SARATOGA SPRINGS — Embattled Saratoga Springs Fire Chief Joseph Dolan has denied any wrongdoing in his response to misconduct charges and a corresponding state police investigation, and may sue the city, the Department of Public Safety and anyone else related to the allegations once the investigations have concluded.
“Upon information and belief one or more of the charges asserted by OPS [Office of Public Safety] are frivolous; that is, they were asserted in bad faith, without any reasonable basis in law or fact and/or in an effort to harass or maliciously injure Chief Dolan,” states the response from Dolan.
Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino declined to comment.
Dolan, a 25-year veteran of the department and chief of the department since January 2019, has been on leave without pay since the misconduct charges were filed against him on May 19 by the Public Safety Department. Prior to that, Dolan had been on paid leave since Feb. 1, following a complaint alleging that he double-dipped on pay when he did some work as a state fire trainer while still being paid for his primary job as the fire chief in Saratoga Springs. Montagnino, the elected official who oversees the city’s fire and police departments, received the initial complaint Jan. 27.
The 17-page response provided to the Gazette by Dolan’s attorney Brian Culnan, of Albany-based law firm O’Connell & Aronowitz, states that the complaint provided to the Public Safety Department should be viewed as “illegitimate” because Dolan, through his attorney, said it stems from a complaint provided by a firefighter in the department that Dolan issued a written counseling memorandum and therefore, Dolan’s attorney says, the complaint was retaliatory.
His attorney has referred to the investigation as a political hit job.
Montagnino said the internal investigation was prompted when a fellow firefighter, who has not been named, provided documents from a Freedom of Information Law request the firefighter received from the state Office of Fire Prevention and Control.
Documents related to the original complaint were not available.
In Dolan’s response to the allegations, he states that, under civil service law, the city cannot discipline him for anything 18 months prior to May 23. He also said other employees in the Public Safety Department have engaged in similar actions for which Dolan is accused of doing and that the work he performed was in relation to his duties as chief. He said the training sessions were conducted after hours during the week and weekends.
“Upon information and belief, in 2020, 2021 and 2022, Chief Dolan did not use all of the leave time allotted to him and per city policy he was not compensated for the unused leave time nor permitted to carry the accrued but unused leave time over to a subsequent year,” the response states. “Had this unused leave time been applied or reallocated, it would have covered some or all of the time questioned by OPS [Office of Public Safety] and the city of Saratoga Springs in the notice of discipline.”
The alleged misconduct charges and Dolan’s response include:
- Dolan did not submit for leave time for the various days in 2020 and 2022 when he attended training at the State Academy of Fire Science in Montour Falls as a trainer for the state Office of Fire Prevention and Control and was paid by the city.
Dolan said he requested personal leave for the training in February 2020 but that “Assistant Chief Peter Shaw, who prepared the duty roster for those two days in Chief Dolan’s absence erroneously listed Chief Dolan as being present in Saratoga Springs.” The issue was never corrected, Dolan said. Dolan also said, for the training in October 2022, he was acting in his capacity as fire chief because as chief he is responsible for training firefighters and to do so had to “secure and maintain an instructor’s authorization for each course.”
- Dolan did not take leave days in 2020 and 2021 for the times he provided training at the Saratoga County Fire Training Center.
Dolan said that in August 2020 he provided training to volunteer firefighters in Saratoga County at the training center in the evening after having completed an eight-hour work day for the city already. He also said he did not provide training at the center in March and April of 2021, but did provide training for city firefighters during the work day at Station No. 1.
- Dolan did not take leave days in 2022 when he provided training at Troy Fire Department in his capacity as a trainer for the state Office of Fire Prevention and Control.
Dolan said no training took place in Troy in 2022 and he didn’t submit any vouchers to the state nor was he paid for that visit. Dolan’s response corrects the misconduct of one of the alleged incidents from Nov. 17 to Nov. 18, 2022. He said he took a personal leave day on Nov. 15, 2022 to receive an overview of Troy’s self-contained breathing apparatus trailer in his capacity as a state fire instructor. Dolan said he returned on Nov. 18, 2022 in his capacity as the city’s municipal training officer to determine whether the SCBA trailer was something the Saratoga Springs Fire Department could use.
- Dolan defrauded the city and offered a false instrument for filing by falsely entering time worked into the employee time reporting system.
Dolan said any errors in the employee time reporting system were made inadvertently.
- Dolan asked Montagnino to secure an over $62,000 Chevy Tahoe and was eventually given one to be used by fire captains to respond to scenes, but instead the chief used the SUV himself, including for personal reasons.
Dolan said his use of the vehicle was in line with the city’s 2011 policy regarding vehicle use and that the Department of Public Safety is looking to discipline him for a change in policy that is now the subject of an improper practice complaint to the state’s Public Employment Relations Board.
Dolan is also accused of not filing an Ethics Disclosure Report stating his employment with the state. He said that issue should be handled by the city’s Ethics Board as it’s within their jurisdiction.
The various misconduct charges, as alleged, could constitute both misdemeanors and felonies under criminal law statutes, including instances of grand larceny.
Dolan, who is also facing a criminal probe by state police for the misconduct charges, said the city should hold off on addressing the misconduct charges and allow the state police to investigate. He also said that, if and when he’s cleared of any criminal wrongdoing, he may sue the city for defamation and “malicious prosecution” and for costs associated with defending himself against the charges.
Reporter Shenandoah Briere can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @ByBriere.