MARLBOROUGH – Several dozen firefighters from across the region flocked to Marlborough City Hall on Friday to support Marlborough Firefighters Local 1714 president and Marlborough fire Lt. William Taylor, who is facing possible termination.
City officials, lawyers and Taylor then met for a public disciplinary hearing, with supporters of Taylor filling a primary meeting room and two overflow chambers.
“I’m not going anywhere that fast,” Taylor said in a brief speech from the steps of City Hall before the hearing.
‘A unique challenge’
Taylor was hired as a firefighter in Marlborough in 1986 before he became a lieutenant in 2017.
He was elected as the Marlborough Firefighters Local 1714 vice president in 1990 and rose to the rank of president in the following year.
Fire Chief Kevin Breen has since recommended Taylor’s termination, though, citing a number of instances of alleged insubordination and inappropriate behavior. That triggered this recent hearing, which proceeded for well over three hours on Friday.
Breen spoke in an opening statement, noting his past experience handling personnel issues and disciplinary matters over the course of his career.
“Lieutenant Taylor has been a unique challenge,” he said. “I honestly believe he has lost his way.”
Breen cited a “clear pattern of continuing, unacceptable conduct,” noting that Taylor had been issued warnings on multiple occasions in response to past conduct.
A lawyer arguing in favor of termination further said that Taylor had been suspended following “similar issues” in 2018.
“We are here today because Lieutenant Taylor refuses to modify his behavior and he continues to commit derisive deeds,” Breen said on Friday.
As Breen has recommended termination, the Firefighters Association has separately filed a charge of prohibited practice against the city with the state Board of Labor Relations.
The Firefighters Association filed that charge on Jan. 25, after Taylor was most recently placed on leave. It alleges 12 separate counts related to an order that prohibited Taylor from using the city’s email system as well as a direction that he stop attending Retirement Board meetings on work time. Counts also allege wrongdoing during the course of Breen’s investigations into Taylor.
City lawyers said on Friday that this effort to fire Taylor is not retaliatory, though lawyers for Taylor have argued the contrary.
Fire chief lays out case for termination
Breen delivered an opening statement in his comments during Taylor’s hearing.
“Today is a sad day for the Marlborough Department,” Breen said.
He followed an initial presentation by explaining specific incidents involving Taylor.
The first incident took place when Taylor allegedly didn’t properly request union time to attend a Retirement Board meeting in his capacity as a union member. This was part of a larger disagreement over Taylor’s participation in Retirement Board meetings while on the clock for the city.
The second incident spanned two days in October of last year when Taylor allegedly criticized Breen in a pair of emails related to a fellow firefighter’s retirement and ongoing staffing transfers.
Another incident was related to a seperate dispute over whether Taylor properly requested union time.
The fourth incident involving Taylor was identified, Breen said, following a complaint from a nurse who said she had a negative interaction with Taylor during his response to a medical call.
Breen presented an incident report that he said Taylor had written regarding that situation.
According to the report, firefighters had been responding with Patriot Ambulance crews to a nursing home in Marlborough.
A nurse then began arguing with first responders over a COVID-19 policy that required patients to wear a mask while in an ambulance, the report said.
The report said that Taylor told the nurse to, “shut your mouth.” The report, which Breen noted was a public record, then referred to the nurse as a “crackpot.”
A fifth incident stemmed from another dispute over time off, with Taylor allegedly writing a derogatory phrase on a manilla folder that was, months later, found at a desk he had been working at.
Taylor’s email usage was then the subject of another charge, in late December of last year, when he responded to an email announcing a new face covering policy with the phrase “Strong work chief.”
This, Breen said on Friday, was seen as sarcastic. Breen further alleged that Taylor used profanity to insult Battalion Chief Kenneth MacEwen during a meeting discussing that and other matters.
This happened after that order from Breen asking that Taylor stop sending emails through his city account, which was issued in response to what Breen described as a pattern of emails from Taylor “designed to harass, annoy or intimidate.”
Taylor was put on administrative leave on Jan. 24 as Breen recommended discipline. This was initially due to include a 60-day suspension and a demotion to the rank of firefighter.
Breen said Taylor violated the terms of that leave, though, when he was seen wearing a Marlborough Fire Department uniform in late January when he visited a Marlborough fire station and when he used his email account to send an announcement regarding the passing of a retired firefighter.
Breen sent a new letter on Feb. 11 recommending termination.
Lawyer argues Taylor’s case
A lawyer defending Taylor rebutted accusations laid out in Friday’s hearing, criticizing the city’s disciplinary process to date.
“We think that, on its face, the department has failed to present the basis for any discipline whatsoever,” attorney Jack Canzoneri said of the charges against Taylor.
Canzoneri said that Taylor’s due process rights had been violated, adding that the city should have taken more prompt action if it felt discipline was warranted on a number of these individual charges.
He refuted accusations point-by-point, highlighting specific incidents like the “shut your mouth” statement. While he said that Taylor should have chosen different language, he noted the context surrounding that incident and said that Taylor had not spoken those words in an “antagonistic” manner.
Canzoneri reiterated concerns about timeliness in the case of the manilla folder note, which was said to have been written in May of last year, months before it was addressed in a meeting. He further questioned whether that note could be seen as something that was meant to be found or viewed by others.
In regards to Taylor wearing a uniform on leave, Canzoneri said, Taylor wore a “Class A dress uniform” to a firefighter’s wake and participated in a ceremonial act coinciding his lifelong identity as a firefighter.
“He is wearing something that has nothing to do with posing as an active duty firefighter for the City of Marlborough,” Canzoneri said.
He argued that the letter informing Taylor of his leave also did not unambiguously state that Taylor could not wear such a dress uniform.
“It’s appalling, it’s atrocious, and it is deeply disturbing,” Canzoneri said of Breen’s discipline.
“I think there is not a scintilla of basis for these charges,” he continued, then referencing the firefighter turnout in support of Taylor. “…If these charges were different and there was some egregious thing that was obvious, maybe it would be different. But that’s not the way this is seen, people don’t have confidence in the chief’s perspective.”
The hearing officer concluded Friday’s proceedings, taking comments and filings under advisement.