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Fired Paramedic Strains Massachusetts Town's Budget

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BOURNE — The town has paid a fired paramedic more than $75,000 while officials have waited 20 months for an answer from the state on an appeal.

Jonathan Bean, 30, a firefighter and paramedic, was fired after losing his authorization to practice from the Cape and Islands Emergency Medical Services System in May 2009. Because Bean appealed the termination to the state Civil Service Commission, the town must keep him on the payroll.

Town Administrator Thomas Guerino, who has announced the town faces almost certain layoffs in fiscal year 2012, said he has had to keep paying Bean until there is a resolution.

Gilbert Taylor, president of the Professional Firefighters of Bourne, said "the town is being forced to waste money."

"As much as I don't want to see the guy lose his job, he's essentially collecting a paycheck for nothing," Taylor said.

After selectmen last week asked town officials to inquire about the delay, Bourne Town Counsel Robert Troy said Friday that the Civil Service Commission plans to make a decision within the next two weeks.

Concerns About Abilities

Bean told the Times his termination was unjustified, citing several years of good work and a willingness to undergo additional training.

"I would like my job back. I'm willing to do anything to correct any shortcomings," he said.

Bean was hired in January 2007, and his first couple years went smoothly. Bean said he even received a commendation from then-acting Deputy Chief Martin Greene for saving a woman from a burning building on Christmas Eve in 2008.

But problems started in early 2009, when several firefighters complained about his aptitude as a paramedic.

"There were questions and concerns about his abilities," Taylor said.

Based on the complaints, CIEMSS took away Bean's authorization to practice, meaning he could no longer work at the fire department under town regulations, Guerino said.

Bean said he believes any issues he had could have been corrected by training, but that he wasn't offered any and was "put under a microscope" before his termination.

"I was shocked when I received the letter about losing my authorization to practice," Bean said. "I always believed this was an issue of a little more training. "  "And if it's a problem with more training, I'm willing to do it."

After being terminated, Bean made $24,605 between May and December 2009, according to Town Treasurer Karen Girouard. In 2010 he made $50,115, payroll records indicate.

Bean appealed his firing to the Civil Service Commission, a quasi-governmental agency that oversees discipline hearings for public employees. A series of hearings were held in 2009, but Commissioner Paul Stein has yet to return a decision.

Bean asked the fire union for help appealing his fate, but the union chose not to appeal the town's decision on Bean's behalf, Taylor said. Bean filed an unfair labor practice charge in November 2009 that was ultimately dismissed.

It was unclear to town officials and Bean's attorney, Boston-based John Becker, how long the average appeal hearing takes to be completed or why Bean's has taken so long to be resolved, they said Friday.

In 2009, 98 of the several hundred appeals received the year before had been pending for more than 12 months. In 2010, 63 were pending for more than a year, according to commission documents.

Messages left Thursday and Friday with the Civil Service Commission and the Executive Office for Administration and Finance, which oversees the commission, were not returned.

'Unnecessary Impediment'

The time that has passed is "absurd," said Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation President Michael Widmer.

"This is just the type of unnecessary impediment that makes it even more difficult for municipal leaders to produce balanced budgets while still preserving local services," he said.

Guerino has predicted the fiscal year 2012 budget will drop $1.9 million. Layoffs and the closure of a fire station are expected, according to his budget predictions.

"As a taxpayer I think this is horrendous, especially in this day and age and with this budget," said Taylor, a Bourne resident.

Bean's position can't be filled by a new hire because he is technically still employed, Taylor said.

Bean said he is looking forward to the end of the appeals process so he can find out whether he will be eligible to return to the department or be free to find another position.

Because of the ongoing appeal, he has had difficulty finding work in other departments that don't require a CIEMSS paramedic card, he said.

Since being fired, Bean has become recertified as a paramedic at the state level and received an associate degree in fire science from Cape Cod Community College.

"I'd rather be working, or at least able to transfer," he said. "I'm not giving up on this. It's been my lifelong dream."

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