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Ex-Center Harbor fire chief cites pay issue for resignation

Union Leader Correspondent

August 01. 2013 8:28PM

CENTER HARBOR — Former Fire Chief John Schlemmer, who resigned in late May, has issued a statement saying he quit his post because the board of selectmen would not pay him adequately as a full-time fire chief.

Schlemmer, who has been chief since 2007, had been working full time as fire chief though he was not getting paid as if he was the town’s only full-time chief, he said in a statement issued Thursday through his lawyer, Anne Rice of Laconia.

“In sum, for the past several years the town has been paying me under three separate headings as fire chief, supervising firefighter on call and as fire inspector to avoid calling me a full-time employee when, in fact, I was,” Schlemmer said.

“This situation developed, I think, because the board was unable to get the funding it needed to support a full-time chief, but realized that one was needed as a matter of public safety. Therefore, without taxpayer approval for a full time-chief, the board attempted to solve its dilemma by paying me for my services under three different headings.”

As a result, he said, “for years I regularly worked in excess of 40 to 50 hours (per week) without full pay and without any overtime or benefits.”

Selectman Harry Viens said the board sees things differently, but board members can’t discuss a personnel matter, and the board is hesitant to speak now about what the circumstances surrounding Schlemmer’s departure without having the town’s attorney give advice.

The town was caught by surprise by the former chief’s statement, he said, which town officials received late Thursday.

“We obviously have a contrary account of what happened,” he said. “But he is represented by an attorney now, so we need to be as well.”

In his statement, Schlemmer said the board has repeatedly refused to meet with him on the subject.

Viens disputed that, and said the board offered a meeting shortly after he resigned.

Schlemmer said the board “lacks transparency” on this issue.

“The reality is, the position which I fill is, and has been, full time for several years now despite the fact that it is technically budgeted as part time.

“In this way, the board has avoided the obligation to inform the taxpayers of my full-time status, avoided paying me for my time and the benefits other full- time employees of the town enjoy, but still managed to maintain a full-time chief by any other name. Not only is this generally unfair and lacks transparency for the townspeople, but as it turns out, this creative pay method is not entirely legal.”

Schlemmer also said that the selectmen’s “suggestion that I should reduce my hours to just 28 and still accomplish the duties required as chief, on call and performing fire inspection was preposterous, but more, in my opinion, presented a potential and immediate safety concern.”

Rice would not comment further, aside from saying Schlemmer is available to meet with the selectmen if they wish.

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