Photo: Belmont Fire Chief David DeStefano in July 2021
The Belmont Select Board rallied to the side of Belmont Fire Chief David DeStefano Monday night, April 26, after an independent investigation found DeStefano has not violated the residency clause in his three-year contract requiring him to live no farther than 15 miles from Belmont.
“I’m sorry that you have to continue to be subjected to these kinds of accusations and I want to thank you for your strong service to the town,” said Board Chair Mark Paolillo.
The complaint by former Belmont assistant Fire Chief Angus Davison alleged DeStefano had violated his work contract by not establishing a primary residence 15 miles from Belmont within six months after signing his contract in February of last year.
The residency allegations against DeStefano is the latest in a series of actions by Davison and others questioning his selection to lead the fire department and the process of hiring candidates from outside of Belmont when there are several “inside” applicants with equivalent leadership experience.
“Even before my official appointment as fire chief, a small network of individuals has worked to undermine the fair process by which I was selected as the most qualified candidate to be the fire chief,” said DeStefano. “Since my appointment, the same individuals have attacked and tried to undermine my leadership by attacks on my character.”
“I’m tired of all of the innuendo. I really tired of the continued sort of attacks if you will by certain individuals against our fire chief about not only residency but other sort of matters as related to the appointment process,” said Paolillo.
Using fuel receipts and mileage usage from DeStefano’s town-owned vehicle obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, Davison attested DeStefano’s daily mileage total – averaging 150 miles – was well beyond the distance needed to reach the Dedham address the fire chief claimed is his current residence. Davison suggests the distance is associated with round-trip to Cranston, RI where DeStefano was living when he was hired.
Since the mileage has not dropped since his hiring, Davison alleges that DeStefano “has not moved and is not abiding by the the residency clause” and thus is unable to meet the “essential functions” in the job description which requires him to respond quickly to serious incidents and fires as well as medical emergencies and fire investigations.
“Proximity to Belmont is a concern of the town the the ability to respond quickly is of the utmost importance. Responding from Rhode Island doesn’t meet that criteria,” contends Davison.
Davison said if the board did not address his allegations, he would bring them to the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office and request a fraud investigation be brought against DeStefano.
Presented with what Paolillo called “this serious claim,” the board asked the Boston law firm of KP Law PC to review the charges. Brian Maser, who is Belmont’s labor counsel, pointed to the admitting broad definition of residence by the state’s Civil Service Commission as the physical location of the employee’s house or other dwelling place. So confirming if a location is a residence would include having property records such as a lease or mortgage in your name, a voting record at the location, utility bills, excise tax records and a motor vehicle registration for that address.
Maser said DeStefano has provided the town a lease for a property 15 miles from the town, utility bills in his name and a driver’s license for the address in Dedham. In addition, DeStefano has verbally represented to Belmont officials that his primary residence is in Dedham.
“It’s our opinion that despite not being required to do so, the chief has voluntarily presented sufficient documentation to rebut the spurious allegation advanced against him related to his residency and has been in compliance with this employment agreement,” said Maser.
“Mileage is not an indicator of residency,” said the board’s Adam Dash. “Chief DeStefano has been doing an outstanding job and we’re lucky to have him.” DeStefano stated that in his first year leading the department, he’s revitalized training programs, updated countless policies, will start an EMS bike unit and trained for active shooter incidents as well as push to replace the department’s aging air packs.
“So I reject the pettiness and unsubstantiated claims of one or two individuals who favor the status quo and favoritism over progress and fairness.” he said.