The head of the union representing Chelmsford firefighters called on the town’s select board to fire Town Manager Paul Cohen for his collusion with Andover Town Manager Andrew Flanagan when Flanagan sat on an arbitration panel for a contract with a union that represents Chelmsford police sergeants.
“The bargaining table is a place based on mutual trust and respect,” Rob Albon, president of the Professional Firefighters of Chelmsford IAFF Local 1839, told the Chelmsford Select Board Monday. “We no longer have trust as long as Mr. Cohen is involved in collective bargaining.”
Earlier this month, the Massachusetts Department of Labor Relations ruled Flanagan played a central role in a labor dispute where the town of Chelmsford “acted in bad faith” during contract arbitration with the union representing its police officers and “mislead” Chelmsford town meeting before it voted to reject the 2019 arbitration decision.
Related coverage: Chelmsford Union Chief Says Flanagan Broke Law
The ruling said Flanagan, in his role as a volunteer member of a three-member Joint Labor Management Committee appointed by DLR, participated in ex-parte communications by giving town officials updates on the panel’s deliberations, sharing drafts marked confidential and signing a dissenting opinion that had been written by Chelmsford town counsel and proofread by Cohen. That dissenting opinion was distributed at the Chelmsford special town meeting, where the arbitrated contract was rejected.
Flanagan has said he had no role in the Chelmsford special town meeting vote in 2019 and that the DLR decision did not find “cause for disciplinary action.” The Andover Select Board has not addressed the issue, but Chair Alex Vispoli and Clerk Annie Gilbert have both publicly voiced support for Flanagan.
Chelmsford will hold a special town meeting on Oct. 3, where representatives will be asked to approve $420,486.99 to pay for the contract. That amount does not include $250,000 in legal fees and the cost of hosting the special town meeting. Had it been approved when it was arbitrated in 2019, it would have cost the town $108,000.
The Chelmsford select board recommended passing the funding at its meeting Monday. Albon was one of several residents to address the board during its public input period at the start of Monday’s meeting, with resident Joseph Ready saying the board needed to take “decisive and immediate action” on Cohen.
“Many residents are concerned and outraged about the violations that have occurred,” Ready said. “The public’s trust has been betrayed. The town, through its employees, broke laws and taxpayer’s money has been spent foolishly on legal fees.”