, suspended him from the fire department without pay and said he was referring the matter to the Ulster County District Attorney’s Office, also because of “time in attendance” issues.
The mayor has not, in the months since, elaborated on the Salzmann and Rea matters, and District Attorney Holley Carnright could not be reached for comment Friday.
Rea’s attorney has contacted the city attorney’s office on two occasions asking to be informed of the specific charges against Rea, but to no avail, according to the lawsuit.
“Despite the passage of over three months, at no time has (Rea) received notice of the disciplinary and/or misconduct charges that are the alleged basis for his indefinite suspension without pay,” the lawsuit states.
Under the terms of the contract between Rea and the city for his employment as assistant chief, according to the lawsuit, Rea was entitled to “all the benefits” provided the Kingston Professional Fire Fighters Association, including that “(n)o employee shall be disciplined except for just cause. Such employee shall be served with a written notice of the action, state the date, time and place of the alleged offense and a statement identifying the particulars of the event. The notice shall also contain the discipline proposed and the reason for said discipline.”
In his lawsuit, Rea offered a glimpse into what the allegations against him could be. The suit details a meeting Rea said he had with Gallo and Comptroller John Tuey prior to his appointment as chief to discuss what Rea claims Gallo and Tuey called “an “administrative error” that resulted in Rea being paid for 11 days between November 2008 and January 2011 when he worked as an instructor at the New York State Fire Academy.
Rea says in the lawsuit that he was unaware of the error and denied any wrongdoing. He also says that during the meeting with the mayor and comptroller, Tuey suggested — “with the implicit authority and consent of Gallo” to “correct that administrative error” — reducing Rea’s vacation and personal time.
But if that is the reason behind Rea’s suspension, Rea’s timeline is different than the one laid out by Gallo, who said, in announcing Rea’s suspension on Feb. 9 that the “time in attendance” issue came to light just five days before Rea was suspended.
That would have been after, not before, Rea was appointed chief.
Since Rea’s suspension, the city fire department has been led by former Chief John Reinhardt.