Reminder Assistant Editor
EAST LONGMEADOW Officer Fred Bailey has been off the force since January, when he lost his right foot in an off-duty car accident. Bailey and his doctor said he was ready to return to work but the Board of Selectmen delayed the decision again at their Dec. 4 meeting.
Bailey met with Selectmen Jack Villamaino and Joe Townshend, who reviewed two separate doctor's reports regarding Bailey's health. On Nov. 18, the selectmen were interested in having the officer complete an agility test to see how well he could perform his duties but the test was replaced by a simple physical examination. The night of the meeting, Bailey also demonstrated his running abilities in a hallway inside the Town Hall.
The flip-flopping of required tests seems irrational to some.
"I don't understand how Jack [Villamaino] took it upon himself only after the negative press he and Jim [Driscoll, selectman] received [from Boston] to change from requiring an agility test to a just a physical," Townshend stated. "We could've done this five months ago and saved the town a lot of money. If they were so adamant about the agility test, why the sudden change?"
Both Bailey's personal physician and the physician he was required to see by the Board of Selectmen said he was able to return to work for the East Longmeadow Police Department.
The 10-page report from the selectmen's doctor, however, included a detailed medical history of the officer, which included four different incidents of temporary mental incapacitation, either due to exhaustion or issues with his blood sugar levels.
Bailey's car accident earlier this year was a result of the officer falling asleep at the wheel.
Both Villamaino and Townshend stated they also believed Bailey was fit to return to work.
"I truly believe he is not a risk for the public or the police force," Townshend stated.
"I want you back," Villamaino told Bailey. "I just want to get the approval of Town Labor Counsel [Richard Hayes]. It would be reckless to move forward without the consent of counsel."
While Bailey understood Villamaino's concern, he stated that he believed this process of approval has gone on long enough.
"I've jumped through all the hoops this board has asked of me," Bailey said. "I've been treated differently than anyone in the history of this town. I've been cleared by my doctor and by your doctor. I'm only getting paid for three days a week and Christmas is coming."
He added that if the process continued much longer, he would like to receive a five days a week salary.
Officer Bailey has two years and 11 months before he can officially retire from the force.
Townshend made a motion to approve Bailey's return to the force which was not approved because the quorum of himself and Villamaino resulted in a split decision.
"Protocol has always been for an employee to start back to work with just a physician's note," Townshend said. "It would've been nice if they took my recommendation from the beginning for him to return to work with his doctor's note and not humiliate the town or the officer."
Bailey said the letter he received from his doctor came in late June and that he was ready to return to work on July 2.
"We've been having discussions about him returning since the accident," Villamaino told Reminder Publications. "We were ready to welcome him back when he was fit to return to duty.
"Everybody involved wants the same result we want Bailey back with the police department. We have to pay our due diligence, however," he added.
Villamaino also said he's glad with the way things are moving forward. He said he had the foresight to post a meeting for Dec. 5 in case a decision came from the town's Labor Counsel quickly.
Hayes received both doctor reports after the Dec. 4 meeting and contacted the Board of Selectmen around 1 p.m. the next day.
"We want this done as quickly and as thoroughly as possible," Villamaino said.
During the special Wednesday night meeting, Bailey met with Townshend and Villamaino again, when Villamaino read the response from Hayes. It stated that the officer's prosthetic foot does not disqualify him from returning to the force, despite some difficulty in squatting and hopping. Hayes' letter also said Bailey's temporary mental issues could easily be taken care of with proper diet and supervision.
After the motion to reinstate Bailey to the force had passed, Townshend said, "I'm glad we can put all this behind us."
Bailey, who has worked in East Longmeadow for 26 years, had been off the force for nine months, and said he was "ecstatic" when the selectmen finally gave him permission to return to work.
"I've missed the guys and I miss the work," Bailey said.
"I was in rehab for four or five months," he continued. "I began it at the end of April. As soon as I got the prosthesis, I was up and walking in a day, driving in three days. I was determined."
Although he has less than three years on the force before he can retire, Bailey said that's only a goal and that he'd like to stay longer if possible.
"I've had other opportunities come up, but I prefer to finish this," he said.
Bailey planned to return to the force a few days after the decision was made.