It would be easy to blame arbitrator James M. Mancini for the debacle involving Warren Police Department Sgt. Manny Nites, but ultimately the onus falls on Warren Safety-Service Director Enzo Cantalamessa.
Nites was fired in December for an incident in August when, while on duty, he attended a fantasy football draft party for 2 1/2 hours and failed to respond to a call. Nites had previously received a last-chance warning (which has since expired) for coaching his child's basketball games 14 times, including one game an hour's drive from city limits, while on duty.
Nites told internal affairs investigators that he did not participate in the fantasy draft. The city fired Nites for lying.
Mancini determined that Nites attended the draft but did not participate in it. Therefore, the grounds on which the city fired him were invalid. Mancini ordered Nites reinstated, which then means a demotion of the officer who was elevated to Nites' sergeant position.
The arbitrator is a shining example of why there is so much distrust for the government and disdain toward public employees. Regardless of what Mancini says, Nites did indeed lie. He lied when he accepted pay for working while at the draft. He lied when he took his oath. And Manicini could have just as easily said attending the draft constitutes participation and, therefore, Nites lied to the internal affairs investigators.
Now let's shift focus to Cantalamessa. The safety-service director chose not to fire Nites for the serious infraction of failing to respond to a call and for engaging in person business, for at least the 16th time in his career, while on duty and instead fired him only for dishonesty.
Cantalamessa put the safety of Warren's citizens and police officers in the hands of an officer who has proven his inability to perform. Note that immediately after the basketball coaching incidents became public, Nites coached his son's Little League baseball team on a night that he called off sick. Also note that prior to the coaching incidents, Nites was recorded using racial slurs in a video recording made outside of a nightclub frequented by African Americans.
Cantalamessa also has established that engaging in personal business while on duty is not a fireable offense. The city and police officers' union also established that last-chance warnings with expiration dates ultimately have no teeth.
Nites' restoration and officer Geoff Fusco's demotion is causing morale to deteriorate. The breakdown in discipline will most likely present an unnecessarily challenging and perhaps even impossible hurdle for new police Chief Eric Merkel.
Former police Chief Timothy Bowers fired Nites for the fantasy football draft incident. But as the police chief's boss, the buck ultimately stops with Cantalamessa.
It's interesting to note that in December Bowers said he did not previously fire Nites because the department had no discipline for nine years, most of which was under then Safety-Service Director Doug Franklin, now the city's mayor and now Cantalamessa's boss.