Civil Service Rules in Favor of Methuen Firefighter Blanchette who was Bypassed for Promotion

Methuen City Hall. (Creative Commons.)

The state Civil Service Commission ruled late last week that Methuen must grant Firefighter Tracy Blanchette a promotion to captain or an equivalent supervisory post with back pay to 2019.

The Commission said Blanchette, a nearly 30-year veteran of the department and one of only three female firefighters, was improperly bypassed for promotion to captain by then-Mayor James P. Jajuga because of favoritism. Commissioners said Blanchette was next up for promotion based on an outside assessment center’s evaluation. They said that process was derailed by, what they called, a “mutual back-scratching employment culture available to the male but not the female firefighters.”

Commissioner Cynthia A. Ittleman wrote “…her employer relied on a deeply flawed, inherently biased second interview, led by the Fire Chief (Tim Sheehy), to bypass Firefighter Blanchette in favor of a male candidate who had for years previously employed the fire chief in his private side business and who enjoyed close relations with several other high-ranking officials who were looking out for his interests.”

News of the Civil Service Commission ruling was first broken by Tom Duggan of the Valley Patriot Friday.

The highest-ranking candidate on the 2017 assessment center list was Michael Fluet, who was promoted to captain that year. When Capt. Mike Hamel was set to retire in 2019, Blanchette, was next highly ranked on the same list, but the city chose to base its decision on, what the state said, was a “highly subjective and flawed interview process.” The city then promoted Matthew Tulley, who was tied at third place on the assessment center ranking with Timothy Smith.

Commissioners said factors in Blanchette being bypassed were, among other things, Sheehy’s close relationship with Tulley, including having worked at the latter’s electrical business for up to a decade; a City Council confirmation where Councilor James McCarty voted in favor of Tulley without mentioning the two are related by marriage; the City Council never investigating Blanchette’s complaint; and the city failing to provide documents requested by the Commission.

Ittleman said it would not be practical to make Blanchette wait for another department vacancy since she is only a few years away from retirement. She would also be deprived of the higher pension she would have been entitled to as captain.

Commissioners are giving the city until Jan. 18 to decide.

The state also noted Blanchette is a college-educated 26-year veteran female firefighter with an unblemished personnel record, lauded statewide as a former firefighter of the year for her role in the historic Malden Mills fire in Methuen and whose exemplary service includes years of experience as a trainer…” Commissioners added Blanchette, a lifelong Methuen resident, is an MFD Firefighter who comes from a firefighting family. Her husband is a veteran firefighter in the neighboring city of Lawrence and her father is a retired Methuen firefighter.”

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