A high-profile firing in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, has inspired protest – and now, political action.
The idyllic Berkshire town — immortalized by Norman Rockwell and known for its quaint Main Street and opulent mansions — is embroiled in a political crisis. On February 5th, the town’s select board fired fire chief Ernest "Chuckie" Cardillo. Chairman Donald Chabon defended the move in an interview with WAMC, saying Cardillo fell for a long-running scam that cost Stockbridge over $80,000 from a pair of New York state supply vendors.
“Not to call attention to it, which was readily available to him, and not to stop it – which was easily an option because he was involved in government, he could have easy called counsel, town counsel, which he did not do," said Chabon. "And then it turned out that the books, the accounting, was incorrectly entered – which had the effect of not showing these excessive purchases.”
The firing prompted a number of the town’s volunteer firefighters to resign. While Chabon says new volunteers have stepped up and the town has appointed an interim fire chief, another issue remains – the fact that Cardillo is one of the town’s three selectmen.
“Yeah, that’s definitely a complication," admitted Chabon. "That’s definitely a difficult situation.”
With Cardillo recusing himself from the decision, it came down to just Chabon and the third select board member, Terry Flynn, to vote on the firing. While Cardillo prepares a lawsuit against the town, the move is having other repercussions in the community of around 2,000.
“I am an ex-Stockbridge firefighter who is currently dismayed by the select board’s decision to terminate Chief Chuck Cardillo, and I’ve come to know that there are some serious flaws in the way this town is governed," said Matthew Szwyd. "And that’s sort of prompted me to run, at the very least to martyr myself to change the board.”
Szwyd, 27, is Cardillo’s son-in-law. He left the department after the firing, which he says set off heated, divisive conversations internally.
“I believe there were a variety of solutions in the middle ground that didn’t involve terminating the chief," he told WAMC. "They could have clamped down on the budget, they could have hired an administrative assistant for him, but to remove him as our chief who runs the department quite well as far as the firefighting standpoint goes was just inappropriate and just kind of begs the question – what is the moral philosophy of the select board and what is their intention going into this?”
Szwyd announced his bid to run for Chabon’s seat on the select board. While Szwyd says he holds Flynn more accountable for the firing, Chabon is up for re-election on May 21st, making him the most immediate means of entering town leadership.
“Of course, there’s many more issues that I’m currently inspired by, said Szwyd. "One of the things, being a young parent living in Stockbridge, does not quite – the demographic, I don’t know if I resonate with the town voters, being a young parent living here, but I have a vision and a plan to raise my family here. And so of course, I see that there’s a shortage of affordable and middle income housing in the area. A lot of cottages are being razed for mansions over by Beechwood, for instance. The DeSisto School Project was shot down without much consideration, that could have offered tremendous economic opportunities for young families in our town, and I think Stockbridge needs this perspective on the board.”
Select board terms run for three years in Stockbridge.