Letter cites actions being questioned in Fire District 2

Apr 28, 2023

One year after furious controversy erupted over Fire District 2’s leadership, this week brought two new developments in the saga.

In Monday’s district election, John Sousa ousted incumbent Prudential Committee member William Coutu by a 235-6 margin, sharply shifting majority sentiment on the three-member panel. 

Meanwhile, Coutu’s ally on the committee, Chairman Robert Bouley, who is facing a potential recall, has released a letter drafted by the district’s lawyer detailing allegations of misconduct by the previous committee and requesting that the Inspector General investigate the situation. 

District 2 is the smallest of Dartmouth’s three independent fire districts, serving the rural western side of South Dartmouth. It has been in turmoil since last spring’s election when a write-in campaign put Coutu and Bouley on the governing Prudential Committee and the reconstituted board sought to undo decisions made by the old board.

The newly defeated Coutu joined the committee a year ago after running a successful write-in campaign to fill the unexpired term of Greg Edgcomb. Edgcomb's subsequent unsuccessful bid to become district fire chief appears to be at the core of the district controversy.

Attorney Anthony Savastano’s April 14 letter asked the Massachusetts Inspector General to investigate four issues of what was described as questionable conduct committed by previous committee members.

The letter, drafted at the request of Coutu and Bouley, details four claims: allegations of ballot-box improprieties in the 2017 district election in which Edgcomb was first elected to the committee; Edgcomb being improperly allowed to simultaneously serve on the Prudential Committee and as a firefighter; irregularities in a contract drawn up to appoint Edgcomb as chief; and the payment of $6,000 to the brother of Prudential Committee member Ralph Medeiros.

Bouley said the committee voted 2-1 to have Savastano draft the letter.

 The point of the letter is so district voters “can see what we ran into . . . [this letter] is a way for the people to see what has happened,” Bouley said.

The four allegations detailed in the letter begin with the April 2017 election. According to Savastano, witnesses reported that then-District Clerk Joan E. Harwood opened the ballot box before the election was over and shared that tally in an effort to galvanize support and “secure the election of Firefighter Greg Edgcomb.” 

The Prudential Committee took no action in response to the incident, saying Harwood’s resignation from her position as district clerk was sufficient, although, Savastano noted, another remedy would have been to rerun the election.

Medeiros, a committee member at the time, claims he reported Harwood’s actions to officials and was not advised by the fire district’s legal counsel to take further action. 

The election of Edgcomb led to the question of whether he could ethically be on the governing Prudential Committee and continue to serve as a firefighter.

The 2017 committee and then-Fire Chief Timothy Andre decided that Edgcomb could hold both positions because he was the only District 2 firefighter with a dive certification. But, Savastano’s letter notes, Edgcomb continued to serve even after the dive team was disbanded.

After Andre resigned as chief in November 2021 Edgcomb resigned from the Prudential Committee and was named acting fire chief by the remaining committee members. 

That changed after last spring’s district election, when Coutu and Bouley were elected, replacing Bernard Giroux and Edgcomb. Both newly elected members opposed hiring Edgcomb at the $115,000 salary Edgcomb had discussed with the previous committee.

When an April 11, 2022 contract to hire Edgcomb for $115,000 surfaced at a May 24, 2022 Prudential Committee meeting, its validity was immediately challenged. Savastano’s letter notes that officials had said at the May 9 Annual Meeting that there was no contract. Additionally, the contract was reportedly signed by Giroux, who was no longer a member of the committee.

In his letter, Savastano states “I opined that either way, the contract was illegal and unenforceable.”

Edgcomb was subsequently released from his position as interim chief. Erick Turcotte was hired as chief of Fire District 2 after the committee interviewed multiple candidates. 

The fourth allegation detailed in Savastano’s letter involves Medeiros signing warrants in 2022 authorizing a $6,000 payment to Medeiros’s brother to create and run the fire district's website. 

The letter cites a Massachusetts General Law which “makes it a felony to, and prohibits, participating in a matter in which an immediate family member has a financial interest.”

Medeiros defends his actions. “I did that unknowingly, I signed it, which I shouldn't have signed it but . . . Savastano never advised me not to sign it. I had nothing to do with [my brother] Martin getting that contract.”

Medeiros said he expects the newly elected committee, which replaces Coutu with Sousa, to be more balanced. 

This change in committee membership comes just before the District 2 Annual Meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. on May 8, at Dartmouth High School.