PHILLIPSTON (CBS) – A local highway department worker was terminated recently after he helped rescue “Kaboodle,” a wayward cat in Westminster.
But the fallout from his treetop rescue is the talk of little Phillipston.
“I reached out to a friend,” says town library director Jackie Prime. “I never thought it would cost him his job.”
That friend, Highway Superintendent, Jim Mackie, was fired last week by the Board of Selectmen.
The chain of events began in late May when the cat, which belongs to Prime’s daughter, got scared during a storm, ran out of the house and scampered to the top of a spruce tree in her Westminster backyard. When the cat got stuck in the tree, Prime called a handful of tree companies and the town’s fire department to get him down. Nobody would help.
Feeling exasperated, Prime called her boyfriend, Mackie, who arrived with a town of Phillipston bucket truck.
“I went up to the top of the tree,” said the highway boss of two decades, “grabbed the kitten and brought it back down. Everyone was happy.”
Some people, however, are upset with Mackie’s actions, including the highway worker who Mackie summoned to bring a dump truck to the cat rescue scene. During the rescue, the bucket truck had gotten stuck in Prime’s muddy yard.
The highway worker filed an ethics complaint against Mackie for taking two pieces of Phillipston town equipment over to Westminster for non-official business. Mackie was suspended for two weeks with pay for that violation of town regulations.
“I was just trying to help her out — period,” explains Mackie. “Nothing more. Nothing less. I would have done the same thing for any Phillipston employee.”
Last week, after he refused a demand to resign, Mackie was essentially fired by selectmen who opted not to reappoint him to highway chief.
None of the three selectman returned our calls Monday, but we tracked down Chairman Tom Brouillet at his home.
“I just can’t talk about it because the town attorneys have told me I can’t say anything,” Brouille said.
But some other town residents are speaking up, including Ruth French.
“In my opinion, this should’ve happened years ago,” French said of Mackie’s firing.
French is among those who argue that Mackie has a long history of on-the-job vindictiveness and making his own rules. She contends that commandeering town trucks for a kitty rescue is merely the straw that broke the camel’s back.
“It’s not about the cat,” French insists. “It’s about the abuse of power.”
Still, yard signs supporting Mackie make it pretty clear he’s got some backers here, many of whom appreciate his willingness to challenge other town officials and ruffle feathers.
Health Board member Gordon Tallman is among those in his corner.
“That’s some of the problem,” Tallman says. “He may have made some people mad. But he’s an excellent guy and a hard worker.”
“I am pretty outspoken on a lot of things,” Mackie admits. “I just don’t think I was treated fairly here.”
Mackie wants his job back and says he’s already consulted a lawyer.
“I just can’t believe they would derail a man’s life over something like this,” Prime says. “If this is just about a cat then the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.”
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