Ronald Mercier on the day his case was heard by an arbitrator.SUN/LYLE MORANSun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our Smugmug site.
Ronald Mercier on the day his case was heard by an arbitrator. SUN/LYLE MORAN

Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our Smugmug site.

LOWELL -- An arbitrator has ruled that the city was justified in firing Ronald Mercier from his laborer's job at the Regional Water Utility for stealing gasoline in 2010.

In a nine-page ruling handed down March 31, Arbitrator Timothy Hatfield wrote that it is "undisputed" that Mercier stole gasoline from the city. But in explaining his decision to uphold the city's decision, Hatfield said Mercier's case was built upon "unsupported conjectures."

The request for arbitration was filed by Mercier's union, Council 93 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The case was heard in late September, 2013.

The union argued that Mercier's boss, Daniel Lahiff, also stole from the city when he arranged for a subordinate to connect and disconnect two city-owned generators at his home during a winter storm powered by city gasoline.

The state Ethics Commission fined Lahiff, the facility's executive director, $5,000 for the use of the generators. However, he was not disciplined by the city.

"As much as the union attempts to portray the actions of Lahiff and Mercier as one in the same, they are distinguishable," Hatfield wrote. "Lahiff admitted in his March 20, 2012 disposition agreement with the ethics commission to the use of the generator on two occasions, for solicitation of a subordinate to connect and disconnect the generator on two occasions, and for solicitation of a subordinate to install a wood floor.


Significantly, there was no finding by the Ethics Commission that Lahiff stole anything, including gasoline.

"Notwithstanding the union's unhappiness with the city's decision to accept the ethics commission's disposition agreement and Lahiff's subsequent civil fine of $5,000, the union was unable to provide any further evidence during the hearing of theft by Lahiff. The union's attempts to claim otherwise are based solely on Mercier's unsupported conjectures. Absent a finding that Lahiff stole from the city, I do not find the Mercier and Lahiff situations to be similarly situated and I can find no compelling reason to deviate from the axiom that theft is a terminable offense."

Following the hearing, Mercier told The Sun he provided the gas to then-utility electrician Doug Collupy, who loaded it into his vehicle, on one of the two occasions Lahiff had Collupy bring a city generator to Lahiff's home.

Also following the hearing, then City Manager Bernie Lynch told The Sun in a statement that "The city could find no evidence that the 'borrowed' generators were powered by city gasoline."

A Middlesex Superior Court jury found Mercier guilty of one count of larceny under $250 in late August 2012. A former elected member of the Dracut School Committee, Mercier was sentenced to one year probation and ordered to pay $75 in restitution.

Follow Scott on Twitter @cscottlowellsun.

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