Legal fight over NY fire chief eligibility continues

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Lockport Union-Sun and Journal

LOCKPORT, N.Y. — The legal battle over city fire chief eligibility will continue, even though the firefighter whose candidacy sparked the fight did not score high enough on the position’s civil service exam to be considered for the job.

That means it’ll be one of three veteran firefighters who will become the next Lockport chief and not Luca Quagliano, the municipal training officer. Despite not being a captain or assistant chief, Quagliano was allowed to take the civil service test after the city Civil Service Commission changed the rules as per a Fire Board request.

The top three scorers on the Feb. 1 exam was Assistant Chief Michael B. Seeloff, Capt. Thomas E. Lupo and Capt. Patrick K. Brady. State law says only the top three test scorers, including ties, can be considered for the job.

The Fire Board, which is responsible the hiring of the fire chief, will hold interviews after Chief Thomas J. Passuite announces a date for retirement. He hasn’t given a date to the board yet, but has said he would likely retire by the end of the year.

Seeloff scored an 86 on the exam, then scored six seniority points, for a total score of 92. Lupo finished with an 86 as well, but scored four points for seniority for a total score of 90. Brady scored an 85 and was awarded four points for seniority for a total score of 89.

Assistant Chief Matthew O. Streckewald finished fourth, with a test score of 78 and six seniority points for a total of 84, followed by Quagliano who scored a 77 and earned three points for a total score of 80.

The commission made the change last July and the Lockport Professional Firefighters Association filed a demand for arbitration with the state Public Employment Relations Board in December.

In the arbitration filing, the LPFA said the change violated a 2011 memorandum of agreement with the city that limited those eligible to take the test to assistant chiefs with at least two years in that rank. The new rules allow the municipal training officer and captains with at least two years’ experience in that rank to take the test.

In January, the city filed a stay of arbitration in an effort to get a court ruling that would prevent the union from taking the matter to a state arbitrator whose decision would be binding.

State Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Kloch Sr. scheduled a hearing for Aug. 7 on why the rules were changed and stayed the arbitration process in the meantime.

The city’s position has been that the LPFA is fighting the wrong entity.

“(Quagliano) is no longer eligible (for appointment as chief) so it’s probably moot at this point,” said Deputy Corporation Counsel David Blackley. “We never had a dog in this fight; it’s not our case, but obviously we have to defend it.”

LPFA President Kevin Pratt said the grievance would continue, because it has nothing to do with Quagliano.

“The city violated an agreement,” Pratt said. “It leaves the door open for MTOs in the future… you cannot violate a written agreement. Any changes must be negotiated.”

Copyright 2014 Lockport Union-Sun and Journal
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