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Liberty leaders ponder fate of 14-year firefighter

Published: Fri, December 23, 2011 @ 12:04 a.m.



By Robert Guttersohn



Township officials are considering the fate of a 14-year firefighter placed on paid administrative leave Monday for violating township policies and department regulations.

The punishment came one week after James K. Thompson, a firefighter in Liberty since 1997, returned from another four-month paid leave, according to the firefighter’s personnel file.

Thompson’s return to the force was contingent on him signing a disciplinary last-chance agreement, which he and township officials signed Dec. 8.

The agreement said Thompson engaged in “acts of threats, violence, harassment and intimidation” to employees before being placed on leave.

It also called for his successful completion of two behavioral-counseling programs.

“We felt it would be best to give him counseling,” township Administrator Pat Ungaro said.

Atty. Mark Finamore, township legal counsel, said officials noted little change when Thompson returned to work Dec. 12.

Thompson was late to work three times that week, according to a memo Liberty Fire Chief Michael Durkin sent to township officials this week.

Durkin called for the firefighter’s termination.

Finamore would not elaborate, citing a pending investigation.

The Vindicator was unable to reach either Thompson or the International Association of Firefighters Local 2075 attorney Dennis Haines to comment.

A Dec. 18 letter signed by 13 of Thompson’s fellow firefighters said working with Thompson created a “hostile” work environment.

According to Mahoning County court records, Thompson has criminal convictions, including multiple charges of operating a vehicle while impaired and one misdemeanor concealed-weapon charge in 2003, which eventually landed him on unpaid leave for 90 days, according to his personnel file.

The township attempted to terminate Thompson in 2004 and in 2007.

Both times, his termination went to arbitration and was negotiated to a lesser punishment.

In August, the township placed Thompson on paid administrative leave, again citing “turbulent behavior.”

Finamore said the investigation will include testimony from both Durkin and Liberty firefighters.

“We want to make sure we are on solid ground and have all our ducks in a row before we proceed,” Finamore said.

He expects a decision by next Friday.

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