WESTFIELD - The Westfield Volunteer Fire Department is not going to take the negativity anymore.
A number of members of the department showed up in uniform to the Monday, Sept. 17 meeting of the Westfield Village Board of Trustees to show their displeasure with recent written statements made by Mayor David Carr in this and another local newspaper. Westfield Fire Chief Stephen Pacanowski read a prepared speech during the public comment portion of the meeting in which he voiced frustration with Carr's comments, but ended on a note of putting the past behind and moving forward.
"On behalf of the members of the Fire Department of Westfield, the officers got together and discussed this," Pacanowski said. "I am here to speak out against you Mr. Mayor and the village administration for your continued mudslinging and slanderous comments regarding the members of the fire department to say that we're not tolerating this anymore."
Photo by Jenna Loughlin
Member of the Westfield Volunteer Fire Department showed up en mass to the Westfield Village Board of Trustees meeting on Monday, Sept. 17 to ask for the negativity aimed at their department to stop.
He went on to say the mayor's belittling goes against the village's code of ethics by raising suspicion among the public with his two articles pertaining to a recent audit of the fire department by the New York State Comptroller's office. Pacanowski said the management of the department's funds has needed work for some time, and when the audit did come, the leadership of the department accepted it and began to implement change.
"Did you ever comment about that? No," Pacanowski said. "You would rather continue to find fault in our department under your leadership, publicize that, and then pat yourself on the back when you make the corrections."
Referring to Carr's most recent written statement, Pacanowski said the most derogatory comment was the one where the mayor called out the "old guard," who had said they would resign if Carr was elected, to do so and "keep to their word." He also said the mayor insinuated the members of the fire department have been stealing money or using money inappropriately.
Dear Mr. Mayor and Village Trustees
On behalf of the members of the Fire Department of Westfield, I am hear speaking out against you and the village administration for your continued mud slinging and slanderous comments regarding the members of the fire department and to say that we are not tolerating this anymore. Your constant belittling of the fire department and our members is a violation of your own Village Code of Ethics under Chapter 16 section 5 subsection H (16-5H) in that "Each village employee shall endeavor to pursue a course of conduct which will not raise suspicion among the public that he is likely to be engaged in acts that are in violation of his trust." In this, you have raised suspicion in the public by your insistency to write articles pertaining to the fire department and Exempt Association about fundraising activities, also by requesting an audit not once but twice. The audit issue is not something that occurred overnight, the transparency, organization, collection and distribution of our funds is something that needed work for sometime now. When this audit did come, the leadership of our Department immediately accepted it and began to implement change. Did you ever comment about that? No. You would rather continue to find faults in a department under your "leadership," publicize that and then pat yourself on the back when you "make the corrections." At least John D'Agostino, (publisher) for the Dunkirk Observer, gave the department credit by saying "As for the audit's findings, officers of the department have responded to the 13 recommendations, agreeing with all. That is a positive sign for the department and those who have supported it in moving forward."
The most derogatory comment that you have said was your last statement within the article was that "during this time, there are several of the 'old guard' members of the fire department that have an immense dislike of me. As a matter of fact, when I first ran for mayor, I went to a fire department meeting looking for their support. Seven members spoke up and said 'If you get elected, I will resign,' and they are still there. Maybe now that there is accountability for funds they will keep their word." You have basically come out and said the people of our department have been stealing monies or otherwise using it inappropriately. Who do you think you are? You are basically calling us criminals. The men and women of this department have 878.5 years of dedicated service to this village. But do you care? Well, we know what your answer is because all you ever do is point out the negative, never anything good we do.
It is time for this mud slinging, slanderous comments and micromanaging of our department to stop. Stop living in the past and holding grudges of past administrations of the department as a way to keep your fingers on the button of the current leadership. Let bygones be bygones and it's time to move forward. If this kind of disrespect and slander continues, you may find out the hard way just how much money 878.5 years of service actually saves the village.
Stephen Pacanowski, Chief
David Davies, First Assistant Chief
Brad Damcott, Second Assistant Chief
Brad Szymczak, Captain Cascade Hose Co.
William Bills, Captain Hook and Ladder Co.
Jerry Ruch, Captain Citizens Hose Co.
Cheryl Smith, Lieutenant Cascade Hose Co.
Everett Reardon, Lieutenant Hook and Ladder Co.
"Who do you think you are Mr. Mayor," Pacanowski said. "You are basically calling us criminals."
He went on to say Carr does not care about the 878.5 years of "dedicated service" put in by the men and women of the department as Carr always points out the negative, never the positive.
"It's time for this mudslinging, slanderous comments and micromanaging of our department to stop," Pacanowski said. "Stop living in the past and holding grudges ... as a way to keep your fingers on the buttons of the current leadership. Let bygones be bygones, and time to move forward."
However, Pacanowski left the village with this warning.
"If this kind of disrespect and slander continues, you may find out the hard way just how much money 878 years of service will cost the village," Pacanowski said.
Carr thanked Pacanowski for his comments, but took exception to the part about calling the members criminals, saying he never actually called them thieves when referring to the misappropriation of money and the mixing of funds between the fire department and the Westfield Firemen's Exempt Association.
"I'll take your comments the way they should be taken," Carr said. "Anything from now on I can assure you will be positive. I appreciate you all coming in and having the balls enough to tell me that. We've got to work together. It's time to start doing that."
Captain of the Hook and Ladder Company William Bills also spoke up at the meeting, saying he believes the audit needs to be looked at as a positive thing.
"I don't think anyone in the fire department disagreed with the ultimate root cause of how that audit happened," he said.
Those in the fire department who were involved in working with the auditors handled the situation with the "utmost professionalism and service that they possibly could," Bills said. A 15 year member of the force, Bills said to have statements in the paper about the membership of the department which can be perceived as being negative, "is difficult to swallow," especially when he believes the department handled itself, "with the most efficiency and the most class" through the entire process.
"I don't think we're here tonight in a threatening manner," Bills said. "But I did want to say that the perception of the membership is that some of the statements that have been publicized in the paper and some of the statements ... that come back to us are negative. And to think that the governing body of our village, who basically is in charge of our fire department, has been the sum of a part of pushing around that negativity against their own department bother me."
The audit presents an opportunity to start fresh together, Bills said. It was only after Bills' comments that Carr actually apologized for his comments.
"I apologize to you," Carr said. "I apologize to the department because the article that I had was not meant to cast dispersions on the members of the fire department. ... If it caused you problems, I apologize for that."
As a final statement, Bills spoke to the fact that, unfortunately, the fire department is not a revenue generating department of the village, but is an expensive department to run, Bills said. However, all the department can do is cut its budget and needs the support of the Village as well as the Town of Westfield to help it fulfill its duty to the community.
"Our needs not only have to be met, they need to be met," Bills said. "Our service is important and everybody whose every needed us has been more than thankful that we were available. ... Fire and EMS service is a necessity."
The percentage of the taxes allotted to the fire department over the last several years has created a hardship, Bills said. He brought up the approval of a new electric truck which had taken place earlier on in the meeting, saying the fire department also has trucks the village knows need to be replaced and past conversations and plans have gone no where.
"Two steps forward, and five back," Bills said. "It's expensive to run 20 Clinton St., and it needs to be recognized."
Carr suggested Bills attend the next Town of Westfield Board of Trustees meeting and say the same exact words there. The one positive comment Carr did make about the fire department was that it is not in near as bad a shape as many other departments around New York State.
At no point during the public comment portion of the meeting did any of the Village Trustees make any statements or comments themselves.