HAVERHILL — City Councilor David Hall delivered a blistering verbal attack against Fire Chief Richard Borden at last night's meeting, saying the chief is to blame for many of the department's recent problems.
Hall also said Mayor James Fiorentini is also at fault because he made Borden chief two years ago. Borden was not at last night's meeting.
Hall said he has spoken with representatives from a long list of companies who have had problems with Borden, including several large retail stores, large housing developers, restaurants and other businesses.
"He alienated the business community," Hall said of the fire chief. "He also can't work with subordinates or other department heads. He's failed the public and the firefighters on numerous safety issues and has no idea how to deal with his employees. I could have filled this meeting with people who know how bad he is."
Hall's comments were to bolster his position opposing a proposal by the mayor to remove the chief's job from civil service until an outside consultant weighs in on the idea in three to six months.
"You knew Borden's track record and you made him chief anyway and now you want the council to cover up your mistake," Hall told Fiorentini. "That's why I'm not comfortable making this decision (about taking the chief's job out of civil service) without hearing the consultant's recommendation."
Fiorentini fired back at Hall for attacking Borden in his absence. He also accused the councilor of being under the influence of the firefighters union.
The mayor said Hall was a leader in calling for the removal of the chief's job from civil service, until firefighters packed a meeting chaired by Hall on the issue last week.
"The union wants you to believe Borden is the problem with the Fire Department," the mayor said. "But it wasn't the chief who forced firefighters to cheat on the EMT test or not tell us when one was in jail."
Fiorentini said Borden was the top scorer on the civil test and recommended to him by a committee that screened several finalists for the job.
"Everything you said about Borden is wrong, but if it was right, that's more reason why we need to take the chief's position out of civil service," the mayor said.
Fiorentini said the firefighters hate the chief because he has instituted a number of new rules to try to reform the department. They include cracking down on sick-leave abuse, removing a sleeping cot from the fire dispatch, removing exercise equipment from hose rooms in fire houses, requiring firefighters to get approval when they job-swap to cover absences longer than two weeks, and requiring union officers to get his approval when they take time off with pay for union business. In each of those instances, the union filed against a grievance against the chief's actions, the mayor said.
Fiorentini and other councilors chastised Hall for attacking Borden when he wasn't present to defend himself.
"The fire chief was the subject of a brutal attack and he wasn't able to defend himself," Fiorentini said. "That was unfair."
"That was wrong. We owe the fire chief an apology," Councilor Mary Ellen Daly O'Brien said of allowing Hall's tirade against the fire chief.
City Council President Michael Hart told the mayor to have Borden contact him if he wishes to appear at next week's council meeting to respond to Hall's comments.
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