Thursday, May 6, 2021

Sumpter Township Fire Chief contract terminated by trustees

Chief Joe Januszyk
Members of the Sumpter Township Board of Trustees terminated the contract of Fire Chief Joe Januszyk during the April 27 meeting.

Township Supervisor Tim Bowman made the motion for the termination based on concerns regarding Januszyk's job performance during the past 14 months and comments the chief made during a hearing two weeks ago concerning the performance of fire department employee Colleen Armatis. Januszyk, like Armatis, opted for a public hearing regarding any disciplinary action. The board voted to terminate Januszyk with Trustee Peggy Morgan and Treasurer Jim Clark casting the two no votes. The termination was specified as “without cause” allowing Januszyk seven days notice and then 30 days full pay.

During the public discussion, Januszyk said he understood that the issue was comments he made about the whistleblower during the Armatis hearing. In that instance, a protected source had informed Public Safety Director Eric Luke that Armatis had been fraudulently completing time cards and taking double pay for time she was doing administrative work at township hall and then being called out on fire calls. 

Union regulations require that an employee being paid hourly deduct those hours from that pay scale when called to a fire and be paid for the call, not collect both the hourly and the per call fee. Armatis was on the union negotiating team which agreed to that new contract procedure. Armatis was terminated by the board members by the same 5-2 vote. During that hearing earlier, which Armatis opted to have in public, Januszyk commented that “someone knew about this for 14 months and sat on it. They are as guilty as she is.”

At the hearing last week, however, Januszyk explained that he had been on a fire call for the previous 8 1/2 hours and had not eaten which, he said, for a diabetic results. like himself, in low blood sugar and makes one “loopy.” He said that he now understood from Luke that the person who brought the complaint forward had not been keeping it confidential for any length of time and that he had misunderstood the situation.

“I have no problem with that person. I assumed it was 14 months. I have no problem with the whistleblower,” Januszyk told the board members.

Bowman, however, remained unconvinced.

“I do not think you were doing your job for the last 14 months,” he said. 

His opinion was seconded by Trustee Don LaPorte, a long-time supporter of the fire department.

“You made comments at the meeting that the person who came forward was just as guilty as she (Armatis) was. Those are your words. For 14 months you had oversight and put your name on the payroll reports. You documented somebody committing payroll fraud. That oversight was your responsibility,” LaPorte said.

Januszyk said that he had never denied the responsibility and LaPorte responded, “We all have to take responsibility for our choices.”

Trustee Peggy Morgan noted that Januszyk had been with the fire department in the township for 43 years and claimed that 95 percent of the current firefighters supported him and did not want him fired. She attempted to revisit the Armatis hearing but was cautioned by fellow trustees and township attorney Rob Young that “Colleen is not the issue. She had her opportunity two weeks ago.” Young said the issues, as he understood it, were the comments Januszyk made at the hearing about the whistleblower being “just as guilty” as Armatis, “Joe not doing his job;” a failure of Januszyk to train employees and the continued double pay being approved under his supervision.

Following comments from Morgan, Trustee Tim Rush asked Bowman to ensure that the meeting remained civil and adhered to Roberts’ Rules of Order, having trustees request the floor from the chair if they wished to speak. Morgan continued to complain and protested repeatedly prompting Trustee Matt Oddy to respond that the other board members were only asking her to behave in a civil manner.

After an explanation of the correct procedures and a caution from Young, the board members voted on the formal motion to terminate Januszyk with Morgan offering no further discussion.