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December 8, 2012

Editorial: Lantigua shows his contempt for the rules ... and decency

When commenting on the cases of public employees who have kept their jobs, not to mention their pay, pensions and perks, despite manifest evidence of wrongdoing, we’ve often asked one simple question

What does it take to get fired if you are a public employee?

And now we know one way.

Your wife must have terminal cancer and you must have exhausted your unpaid leave. And, above all, there must be a politically connected candidate salivating for your job.

Such is the sad and outrageous story behind the firing of Tom Sapienza, a 41-year-old Lawrence sewer worker with a dying wife who was terminated by Mayor William Lantigua the Monday after Thanksgiving.

As Keith Eddings reported last week, Sapienza had been on unpaid leave to care for his wife Heather for five months. His leave ran out Nov. 26 and he was ordered to return to work.

With his wife now in at-home hospice care with untreatable cancer, Sapienza declined and was fired.

Acting Public Works Commissioner John Isensee said Sapienza was let go because there was “no end in sight” to Sapienza’s extended leave and he could only keep the job open so long.

The opening was quickly filled by Jose Santiago, the disabled Methuen cop, former state representative, failed candidate for mayor and on-again-off-again political ally of Lantigua.

The mayor approved Santiago’s hiring at $15 an hour on the day Sapienza was notified of his termination.

Sapienza’s lawyer, Ellen Shimer-Brenes, maintains Lantigua fired Sapienza to clear the way for Santiago.

Sapienza “made the difficult decision to take no pay and leave his job, hoping to be able to return to it, to care for his terminally ill wife,” she told Eddings. “What a perfect opportunity ... to offer Tom’s position for political gain.”

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