Canandaigua Fire Chief Mark Marentette has been suspended without pay for 30 days.
CANANDAIGUA — Canandaigua Fire Chief Mark Marentette was suspended without pay for 30 days on Friday over allegations involving “internal policies,” according to city manager Ted Andrzejewski, who did not elaborate. He said the city was in the process of finding a “qualified hearing officer.”
Marentette has worked in fire service for 30 years and was appointed Canandaigua fire chief in 2011. The chief referred comments to his attorney, Michael Harren with Trevett Cristo Salzer & Andolina P.C. Harren said the charges against Marentette center largely on “times keeping,” regarding how Marentette reported shifts his employees worked.
“They have been saying that over the last year Marentette failed to follow procedures — we think he has followed procedures,” Harren said.
“We vigorously oppose the charges,” Harren added. He added the hearing is to take place Feb. 3.
When asked who is currently in charge at the fire department, Andrzejewski said the department “has four qualified captains” with a captain on duty during all shifts.
Canandaigua Fire Department Captain Jay Boock is head of the union representing the department’s nine career firefighters. Boock would not comment Monday other than to say the department is “doing fine.” The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), Local 2098 represents the department’s nine career firefighters, which includes four captains and five full-time firefighters. All the career firefighters are civil service employees, including Marentette, though Marentette is not covered by the union.
Mayor Ellen Polimeni said Monday that concerns regarding the fire department have been voiced for a while now.
“There was action taken by city management, and we will follow procedures put in place by human resources,” Polimeni said.
Marentette had been a fire chief in three different municipalities, most recently in Defiance, Ohio, when he was appointed Canandaigua chief in 2011. Marentette resigned from Defiance in 2009 after events surrounding an explosion at the American Ag Fuels plant. "I thought there were some safety and ethical issues at the crux of what was going on in the city of Defiance, and I strongly believe the decisions I made there I made in the interest of the community," Marentette told the Daily Messenger in February 2011.
After the explosion, which injured four employees and a police officer, Marentette and the city's fire inspector issued several citations, including for failure to follow requirements on how to handle flammable, combustible materials. Limited access measures were put in place, a requirement of state law. American Ag Fuels then sued the city for constitutional violations.
The city did not defend the fire chief's citations, and they were dropped. Marentette was then suspended indefinitely with pay for insubordination, then terminated. Marentette appealed the termination to a civil service commission. In its decision, the commission found the city administrator had issued a press release about the explosion while Marentette was under direct order not to speak to the media. After refusing comment as instructed, Marentette then called the newspaper back to tell the editor "off the record" that what the city had said in the press release was false.
The commission reinstated Marentette's job as fire chief, and he was given a month's suspension. Marentette resigned from Defiance in November 2009.
Meanwhile, the operational standards of American Ag Fuels hadn’t gone unnoticed. In May 2008, the federal Occupation Safety and Health Administration cited the company with eight different citations relating to hazardous materials handling and employee safety. The city of Defiance settled the federal lawsuit with American Ag Fuels in October of 2009, paying about $176,000.
Before Marentette was hired, City Council was informed of Marentette's employment history in great detail, then City Manager Kay James said in 2011. "It didn't seem like it should disqualify him," she said. "It's no reason why he wouldn't be a good chief."
"I think his background speaks volumes in terms of what he's been able to do," Polimeni said in 2011.
City Council appointed Andrzejewski city manager last April. Andrzejewski had also resigned a previous position under noteworthy circumstances. Before coming to Canandaigua, Andrzejewski resigned his position as city manager of Menominee, Michigan. According to a March 7, 2016 ehextra.com report by Eagle Herald Publishing, Andrzejewski’s tenure had been one of controversy and complaints. Among the problems cited: a former city assessor “had filed harassment and unsafe workplace complaints against City Hall after she reported problems to Andrzejewski, which he did not address,” and the city engineer had been called out at meetings by Andrzejewski, about how she did her job. “There have been many committee and council meetings where the actions of the city manager have been subject of debate,” the report stated.
As with Marentette’s work history, Polimeni said Andrzejewski’s background was well-known. As with all employees, both men were thoroughly vetted before being hired, she said.