March 12, 2019
A decision of the Massachusetts Civil Service Commission last month in a challenge brought by former Town firefighter Gerald Alston has received widespread attention in this community. Since the decision was issued, the Select Board has received considerable public commentary. Much of the feedback we received has concerned the question of whether the Town should appeal the decision.
This Select Board acknowledges the issues Mr. Alston raised in the Civil Service case. We sincerely regret the difficulties Mr. Alston has experienced since 2010 and the deterioration of his relationship with the Town, and express remorse that Mr. Alston felt his only option was to take legal action against the Town, Town employees, members of this Select Board and previous Select Boards, both in their official and individual capacities. This Board wishes to resolve the litigation and we are willing to address Mr. Alston’s concerns.
The Board has heard from residents recommending that the Town simply accept the order of the Civil Service Commission and return Mr. Alston to work. However, Mr. Alston’s attorney has publicly acknowledged that he interprets the Civil Service decision to mean that Mr. Alston “will likely be placed on leave with pay indefinitely”. This is an untenable outcome because this Board is unable to place anyone into leave with pay status indefinitely. We must agree on an acceptable alternative.
The Board has also received feedback from residents who want the Town the settle the Civil Service case. We agree with this sentiment and would like to move forward.
The Board wants to end the series of events that have occurred since 2010 that have led to the Civil Service decision and the federal lawsuit, and take further responsive action. The Board believes that doing so will benefit both Mr. Alston and the Town. However, there are two more impediments to ending the ongoing litigation and the issues that are at the heart of the Civil Service Commission’s ruling:
First, the civil service case is one of two cases Mr. Alston has brought against the Town. His other case, which names many current and former Town employees and officials, including four members of this Board, is pending in federal court. These individuals, including myself, have been sued in our individual capacities in addition to our capacities as Town officials. We cannot resolve the civil service case without a resolution of the federal lawsuit.
Second, Resolution of the two pending cases requires the parties to engage in dialogue about acceptable terms of resolution – financial and otherwise. The Town has reached out to Mr. Alston’s attorney several times in a good faith effort to resolve both cases and has even offered to participate in mediation before a federal judge. There are other forms of alternative dispute resolution that perhaps we can agree on. The offer of mediation has been rejected, the Town’s proposal to resolve the cases has not been answered, and the deadline for an appeal is within a few days. The only effective way to favorably end the litigation is for all involved to attempt a global solution of both pending cases – attempting one without the other does not work.
As a result, the Board feels they have no other choice than to appeal the matter, pending progress towards a resolution. Therefore, at their executive session earlier this evening, the Board voted to approve the following motion;
“To appeal the Civil Service decision in the matter of Gerald Alston v. the Town of Brookline, and simultaneously to vigorously seek a resolution of both cases.
We reiterate this Board’s desire, once again, to engage in dialogue with Mr. Alston and his representatives with the goal of resolving his claims.
On a personal note, Chairman Wishinsky added: “I only have a few short weeks left on this Board, and I personally would like nothing more than to resolve this matter before my term is up. The time to stop the pain, heal, and improve is now.”