GROTON -- Stephen Tervo says Fire Chief Joseph Bosselait fired him to retaliate for testifying in a harassment case against his superiors and for having attempted to unionize.
The Board of Selectmen says, however, the allegations made by Tervo or any others who filed complaints against town officials and employees in the wake of the termination of some Fire Department positions are unsubstantiated.
"The individuals named in the complaints are exonerated from having engaged in harassment, retaliation or coercion of any member of the Fire Department," Selectmen Chairman Joshua Degen said on Friday after the board investigated the allegations for more than four hours behind closed doors.
"The board has the highest level of confidence in the department's ability to protect the public, and consider this matter closed," Degen added.
On Friday morning, selectmen held hearings for more than a dozen town employees against whom four complaints were filed, including Bosselait, Town Manager Mark Haddad and various Fire Department workers. The hearings came amid the controversy surrounding the board's recent decision not to reappoint two of the town's on-call firefighters. Separately from the non-reappointments, Clarence Jefferson, who was deputy fire chief, retired from the position, and James Horan, who was on-call firefighter, resigned, Degen has said.
The board would not say who the complainants were or what the allegations were.
The complaint released to The Groton Herald was filed by Tervo. In it, Tervo wrote that he had received a termination notice from Bosselait on June 10 without an explanation via email. Selectmen have said all on-call firefighters are subject to annual appointment. Tervo wrote in his complaint, however, that he has never been officially appointed to the position and that the termination notice should have come from selectmen, who have the appointing authority, rather than from Bosselait.
Tervo's termination notice came not long after the Board of Selectmen wrapped up its investigation into a complaint filed by another firefighter earlier this year. The complainant said that his superiors harassed him after an unsuccessful discussion between them about a pay structure change. After having an independent investigator look into the matter, the board concluded in May that the allegations could not be substantiated.
The board then had Haddad conduct some interviews to follow up on the investigation.
"After the town manager's interviews, and after reviewing overall department operation, Chief Bosselait advised certain individuals that they would not be reappointed," the board said in a press release issued June 23.
On the same day, Tervo filed a grievance against Bosselait for wrongful termination and against Bosselait, Lt. Anthony Hawgood, Capt. Susan Daly and Haddad for "harassment, coercion and retaliation, as well as conduct unbecoming an officer."
"I feel I have been wrongfully terminated, as a direct act of retaliation from my direct superiors, Lt. Tony Hawgood, Capt. Susan Daly, Chief Joseph Bosselait, and the Town Manager Mark Haddad for having testified during an investigation into alleged harassment of another firefighter, and also for attempting to unionize," Tervo wrote in his complaint.
On Friday, the accused took turns sitting down with selectmen in an executive session. At the conclusion of the meeting, the board returned to a public session and announced that the case was closed.
Bosselait said after the meeting that he was satisfied with the board's findings, but declined to comment on the details of the allegations.
"The Board (of Selectmen) had to do what the board had to do," Bosselait said.
Lt. Tyler Shute, a union leader who attended the hearings, declined to comment on the case.