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Mass. mayor steps down as head of FD, appoints deputy as interim chief

Medford Mayor Breanna Lungo-Koehn reversed course after appointing herself as head of the department in latest confrontation with union

By Susannah Sudborough

MEDFORD, Mass. — Medford Mayor Breanna Lungo-Koehn is backing down from her decision to make herself head of the city’s fire department in the wake of much derision from the state and local firefighters unions.

The mayor announced Thursday morning that she has appointed Deputy Fire Chief Todd Evans as interim chief.

Earlier this week, she selected herself as the acting head of the department, saying that she was doing so to ensure the department could continue carrying out its administrative functions in the wake of Fire Chief John Freedman’s retirement last month.


IAFF Local 1032, the Medford firefighters union, disapproved of the decision, demanding that the most senior deputy chief be appointed interim chief, as is typical in Massachusetts. Evans is not the most senior deputy, according to the union. But he has served in the department for over 20 years.
“The Medford Fire Department has been my home for twenty-two years and getting the chance to lead this group is a tremendous honor,” Evans said in a press release Thursday.

The union is expected to respond to the mayor’s reversal later on Thursday, but previously pointed to a city ordinance that requires the most senior deputy be made acting chief as evidence that her original decision was improper.

“The reality is there is no choice to be made here, there is simply following the past practice and guidance set forth by both civil service law and the laws of Medford,” IAFF Local 1032 President Walter Buckley said in a statement Wednesday.

Notably though, the city’s legal department determined that Lungo-Koehn has the power to appoint whomever she wants to the position due to the city’s charter granting the mayor this power, her office said Wednesday. The charter supersedes the ordinance, it claimed.

Lungo-Koehn also asserts that she tried to hire an acting chief from outside the department last month, but that the union intervened.

“Union leadership scared off my first appointment because he was from another fire department. Hopefully they will support Chief Evans, as he has shown to be an honest and forward-thinking leader who recognizes the need to modernize and expand oversight in the department,” Lungo-Koehn said in the Thursday press release.

Lungo-Koehn respected the union’s wishes and interviewed all five deputies last week, she said. As a result of those interviews, the mayor determined that Evans was the “best choice” to lead the department until a new fire chief is selected.

The disagreement over the interim chief follows a number of others between the union and the mayor over the last several years, including contract negotiations that lasted approximately two and a half years. The conflict escalated in February when she publicly accused the firefighters of orchestrating a mass call-out earlier that month, claiming the move cost the city around $100,000.

On Thursday, Lungo-Koehn also announced that the city is “reviewing proposals and discussing next steps” regarding the alleged mass call-out and considering “an extensive organizational review of the fire department.”

“The fire department needs to rebuild trust with the community in light of recent events that occurred in early February, costing our taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars,” she said in the press release. “It is my hope that Chief Evans and I can work together to ensure that something like that will never happen again, and that we focus on moving the department forward.”

The union has taken multiple legal actions against the mayor, first filing an unfair labor practice charge last month, and then filing a class action lawsuit over backpay that its members are owed.

Lungo-Koehn confirmed Wednesday that the backpay has not been paid, but explained that it is taking a long time to process because the department has 102 members who are owed four different types of retroactive payments. The money will likely be paid out next week, she said in an interview Wednesday, adding that she thinks the legal actions by the union are strategic distractions.

“They are trying to divert from what really needs to be done, which is an investigation and an organizational review of the department,” she said.

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