March 20–WEST HAVEN — Recently retired Allingtown Fire Chief Peter Massaro wouldn’t talk at length in February when his Feb. 28 retirement date was looming. At that point, he was awaiting a payout for accrued vacation time, had been told not to come to the office and supporters said he was being forced out by Mayor Ed O’Brien.
But he’s talking now — through both barrels.
O’Brien “is a liar,” Massaro alleged in a recent interview in the dining room of his Allingtown home. “He doesn’t speak the truth … I don’t like the way that I was treated. I earned better.
“If the mayor was a gentleman, we could have sat down and talked about my intentions,” Massaro said. Had they done so, Massaro would have told the mayor that he planned to retire June 30, he said.
“Let me put it this way,” Massaro said, moments after being interrupted by the voice of a West Haven dispatcher on a nearby scanner that went off several times during the course of an interview, “For a mayor to act like that, he shouldn’t be a mayor.”
O’Brien responded, “It’s easy to call someone a liar. The hard part is proving it — and I can prove everything I can say … Honesty to me is pretty important. Your word is your word.”
Despite their issues, “I have been straightforward in my dealings with him — and he knows that,” O’Brien said. “The bottom line was, his contract was up. I didn’t renew it, but I was always straightforward with him.”
Massaro, 67, earned $98,720 a year in his job leading what used to be the Allingtown Fire Department — formerly one of three independent fire departments serving sections of the city but now part of the city and called the “City of West Haven Fire Department — Allingtown.”
Massaro said that in the wake of the way he was treated, he now is planning to run for office in West Haven, although he said it was too early to say which office.
Both of O’Brien’s announced opponents in this year’s upcoming election, Republican City Councilman David Riccio, R-at-large, and Democratic former Councilwoman Nancy Rossi, also have spoken out against Massaro’s ouster.
Among the things Massaro alleged O’Brien lied about — including in a Feb. 5 New Haven Register story — were that Massaro was unwilling to work with the mayor and that even though he was retiring, he was welcome to reapply for the position.
In fact, there’s a “no re-employment” clause in Massaro’s separation agreement, which went into effect Sept. 12, 2016, Massaro said last week. The clause states, “It is understood and each party agrees that the chief does not intend to seek re-employment with the Employer for any position, nor does the Employer intend to consider the Chief for future employment.”
O’Brien said last week he was not sure about that clause and would have to go back and read the separation agreement. But he pointed out that Massaro’s lawyer wrote the extension agreement, so if it precludes him from reapplying, it’s his own fault.
Massaro released a series of memos he sent to the mayor, beginning on Jan. 11, 2016, seeking to meet to discuss a new contract, and said the mayor didn’t respond.
He said he was not informed that the mayor did not intend to renew his contract until he was summoned to O’Brien’s office on June 28, two days before his old contract expired.
“He ruined a person’s career” after “38 1/2 years in the fire service,” said Massaro, who for a decade had been chief of the formerly independent City of West Haven Fire Department –Allingtown, which was absorbed by the city in 2012, “and for what reason?”
The reason, as Massaro sees it, is because Massaro questioned bills that went unpaid for months. He also suggested that O’Brien might have had it in for him because he supported former Mayor John Picard and former City Council Chairman Nick Pascale, who opposed O’Brien in the last two mayoral elections.
Massaro’s wife, Karen Massaro, ran on Pascale’s ticket for Board of Assessment Appeals.
O’Brien said there were a number or reasons why he chose not to renew Massaro’s contract, including that the chief had shown himself over the past 3 1/2 years as being unwilling or unable to work with O’Brien.
“For 3 1/2 years, I’ve been here trying to work with him,” O’Brien said.
There also was “the issue that he bought a fire truck and spent $200,000 more than if we had gone out to bid,” O’Brien said.
The City Council approved a bid waiver in March 2015 before the city ultimately approved it.
Massaro said that while he didn’t go through the city’s formal bidding process, he solicited bids from eight different companies, six of which submitted them. While one bid came in $75,000 lower than what the city ultimately approved, “he couldn’t promise me (delivery) until 490 days out — and Pierce came in and promised me 270 days — and I got it in 250,” Massaro said.
The city ultimately paid $870,895 for the new aerial fire truck from Pierce Manufacturing of Appleton, Wisconsin.
O’Brien said he respected what Massaro has done. He pointed out that “my father was a New Haven police officer” and said, “I would like to thank him for his many years of service — and that’s genuine. I commend him.”
He has said his decision to extend Massaro’s contract — at Massaro’s request — until Feb. 28 after it expired last June 30 was evidence that he bears Massaro no ill will. O’Brien said that Massaro’s last contract was signed by Picard days before he left office after O’Brien defeated him, yet O’Brien honored it.
Regarding Massaro’s charges, O’Brien responded, “There are lots of people in City Hall” and working for the city “out of City Hall … that didn’t support me in the election.” Those people “worked for the city of West Haven and still work for the city of West Haven,” he said. “Once I’m elected, it’s about moving West Haven forward. It’s not about who you supported.”
The problem was that he couldn’t work with Massaro, O’Brien said.
“I think 3 1/2 years is enough time to try to work with someone,” he said.
With regard to the Allingtown department’s unpaid bills, “there were many, many times that the bills were held … and didn’t get to City Hall for one reason or another, and once they got to City Hall they were … very late,” O’Brien said.
“It’s easy for him to sit there and say that ‘Mayor O’Brien is a liar,” but “he did send over the bills after-the-fact — I can prove it,” he said.
“The bills were always on time,” Massaro responded. But “their system is so backwards, it’s unbelievable.”
O’Brien suggested there might have been institutional or organizational clashes once the Allingtown department became part of the city.
“I don’t think (Massaro) realized he was a department head of the city” after Allingtown voters opted to let the city take over and absorb the previously independent fire district in 2012, O’Brien said.
“But I think that after 3 1/2 years of trying to work with him, I don’t think it was going in a good direction for the people of Allingtown or the people of West Haven” and “it’s my prerogative to look for a new chief.”
Massaro, asked whether he agreed that the mayor has the right to seek a new chief, responded, “Is that fair that the firefighters have got to worry about what new chief is going to come in every two years? That’s ludicrous,” he said.
“How can you control a fire department — how is the union going to” respond, “if a new chief sets up new rules every two years?” he asked. “That’s totally crazy.”
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