Confrontation in Trenton Heats Up and Heads to Court

The acting mayor of Trenton took the drastic step of filing suit today in New Jersey Superior Court seeking to enforce his April 11 decision to terminate Fire Chief Qareeb Bashir.

George Muschal was appointed acting mayor to fill out the term of Tony Mack, who incidentally was removed from office in February following his conviction on federal corruption charges. Muschal is also the city council president and is slated to serve as acting mayor until July 1, 2014.

Muschal and Chief Bashir reportedly have clashed in the past and the move was widely viewed as political retribution. Muschal fired Chief Bashir on April 11, only to have that move questioned and reversed by the Trenton City Council last week.

The case is complicated for a number of reasons, including:

  • Trenton’s status under a transitional aid agreement with the New Jersey Division of Local Government Services (DLGS) that requires the written approval of the state monitor to terminate, suspend or demote a department head
  • Muschal’s status as an appointed acting mayor, not an elected mayor, may not allow him to remove department heads or replace them with new appointees
  • The role of the council’s vote last Thursday to overrule Muschal’s firing of Chief Bashir

Each of those factors will likely be an issue when the case get’s to court, which as of now is scheduled for hearing on May 19, 2014.

The case reportedly heated up again tonight at a special city council meeting where Chief Bashir appeared and explained what Muschal had told him, namely: to resign or be fired ostensibly over the loss of a federal grant and his decision to send a fire truck to attend an event for the Trenton African American Firefighters Association.

Chief Bashir was quoted as saying: “He specifically accused me of putting the citizens of Trenton in danger by sending a fire truck to this firefighter event… We attend events routinely and it does not put the residents in jeopardy because there is still fire trucks available to respond in case of an emergency and if, for example a fire truck is in a special assignment at a school and an alarm comes in, the captain just picks up the radio and says we will respond.”

More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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