by Carol Stevens
GARDNER- Gardner fire board held a special hearing Wed. June 25. This meeting was to hear both sides from Fire Chief, Ken McArthur, and Assistant Fire Chief, Joe Albano, with council present, regarding the charges and suspension placed upon Albano. Representing the fire board was attorney Tom Mullins, from Pueblo West. Prior to the start of the session, County Commissioner, and fire board member Roger Cain excused himself from the proceedings, due to conflict of interest. Both Cain and McArthur are running for County Commissioner in District 1. After hearing testimonies from both McArthur and Albano, the board reinstated Albano by unanimous decision. The board came to the conclusion, after hearing all the testimony, that Albano was never given due process on the charges.
Pro-Tem Chair Stephen Hodges called the meeting to order by reading a list of rules that would be enforced, regarding the handling of the special meeting.
Hodges opened with a reading of the charges against Albano. The alleged charges were as follows: endangering the well-being of fellow firefighters, insubordination, and conduct unbecoming of an officer of the district. Chief McArthur began with his explanation of each charge and how they were assessed. He explained each charge in detail so that the Board could assess and weigh the allegations.
The questioning period by asking McArthur to explain the delay in bringing the charges to light, from the time they occurred to now. McArthur stated, “The reason for the delay was, that the fire department was undergoing a complete reorganization. None of the vehicles were working or operating properly. We had no functional bunker gear, no functional wild land gear, we had no radios, or very few radios, we had very few working pagers. Also, there was a power struggle going on with the board members. With all the material problems we had and the limited number of firefighters we had, I felt that the fire department itself would suffer irreparable damage if I started bringing charges against my assistant chief within a month and a half after being installed as chief.”
Board members began questioning McArthur on the alleged charges. When questioned if Albano had ever been taken aside and counseled as each incidence occurred, McArthur could only answer no. McArthur brought three witnesses for his defense, Tony Cisneros, Roy Britt and Jacob El Bekhty., but only Britt was available for testimony. The board questioned Britt on the incidents with Albano.
Hodges then turned the floor over to Albano for his defense. Albano used a blackboard to help illustrate his defense in the alleged charge. Albano was questioned, after his demonstration, whether or not he had received any written documentation of what he had been accused of.
“Nope,” responded Albano, “this was all I got, that letter.” Board member Larry Michaels inquired to Albano whether or not he was counseled on this matter. Albano responded, “No, just like everything else, this is all news to me.”
On the insubordination charge, Albano stated that he did bring to the attention of the board, on the night of the regular board meeting held May 14, the idea that there would be less confusion if there was a Gardner Fire One. Albano thought it was in the meeting minutes as being approved. Board Secretary Dan Been stated that the board had not approved it.
Pro-tem Chair Hodges announced to all parties present, that all evidence had been presented, eyewitnesses had been heard, and that the board would now go into closed session to confer with council.
The board came back from executive session with council and announced that Albano had not received due process. The board was in full agreement that Albano should be reinstated to the position of Assistant Fire Chief. The board also agreed to accept Ruth Albano’s letter of resignation from the fire department.
Pro-tem Chair Hodges thanked everyone present for their patience in this process, and their attendance. Hodges urged the residents of Gardner to attend the fire board meetings, and get involved.