Board accepts fire chief's retirement

The Board of Selectmen has accepted the retirement of Ridgefield Fire Chief Kevin Tappe, following a period where he was on paid administrative leave as the town investigated a possible “violation of town policy.”

"Chief Tappe has decided to retire from the Ridgefield Fire Department after a lengthy career of public service, and we thank him for that service," said First Selectman Rudy Marconi at a special meeting of the Fire Commission (Board of Selectmen) tonight.

The selectmen met in executive session to discuss a personnel matter.

In public session, Selectman Maureen Kozlark made a motion that the Fire Commssion accept the  "separation ageeement" with chief Tappe. Selectman Bob Hebert seconded, and the motion passed 4-0 with selectman Barbara Manners absent.

Chief Tappe did not attend the meeting.

The department is being led by acting Chief Jerry Myers.

No specifics on the situation or the policy that may have been violated have been provided by Marconi, other town officials, or Chief Tappe.

At the end of a long selectmen's meeting Wednesday, Jan. 4, Marconi was asked about the investigation

"The investigation was halted upon submission of the retirement," Marconi said.

Myers has been acting chief since a special meeting of the Board of Selectmen and Fire Commission had been called to discuss the possible town policy violation Thursday, Dec. 22.  Little was said at the time about what the policy violation was.

“It is an ongoing investigation. It has not been completed at this time,” Marconi said. “Chief, you will remain on administrative leave until the completion of the investigation,” Marconi told the chief at the meeting.

Marconi did say that Human Resources Director Laurie Fernandez would conduct the investigation.

“It’s not disciplinary. It’s just while we investigate,” Fernandez said.

Fernandez said later that she couldn’t predict how long the investigation would be. It will involve interviewing witnesses and gathering other information as well.

“I can’t give a timeline,” Fernandez said.

Town officials were considering holding the Thursday morning meeting behind the closed doors of an executive session — as is permitted for “personnel matters” under state Freedom of Information law.

The public notice the day before the meeting described the agenda as “possible executive session to discuss a personnel matter in regards to a violation of Town Policy.”

Tappe, however, asked for an open meeting.

“We did receive a call from Chief Tappe, requesting that our meeting take place in public,” Marconi told the gathering.

A handful of people were there — four selectmen, the chief, Fernandez, two reporters, and two or three others.

After saying the investigation was continuing and the chief would be on leave, Marconi asked if other members of the board wished to speak.

“I have no comment,” Steve Zemo said. Maureen Kozlark and Bob Hebert were silent.

One member of the audience, however, did ask to say something.

Joe Cwalinski said he’d lived in town more than 40 years.

“I’ve known Chief Tappe longer than that,” he said.

Cwalinski said he’d known Tappe as a firefighter and fire department officer in both Stamford and Ridgefield.

“This man eats, breathes and lives fire,” said Cwalinski. “I wish everyone, when they make considerations on what’s going to happen to him, please keep that in mind.”