May 20, 2018
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Orrington selectmen affirm suspension of fire chief without pay

Kevin Bennett | BDN
Kevin Bennett | BDN
Orrington Fire Chief Mike Spencer
By Nok-Noi Ricker, BDN Staff

ORRINGTON, Maine — Firefighters hanging out at the fire station, 12 hours of unrecorded sick time and the fact Fire Chief Mike Spencer drove a town vehicle to his other job are the three reasons why Spencer was suspended without pay for two weeks earlier this month.

Those issues and others were aired at Monday night’s special selectmen’s meeting, where an open grievance hearing was held at the request of Spencer to get back the pay he lost during his suspension.

The meeting was heated at points, and Chairman Kevin Allcroft said he was upset that Spencer even filed the grievance.

Spencer said he has informed those who hang out at the fire station that they can no longer do so, that he forgot to write down the sick time, and that he used the designated chief’s vehicle to go to his job at R.H. Foster so that he could get back to town if there was an incident.

“It wasn’t a personal use in my eyes — it was so I could get back to Orrington if something happened,” Spencer said. “I made a decision. I don’t think it’s a decision that should have cost me two weeks’ pay.”

At the end of the hour-and-a-half-long hearing, selectmen voted unanimously to affirm Town Manager Paul White’s decision to suspend Spencer without pay.

When the meeting started, Allcroft told Spencer to stick to the three suspension topics and added, “We know you do good work as a chief.”

White, who was seated beside town attorney Edmond Bearor, started off by explaining why he suspended Spencer.

“There was a time sheet turned in with hours worked without sick time taken,” the town manager said, referring to Feb. 27, when Spencer went home early and should have recorded four hours of sick time, and the next day, when eight hours of sick time should have been recorded.

Spencer admitted he made a mistake, but said he didn’t even know about the oversight until White walked into his office to suspend him on March 26.

“At the time, I … [had] 284 hours of sick time on the books. I seriously, seriously don’t think I’m going to gain anything by not putting it down,” the fire chief said. “I don’t see how not filling out this sick time is [cause for] two weeks of suspension.”

Later in the meeting, Allcroft said that time sheets are town documents and “If you falsify it, that is a huge problem.”

White’s second problem with Spencer was “people hanging out at the fire station … for more than 10 or 15 minutes.”

Selectman Howard Grover said it’s a liability for off-duty firefighters and others to be at the station and added that a select few have caused problems.

Spencer responded by saying, “I did tell Paul I was working on it. We don’t see those guys as much. Have I locked the doors? No. Maybe that’s the answer. Lock the doors and they have to ring the door to come in.”

The fire chief also said his office is on the second floor so often he doesn’t know who is downstairs.

The final complaint against Spencer was use of the Envoy purchased for the chief to use.

“The vehicle was at another place of employment,” White said.

The fire chief responded by saying, “This was a one-time incident so that I could respond to a call.”

Allcroft, who directed Spencer to take up employment grievances with his boss — Paul White — and not the selectmen, said he disagrees with Spencer on the definition of personal use.

“When you take a town vehicle, you say you are honored to have, to another job, that is personal use,” Allcoft said. “That is my opinion.”

The chairman also added, “I am not going to go against Paul White. I am totally upset about this” and added that filing the grievance “takes us down the wrong path.”

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