COVENTRY, R.I. (WPRI) – The Coventry Fire District Board voted unanimously Wednesday night to terminate fire chief Paul Labbadia.
The five-member board first voted to declare Labbadia’s employment contract null and void. The main argument laid out by board attorney Timothy Williamson was any contract longer than three years violates state law. Labbadia had a five-year agreement with the district.
“I would find the Labbadia contract is deemed to be unlawful, illegal and invalid and as such it is null and void,” Williamson said.
Labbadia was not at the meeting but one of Labbadia’s attorney’s – Thomas DeSimone – said they plan to file suit in superior court in response to the district’s actions.
“They just voided a contract illegally,” DeSimone said.
Target 12 released findings from an undercover investigation on Labbadia in October. He was seen in the video leaving work in a taxpayer-funded department vehicle to go play golf in another town for hours on end; drinking during the day, then driving the fire department vehicle back to work; and even taking the department vehicle to a party on Federal Hill, where he drank and appeared to smoke – and share – marijuana before once again getting behind the wheel.
It was later revealed that Labbadia had been driving the department SUV with a suspended license for more than a year.
In a wide-ranging interview with Target 12, Labbadia denied any wrongdoing.
Fire District Board Chairman Frank Palin said they did not rely on any of WPRI 12’s findings in making their decision, but declined comment when asked what precipitated the action.
During the vote former Chairman James Beckman yelled at the board that they should have taken “the deal.” After the meeting he declined to say where he heard that any agreement between Labbadia and the district was on the table.
“I cannot say but he was given a deal, and the chief would have walked away,” Beckman said. “It would have been cheaper than litigation.”
Beckman said the deal amounted to three months worth of pay.
Other board members scoffed at the notion when questioned and Williams flatly denied there was ever a deal.
The board also voted not to release a summary of an independent investigation performed by attorney William Harsch.
Palin said they are withholding the report anticipating a lawsuit.
District board member John D’Onofrio said after the meeting it was important to put the chief situation behind them to move forward on other issues.
“This was holding everything up, we need good authority back at the station and we have to focus on financial issues,” D’Onofrio. “With this hanging over our head we were stuck in the water, basically.”
Separately Labbadia’s retirement benefits from his years as a North Providence firefighter are the subject of an investigation by the state police and retirement officials.
Records from North Providence indicate he did no earn enough time to qualify for a pension and Mayor Charles Lombardi has already suspended his health care benefits.