, Newburyport, MA

November 2, 2012

Town may appeal rehire order

By Angeljean Chiaramida STAFF WRITER
Newburyport Daily News

---- — SALISBURY — Unhappy with a ruling that overturned Salisbury’s firing of former police officer Mark Thomas, the town is considering filing an appeal, and is assessing the cost of back pay the ruling says Thomas is entitled to.

On Wednesday, arbitrator Richard Boulanger ruled that Town Manager Neil Harrington did not have just cause to fire Thomas, a 24-year veteran of the police department. Thomas’ firing came in early February, after allegations were raised by other Salisbury officers against him during a January 2011 investigation into perceived wrong-doing by then police chief David L’Esperance. Thomas appealed, and Boulanger was assigned to decide the case.

“In the award, Arbitrator Richard Boulanger found that there was not just cause for Mr. Thomas’ termination and ordered him reinstated with back pay and benefits,” Harrington said yesterday. “The town is disappointed in this ruling, as the arbitrator interpreted the facts of the case differently than the town. Presently, the town is reviewing its legal options, including the possibility of filing an appeal with the Superior Court.”

Harrington said by statute the only appeal of an arbitrator’s finding in such cases is Superior Court.

According to the ruling, Thomas’ must be reimbursed for the lost in salary and benefits during from the day of his termination, less any income he may have received in the interim. Harrington said, as of yesterday, the town did not know how much that would be. Thomas collected unemployment during this period, Harrington said, the town doesn’t know if he earned any other income.

“It’s my understanding that the attorneys on both sides are discussing the back pay issue right now,” Harrington said.

According to the decision, Boulanger retained authority over the case for 30 days after issuing the report. If an accord cannot be reached between the town and Thomas, Boulanger can set in within 30 days and make that determination, Harrington said.

Boulanger ordered Thomas be reinstated in his job “forthwith,” Harrington said, and exactly when that will be is still unknown.

As of yesterday, Harrington hadn’t calculated the total legal costs involved in Thomas’ firing, grievance process, disciplinary hearing and appeal process.

However, the arbitrator’s bill totals $11,325.88, of which the town will pay half, or $5,662.94, with the union paying the other half.

The total cost of the review into Thomas’ behavior came to more than $28,700, according to Harrington’s calculations. Retired Salem police chief Robert St. Pierre conducted that investigation.