LOCKPORT – State Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Kloch Sr. said Thursday he wants to know why the Lockport Civil Service Commission changed the rules on who is eligible to be promoted to fire chief.
But by the time he finds out, it may not matter.
Hearing a lawsuit brought by the city in an effort to prevent the firefighters’ union from obtaining arbitration on the rule change, Kloch scheduled a hearing for Aug. 7 with testimony from the three civil service commissioners on why they altered the pecking order to allow Luca C. Quagliano, the municipal training officer, to compete along with captains and assistant chiefs to succeed Chief Thomas J. Passuite.
Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey said Thursday that Passuite hasn’t told her when he is retiring. Passuite said a few months ago he might remain until the end of this year. He didn’t return a call seeking comment Thursday.
But Mary Pat Holz, the city civil service secretary, said the scores are in from the civil service exam for chief, and all six men who took it, including Quagliano, passed.
The Civil Service Commission is to meet April 22 to ratify the results and issue a list in order of scores. The top three scorers, plus ties, are the only ones the Fire Board could consider as the next fire chief.
Actually, it’s no secret why the Civil Service Commission changed the rules last July. It’s because the Fire Board asked them to, as The Buffalo News reported Jan. 11. But neither attorney mentioned that fact in court papers or oral argument submitted to Kloch, so officially, it’s not in the court’s purview.
“He knows what the evidence is going to show,” conceded Tracy Sammarco, attorney for the Lockport Professional Fire Fighters Association.
Kloch said, “I think somebody approached them.” He said he needs to find out if the action was “arbitrary, capricious or illegal.”
The city’s attorney, Deputy Corporation Counsel David E. Blackley, told Kloch, “It would certainly appear improper in some forums. This was two years after [the agreement] was negotiated. … The city has no control over what the Civil Service Commission does,”
The union complained about the change in the rules, saying it 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 admitted the municipal training officer and captains with at least two years’ experience in that rank.
“If anything, we’re looking for younger people,” Alderman and Fire Board member Patrick W. Schrader told The News in January. Union president Kevin W. Pratt said Thursday that remark could open the city up to an age discrimination suit.
Referring to Quagliano, Sammarco said, “The city tried to violate its agreement with the union by trying to promote an individual who lacks the supervisory experience.”
Blackley wondered if Quagliano ought to be a party to the lawsuit, “since his own union is against him.” “Aren’t they concerned about being sued by their brother union member?” asked Kloch.
Sammarco said the union wants to enforce its contract regardless of when a new chief is chosen. “We will be filing as quickly as possible with the Appellate Division,” she said.