The Town of Brookline and Brookline Firefighter Gerald Alston seem at a crossroad. It has been five years since Fire Lieutenant Paul Pender, who is white, left a racially charged message on the voicemail of his then subordinate Gerald Alston’s phone and a resolution to the situation seems nowhere in site. Gerald is an African-American. Alston is currently on paid administrative leave but the Town has made it clear he must return to work under imposed conditions if he is to continue getting paid.

The Pender/Alston Racial Statement Case, which began in 2010, has brought frustration and anguish to many in the community.

The Town hired Juan Alexander Concepcion, Esq. to independently investigate the Town’s handling of the Pender/Alston case in response to written assertions by Alston to the Board of Selectman. Concepcion’s findings, which were publically criticized by Alston’s attorney Brooks Ames, supported the Town’s determinations on almost every count. An executive summary of those findings, as well as a statement from the Board of Selectmen regarding those findings, can be found in Town Exonerated in Paul Pender/Gerald Alston Case.

Since Concepcion’s findings, no progress has been made in this case. There has been no constructive dialogue between Town Counsel Joslin Murphy and Ames. Brooks Ames is a Brookline based attorney, the son of former Brookline Selectman and Chair of the Brookline Civic Association Charlie Ames, and the founder of Brookline Justice League along with his wife Mariela and Scot Huggins.

When asked about the status of negotiations between Ames and herself, Murphy replied, “Presently, no negotiations are taking place, the Town remains open to communication with Mr. Alston through his attorney. Mr. Ames has not sought to engage in any substantive negotiations with this Office.”

When pressed on whether the Town is working to end the deadlock Murphy explained, “Gerald Alston is welcome back to the Brookline Fire Department under the conditions conveyed to him. The goal is to restore Mr. Alston to work as an active Firefighter as soon as possible, in a safe and welcoming workplace environment. In an effort to pursue this goal, we have reached out to individuals we are hopeful can assist in our discussions with Mr. Alston and his attorney.” Trusted sources of this publication have indicated the Town has reached out to representatives from the NAACP. Murphy added, “Gerald is presently on paid administrative leave. There are conditions on this status, while there are no deadlines yet on the negotiations, Gerald’s paid administrative leave is not a permanent situation.”

HR Director Sandra DeBow-Haung echoed Murphy’s statements, “The town is continuing to work with Gerald Alston and his supporters to get him back to work as soon as possible. Once Gerald is able to come back, we recognize a lot of work needs to be done to insure Gerald and his co-workers feel safe when he returns to the workforce, a process that needs to be done in a collaborative fashion.”

The Town will not disclose the conditions it has placed on Alston other than to state that workplace safety for Gerald and his co-workers is the main objective. We asked Murphy if one of the conditions of Alston’s return is his abstention from taking legal action against the Town. “No.” Murphy replied. “Waiving the pursuit of further legal action against the Town is not a condition of Mr. Alston’s return to work.”

When asked to comment on Ames’s condemnation of the Concepcion report and whether he sought to negotiate its scope for his client, Murphy was adamant, “The BOS agreed to conduct an appeal of the determinations alleged in Mr. Alston’s November 2014 letter that fall under the Town’s Policy against Discrimination, and to review the remaining determinations alleged in his letter to determine whether best practices were followed. At Mr. Alston’s request, an outside attorney conducted the review. Mr. Ames was informed of Mr. Concepcion’s selection and he did not either contest the selection or otherwise seek to negotiate the scope of the review with this Office.”

We asked Board of Selectmen Chair Neil Wishinsky for his take on the matter. Wishinsky said, “Many but not all of the events occurred before I was elected to the Board. That said, I would like to see a resolution to this matter as soon as possible, but it takes two sides to resolve a situation. The town has a first rate fire department whose members risk their lives every day to help keep us safe, healthy and preserve our property. We expect our employees to effectively respond at a moment’s notice to any kind of emergency. We owe the public a high functioning department. We owe our employees a safe workplace, a workplace free of discrimination and a workplace that operates according to a known set of rules and laws. I, too, would like to see Mr. Alston return under the conditions conveyed to him.”

According to Murphy, the Town has met all of Alston’s demands with the exception of conducting a Racial Climate Review of the Town’s Workforce. The Board of Selectmen has tasked this review to the newly re-constituted Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission, Chaired by Alex Coleman. This ambitious and potentially unwieldy undertaking is presently on the Commission’s agenda.

We reached out to Attorney Brooks Ames by phone and email for his participation in this article. As of this article’s publication, we have not received a reply. Our invitation to Attorney Ames remains open.


—Publisher, R. Harvey Bravman