YORK — York's longtime fire chief, whose abrupt firing last month stirred controversy through this city of 8,400, will receive his full retirement benefits even after officials discovered lewd material on his government cellphone alongside evidence he planned to delete other public records.
York City Manager Seth Duncan, who last month cited “a pattern of dishonesty” in firing Fire Chief Domenic Manera, said this week he retroactively changed the chief’s official manner of departure to a “retirement.”
The move, which came with at the behest of York City Council, affords Manera the right to receive a $62,000 severance package and to stay in the city’s health, dental and life insurance plans. Typically, fired employees don’t get those perks.
“Regardless of what transpired in the last two and a half months of service, that should not wipe away his career here at the city,” Duncan told The Post and Courier. “For the most part, people are moving forward.”
York Mayor Mike Fuesser agreed.
“Thirty-plus years of service to the city should not be completely tarnished,” he said. “In due time, I believe he should be given the proper recognition. This community is healing and will move forward as we do in the toughest of situations.”
Manera, York’s fire chief since 1994, did not respond to requests for comment April 14.
The deal is something of an olive branch after Manera’s supporters complained to City Council last month that Manera had been wrongfully fired. They blamed Duncan and called on council to fire the city manager and reinstate the fire chief.
But evidence obtained by The Post and Courier through an open-records request appears to support Duncan’s reasoning for firing Manera.
In his March 9 termination letter to Manera, Duncan accused the chief of using city equipment — including a city-issued cellphone — inappropriately.
Shortly thereafter, The Post and Courier requested data stored on Manera’s city-issued phone.
The city turned over a trove of pictures and videos from his phone, including a homemade photo of male genitals, that make clear the chief used the device for more than fire department business.
The photos also included screenshots supporting city officials’ suspicion that Manera was carrying on a personal relationship on city time and equipment.
The screenshots depicted messages between Manera and his wife, and between Manera and a female S.C. Department of Transportation engineer with whom he swapped thousands of text and photo messages between December 2020 and February 2021.
That engineer, Allison Couick Love, previously told The Post and Courier her conversations with Manera were strictly professional.
But screenshots of one of their conversations — stored in Manera's phone — appear to contradict her.
On Feb. 27, after city officials first questioned Manera about his phone usage, photos show the chief emailed Love: “Allison, I am so sorry, but we have to end things immediately.”
“They confiscated my phone,” Manera continued. “… They were trying to figure out who I have been talking and texting to. They have pulled my phone records for some reason. I did not tell them your name, all they know is that it started out as a business call and ended up as personal calls and text.”
Manera asked Love to delete all their prior messages and his contact information. Love replied to make sure Manera knew how to delete his copies of the messages as well, screenshots show.
The messages appear to have been deleted by last month, when The Post and Courier submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to both the city of York and the state Transportation Department for copies of any correspondence between Manera and Love.
Both requests came up empty.
Love, no relation to the York County Council member who shares her first and last name, did not respond to a request for comment April 14.