Editorial: Focus is askew in Randolph
There are bigger problems in Randolph than a fire chief expressing his raw emotions after a fatal fire in May killed two children in his town.
We only wished Selectmen Jeffrey Burgess and Maureen Kenney had thought of that before launching what, on its face, appears to have been a personal vendetta against Fire Chief Charles Foley and wasting thousands of scarce taxpayers’ dollars that could have gone to the beleaguered school system, parks department, police department or any other town department that needs the funds far more than the town needed this divisive and drawn-out spectacle.
Foley was suspended Monday for 15 days without pay after a lawyer hired by selectmen - the same board that initiated the discipline hearing - determined the chief did those egregious acts - cried in pain and spoke his mind - that Burgess and Kenney accused him of doing.
As the French would say, quel surprise.
Burgess had claimed that Foley struck him in the chest at the scene of the fire with a newspaper article about budget cuts. Foley admitted he pushed the article at Burgess while complaining about the cuts his department had taken over the past few years.
But Hearing Officer Joseph Coffey, whose pay was determined and approved by selectmen, gave credence to Burgess’ version of events. If it was so egregious, we have to ask why Burgess did not file a criminal complaint for assault?
Coffey repeated Kenney’s allegations that Foley, overcome by emotion, cried at the scene. Yet numerous firefighting professionals who were at the scene and testified at this kangaroo court said Foley was from beginning to end in complete command and control at the deadly blaze. Coffey agreed, calling the response from the chief and his department “textbook firefighting” and did not substantiate that charge.
The most damning, then, apparently was Burgess’ and Kenney’s embarrassment that Foley aired the town’s dirty laundry in honestly answering reporters’ questions that the staffing levels in Randolph put the firefighters on scene in a defensive posture, rather than allowing them the ability to enter the Union Street home to save brothers Emmanuel Labranche, 17, and Valensky Duguaran, 10, who were trapped in a second-floor bedroom.
If you can’t shed a tear or become emotional over that, then you are a stronger human than most.
But Coffey found cause to discipline Foley because his comments were “unprofessional, inappropriate and unbecoming a fire chief.”
Coffey apparently did not give credence to that pesky little obstacle for punishing Foley, that dusty document called the Constitution whose First Amendment protects speech.
Foley, whose job includes answering media inquiries, performed his task and that includes speaking to the impact of budget cuts on his department.
It is not a scientific survey but the flood of letters we have received in our editorial department overwhelmingly supports Foley. We have received less than a handful of letters or calls backing the selectmen on this issue.
First-graders are walking as far as two miles to school in Randolph because the town eliminated buses after the Proposition 21/2 override failed. Classes are bursting at the seams because of overcrowding. Teens are gunning down teens at traffic lights and in homes in Randolph.
And two children died in a fatal fire and the fire chief, whose response was “textbook firefighting,” shed a tear and spoke from his heart.
Who is setting the priorities in Randolph?