Merger Nixed; Fire Chief Back in N.H.

A Superior Court judge has pulled the plug on a move to merge the fire and police departments into one unit in Goffstown, giving the fire chief his job back.

On his final day as chief of the Goffstown Fire Department last month, Frank Carpentino shared a farewell lunch with his crew. But on Tuesday, everyone's returning for a welcome-back breakfast.

"I think that this ruling is going to increase morale," Carpentino said. "I think it also shows employees that the system does work and they can have faith in the system."

After Carpentino sued when his position was eliminated, a judge rejected a plan by selectmen to merge the two departments and cross-train firefighters and police. The plan put the police chief in charge.

The judge said the decision was made without voter input, so it's illegal.

"The Goffstown Board of Selectmen attempted to usurp the power of the voters in order to impose on them their form of government," said John Krupski, Carpentino's lawyer.

The selectmen got the order Monday to reinstate the fire chief and halt the merger, which was already under way. Selectmen planned to meet Monday night to decide whether to appeal.

Selectman Bob Wheeler insisted that the board has legal authority to make the change.

"And it makes it a more affordable, higher-performing plan we could go forward with," Wheeler said.

The merger was the idea of board chairman and former fire warden Gossett McRae. Carpentino said that he believes McRae -- whose own job was eliminated by department reforms in 1992 -- is exacting revenge.

McRae denied the charge and said that the merger is the best move for the town.

"No personal feelings at all," McRae said. "I don't know Frank as an individual. I know him as an employee, and I have no problem with that."

Goffstown voters will get a final say on the proposal at Town Meeting in March. There are at least two proposals to reinstate the fire chief permanently.

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