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WRENTHAM

Fire chief's decision on compressor questioned

The Wrentham Board of Selectmen is mulling whether to discipline the fire chief after a selectwoman accused him of wasting $38,000 in taxpayers' money by lobbying for an unneeded piece of equipment.

Since August, Selectwoman Mary Dunn has raised questions about an air compressor that was purchased for the new public safety building to replace the department's 15-year-old compressor. In that time, she said, she's come to the conclusion that Fire Chief Robert Morrill "misrepresented" the need for the equipment, and she is pushing her board to issue him a letter of reprimand at its next meeting, Feb. 3, even though she acknowledges he was not solely responsible for the purchase.

"He said he needed it. He asked for it," said Dunn, who believes the old compressor should have simply been moved when the new building opened in November. "[He] misrepresented himself . . . saying he needed it now."

"I'm not head-hunting," she continued. "If it was someone else other than Bobby, I'd be doing the same thing."

Dunn said she wants the letter placed in his file but removed after two years if there is no other disciplinary action -- simply as a warning that wasteful spending will not be tolerated.

Morrill is resolute that he did nothing wrong.

"No rules were bent or broken," said Morrill, who has been associated with the Wrentham Fire Department for 30 years, first as a volunteer firefighter and the last four years as chief. "Everything was done right. I strive very hard to cross all the t's and dot all the i's and do it properly because I'm very cognizant of the watchful eye that is upon everything that is done in the public sector."

An air compressor is a fixed piece of equipment bolted to a fire station wall. It takes air from outside the building and pumps it into storage tanks to refill the air tanks that firefighters wear at a fire, explained Morrill.

The committee that oversees the public safety building project approved the purchase, and both the town administrator and town accountant signed off on it. Dunn contends Morrill should have asked not that committee, but the town's Capital Budget Planning Committee, where it would have been subject to greater scrutiny.

Selectman Steve Langley, Morrill, and Town Administrator James Merriam all say the compressor could have come out of either budget -- the capital budget, as Dunn contends, or the budget for the building project, where it did come from.

Langley supports Morrill. "I personally don't think Chief Morrill was in any way, shape, or form wrong in this endeavor," he said. "I think putting a letter in his file is faulty and unnecessary."

Dunn also says that because the old compressor had a trade-in value of $5,000, it could have lasted another couple of years.

But Morrill said that the layout and design of the new building dictated that the old compressor be put in a place where it would have generated intrusive noise.

"I take pride in the job that I do, and I don't feel that I've done anything wrong, and I do take offense at being accused," he said.

Selectman John Zizza pointed out that the fixtures budget is now spent and there is still more equipment needed for the Police Department.

"It isn't that he ultimately wouldn't have needed a compressor, it's the process under which it was acquired that was a problem," he said. "That project is so over budget . . . Every dollar that gets spent is a dollar the Town Hall people won't have for their equipment and fixtures."

Lisa Kocian can be reached at 508-820-4231 or lkocian@globe.com.

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