[Editorial] Mayor Palmieri On Decision To Place Fire Chief On Leave
There have been many questions, comments and inquiries about the City’s decision to place Fire Chief Russell Brooks on indeterminate, non-disciplinary, paid medical leave.
Earlier this year, Chief Brooks applied for disability under Section 207-a, a statute under state law that provides benefits to firefighters who suffer an injury in the line of duty, similar to Worker’s Compensation.
As standard procedure, when the City received the application, all of the appropriate medical information was gathered and then sent for an independent review from an outside medical doctor, as is done when warranted based on the evidence.
Following the facts, and based in part on the Doctor’s report, the City denied Chief Brooks’ 207-a claim. Upon denial, Chief Brooks was advised of his right to appeal.
The Doctor who reviewed Chief Brooks’ file is a highly respected medical professional who has always provided unbiased medical recommendations based solely on the evidence and has issued medical opinions both in favor of the City and in favor of firefighters.
One of the biggest misconceptions regarding this issue is Chief Brooks was placed on medical leave as a result of his leukemia diagnosis, which he publicly disclosed. This is not accurate. The City cannot, at this time, provide the rationale for the decision to place him on medical leave until Chief Brooks releases his medical records and personnel file.
Furthermore, taking no action on this matter could have subjected the City to liability. The decision to place Chief Brooks on medical leave, per Section 72, was in Chief Brooks’ interest as it ensured he would continue to be fully paid and maintain all his health benefits.
As a municipality, we must be consistent, not to show preferential treatment to any employees and properly follow all policies and procedures, which we did in this case.
I want to be transparent and answer all questions that have been asked, but I have a legal obligation to protect Chief Brooks’ privacy.
In the past, two prior Mayors breached these protocols and illegally discussed personnel matters, and it ended up costing the City over $250,000. I cannot and will not repeat those mistakes and subject the City to financial repercussions.
The public can better understand the City’s decision when Chief Brooks consents to the release of his medical and personnel records.
I agree with the Observer Dispatch’s position that Chief Brooks can and should release his records so the public can receive the answers they deserve.
While releasing the records to the public would ensure complete transparency, the City’s Corporation Counsel has requested that Chief Brooks, at minimum, release his records to Members of the Common Council so they can be better informed.
It is important the public understands the City has never denied the fact Chief Brooks and eleven other members of the Utica Fire Department assisted on 9/11. The City continues to acknowledge these firefighters represented the Fire Department on 9/11 as City employees and we honor their brave service.
Chief Brooks has served the Utica Fire Department for over 40 years and the City values and appreciates his continued service.
It is important everyone understands this was a difficult decision as it’s never popular to deny anyone’s disability claim, but as Mayor, I have an obligation to protect the City and follow the law, even when it’s not politically convenient.
At the end of the day, the law is more important than politics.