Granby Select Board sacks Fire Chief John Mitchell

  • Granby Fire Chief John Mitchell in his office in July 2018. The Select Board fired Mitchell last week. FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 11, 2020

GRANBY — The town needs a new fire chief.

After the Select Board voted last week to dismiss Fire Chief John Mitchell, Jennifer Silva, clerk of the board who confirmed the vote, said Friday that officials likely will begin to search for his replacement, though she said they have yet to begin discussions on the matter.

Deputy Fire Chief Bruce Carpenter continues to serve as acting fire chief, Silva said. Mitchell, who was hired as the town’s fire chief in 2017 and made an annual salary of $90,000, was placed on unpaid leave for the month of June due to allegations that he drove recklessly in a town vehicle during a trip to Walpole in April with three other members of the town’s fire department.

Mitchell was later placed on paid administrative leave into July after being accused of violating the state’s Open Meeting Law for comments he made on Facebook regarding an investigation into an unnamed member of an elected town board. Silva said the board met in executive session on July 6 to discuss Mitchell, and more than two weeks later, the board fired him. Silva declined to comment on whether Mitchell’s paid suspension was extended until his eventual termination.

The vote to fire Mitchell was taken in executive session on July 23 and was effective immediately, according to Silva, who said she could not comment on what was said during the meeting, other than to confirm Mitchell’s job termination.

“As it is a personnel matter, it is covered by executive session, and the minutes have not been released as of yet,” she said.

Reached Thursday on Facebook, Mitchell declined to comment on his firing, referring all questions to his attorney, Andrew Gambaccini, of Worcester. Gambaccini did not respond to multiple requests for comment Thursday and Friday but did tell the Gazette in June that he had filed a demand for arbitration with the American Arbitration Association in regard to Mitchell’s unpaid suspension.

Silva said she could not disclose how other members of the Select Board voted in regard to Mitchell’s job termination but said she voted in favor of his firing. She declined to comment on why she voted to fire Mitchell.

Select Board members at a June 1 meeting already had voted not to renew Mitchell’s contract, which would have officially ended on June 30, 2021.

In 2018, Mitchell came under fire after 20 of the 30 members of the town’s fire department voted no confidence in him; soon after, a formal complaint was filed against Mitchell alleging that he created a hostile work environment. A report by special labor consultant John M. Collins, who was hired by the town, cleared the former fire chief of wrongdoing in regard to this complaint.

Another investigation into the vote of no confidence by Collins concluded that “the chief’s lapses in judgment, communication or leadership, nor his angry outbursts, excessively fast driving, or alleged ‘my way or the highway’ attitude” were not a sufficient basis for termination. Mitchell returned to work after being placed on paid leave.

In a disciplinary letter from May, Granby Town Administrator Christopher Martin lambasted Mitchell’s excessive driving as “clearly unbecoming a Fire Chief.”

“You are expected to set an example, and you have been doing just the opposite. Despite many warnings, you persist in your reckless behavior,” Martin wrote in his letter. “I trust you will take this as a final warning that any more conduct of this nature will result in a recommendation by me to the Select Board that you be terminated.”