SALISBURY — Previously fired police officer Mark Thomas returns to the town payroll today, earning his base salary of more than $75,000 once again, according to a partially finalized rehiring agreement released yesterday.
The reinstatement letter came one month to the day after an independent arbitrator ruled town officials had no justification in firing Thomas and ordered that he get his job back and be repaid lost compensation for the roughly 10-month period of his termination.
Attorneys for both sides have spent the last 30 days negotiating the terms of Thomas’ reinstatement.
According to Town Manager Neil Harrington, although Thomas, 46, is considered a town employee as of today — the beginning of the work week in Salisbury — he won’t actually take up his duties until after a meeting with Police Chief Tom Fowler on Tuesday.
At that meeting, Harrington expects Fowler will work out what Thomas’ assignment will be within the department as well as determine the officer’s status on technicalities like police-related certifications. Fowler took over as police chief during Thomas’ termination, so the two have not worked together previously.
“Chief Fowler doesn’t know Mark,” Harrington said. “He’s going to talk to Mark and start with a clean slate.”
Town officials have chosen not to appeal independent arbitrator Richard Boulanger’s ruling ordering Thomas’ reinstatement.
Harrington said yesterday that although he is disappointed in the final ruling and feels the town was justified in its actions, he believes the decision not to appeal the ruling is the wisest course. He said the town’s attorney has advised that under the law, there are very narrow reasons to appeal an arbitrator’s decision.
“Looking at the decision, our attorney advised us we would have a very small likelihood of succeeding,” Harrington said.
Boulanger ruled on Oct. 30 that Harrington did not have just cause to fire Thomas, a 24-year veteran with the Police Department.
Harrington had terminated Thomas in early February following an investigation into allegations made against him by some of his fellow officers. Those allegations initially arose during a January 2011 investigation into perceived wrongdoing by then-police chief David L’Esperance.
The accusations generated a second investigation into Thomas’ behavior, which was conducted by retired Salem police chief Robert St. Pierre, who was hired by Harrington to investigation both Thomas and L’Esperance.
Thomas faced allegations of interfering with justice by trying to influence a police investigation, complicity in the falsification of his career record in an application to the FBI National Academy, failure to properly report violations committed by other officers to his superiors and studying for the bar exam while on duty.
The 115-page Thomas report released in September 2011 came with a recommendation from St. Pierre that Thomas be immediately discharged.
Thomas then faced a disciplinary hearing on the charges, after which Harrington found him “culpable” of two counts of conduct unbecoming an officer — failure to devote full attention to his job by studying for the bar exam while on duty and a lack of truthfulness for falsifying his career record on his application to the FBI National Academy.
Thomas appealed his firing through the New England Benevolent Police Association patrolmen’s union, arguing that, under the town’s contract with the Salisbury police union, he was terminated without just cause. The appeal hearings before Boulanger, the agreed-upon arbitrator by both sides, were conducted in late June and July. Boulanger’s decision came in late October.
In his ruling, Boulanger also ordered Thomas be reimbursed by the town for lost salary and benefits from the day of his termination to the day he is rehired, less any income he may have received in the interim. Thomas, who is also an attorney, collected unemployment during that period and he may have earned additional income practicing law, officials say.
The amount of his reimbursement is still being determined, but it could be sizable. It will be calculated using Thomas’ base pay, including his Quinn supplement for educational achievement that represents about 30 percent of his $75,523 annual base pay, without overtime. It will also include his expected benefits during the termination period.
As of yesterday, the town was still waiting to hear from Thomas’ attorney, Kenneth Anderson, concerning the amount of total income Thomas earned during the termination period.
According to Anderson, a delay in receiving information from the Department of Unemployment that is needed to document the amount of compensation Thomas received is holding up the final settlement. Those payments and any other income Thomas earned will be factored into the amount of money the town owes Thomas, he said.
Since the settlement is still incomplete, Boulanger has retained authority over the case until Feb. 4, 2013, by which time Harrington and Anderson are hoping to finalize the amount of the reimbursement.
Following Boulanger’s ruling, Thomas expressed his relief at Boulanger’s decision to overturn his termination and thanked those who stood by him during the ordeal.
He added that although he felt the damage to his reputation was “immeasurable,” he looked forward to returning to his job as a police officer in his hometown of Salisbury.