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Romigh questions Massena hiring practices

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MASSENA - David H. Romigh was hopeful when he submitted his resume for a career firefighter opening at the Massena Fire Department.

He was a Massena native and served in the United States Navy aboard the U.S.S. Blue Ridge near Japan from 1995 to 1997. While there, he said he trained others in shipboard firefighting and damage control. He spent much of the last 15 years in an information technology career and moved back by choice to the north country a couple of years ago.

He wasn’t called for an interview. Instead, the village board selected another candidate at a meeting earlier this month.

Mr. Romigh wondered why the village passed him over for the job. Since then, he has filed a Freedom of Information Law request with the village to find out more information on the five candidates chosen for interviews. That request is pending, he said.

Mr. Romigh said not getting more consideration for the job sends a detrimental message.

“‘We don’t care whether you’ve served your country. Essentially, we have no use for you,’” he said. “That’s not a great message to put forth. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth.”

The village Board of Trustees has a personnel committee comprised of Francis J. Carvel and Albert C. “Herb” Deshaies, which selects five candidates out of the application pile for interviews. The department head then recommends the final candidate to be hired to the Board of Trustees.

In this particular case, Mr. Carvel had recused himself from the committee because of a potential conflict of interest with one of the candidates, and Trustee Timothy J. Ahlfeld was in his place. The board voted 5-0 to approve Justin Niles, who lives in Franklin County and has served in the Brushton Volunteer Fire Department.

“Out of the five, we thought Justin was the most qualified applicant,” Fire Driver in Charge Ken McGowan said.

Mr. Romigh wondered if there were reasons he wasn’t given more consideration.

“Either the village board is anti-veteran, anti-Republican, or, because of my last name, anti-Romigh,” he told board members.

Mr. Romigh attended the meeting with his father, former St. Lawrence County Legislator Charles B. Romigh, who wondered what the criteria are for getting an interview.

“How long has it been effect that Massena residents are not getting top priority?” the elder Romigh asked the board. “Somebody who has trained other people to fight fires should at least be given an interview.”

Mayor James F. Hidy said others besides Mr. Romigh were also not chosen for an interview.

“(The final) candidates were chosen out of a pool by the personnel committee,” Mr. Hidy said. “We came up with a candidate that fit the match.”

Mr. Hidy disagreeed that the board was anti-Romigh, anti-Republican or anti-veteran. Mr. Hidy had applied for jobs in the past and not been called in for an interview too, he said.

“It’s unfortunate he wasn’t one of the ones selected,” Mr. Hidy said Friday. “For someone to think he was singled out not to get a job, that’s absolutely absurd.”

Last year the village board abolished the residency requirement, which mandated some employees live within village limits. Even during that requirement’s existence, state law trumped the village’s and allowed firefighters to live outside the community they work in.

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