Medford reinstates Director of Veterans Services Michael Durham

Medford City Hall is pictured on March 12. Grace Rotermund / The Tufts Daily

Medford Director of Veterans Services Michael Durham has been reinstated after being placed on administrative leave on Sept. 17. According to a notice emailed to Durham on Oct. 15, Mayor Breanna Lungo-Koehn authorized his reinstatement after Dr. Joseph Begany found him psychologically fit for duty. 

Durham denied that any psychological incident occurred prior to his dismissal and criticized the course of action taken by the city after he was escorted from City Hall and placed on administrative leave. 

“If I was really having a mental health crisis, don’t you think that I should have been provided [a doctor] immediately, or my wife should have been contacted or I should have been sanctioned by the police?” Durham said.

Durham also criticized the city’s delay in providing and recognizing his psychological evaluation after his voluntary psychiatric evaluation by a Veterans Administration doctor was not accepted by City Hall as sufficient evidence of his psychological fitness.

“When I went of my own volition on the 30th of September, they refused to accept that VA doctor. And then, after that, they refused to acknowledge their own doctor who provided them their write up,” Durham said.

Durham’s reinstatement closely followed the Medford mayoral debate between Lungo-Koehn and challenger City Councilor John Falco, which took place on October 13. At one point during the debate, Durham’s allegations of wage theft against the city and his subsequent administrative leave became the topic of conversation. 

“Hours have been spent on personnel matters over the last few months to try to ruin my character and integrity, and they’re just baseless claims with empty rhetoric,” Lungo-Koehn said during the debate. “It had been three months of nonstop allegations. I didn’t want to do it but I had to,” she said, referencing Durham’s placement on leave. 

Durham believes that his reinstatement was linked to Mayor Lungo-Koehn’s comments during the debate. 

“[This] is an admission of political retaliation for me reporting a financial crime. That was provided to my lawyers, the lawyers pointed this out to the city and I’m reinstated the next day,” Durham said.

Durham suggested that the city would not have acted on his successful evaluation if not for the debate and subsequent legal intervention

“They just were ducking their own doctor that they sent me to, weeks later, because he cleared me,” Durham said.

The main area of concern that Durham pressed the city on prior to his dismissal was an allegation of wage theft by the city from when Durham acted as a hearing officer but was not compensated for his work. Medford City Councilor Michael Marks explained that the wages that Durham earned for performing the duties of a hearing officer were instead paid to Diversity Director Neil Osborne, who had been attending hearings prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prior to Durham’s placement on leave, he had also suggested that the city was participating in discrimination towards veterans. Marks explained that the issue gained public attention after the city appealed to the state government to implement preferential hiring for bilingual candidates for city government jobs, which Durham was concerned would supersede preferential hiring status for veterans that was already codified in state law. 

“The city actually went to the state and asked for privilege [for bilingual job candidates] because you can’t bypass state law [on veterans’ privilege]. The state denied the city saying, ‘Sorry, we’re not gonna allow you to bypass veterans or anyone else,’” Marks said

While Durham was on administrative leave, his duties as director of veterans services were performed by the Wilmington veterans services office, directed by Louis Cimaglia. Durham expressed his gratitude to the Wilmington office for continuing to help Medford veterans in his absence.

“I’m deeply appreciative of all that my fellow veterans service officers did to cover down on my office for the benefit of Medford veterans while I was out,” Durham said. 

Durham also spoke about the support he received from Medford residents during his administrative leave. 

“I was deeply moved by the support of the community. I had multiple widowed and disabled veterans and veterans in the community send notes to my personal residence wishing me welI, [sending] cookies and flowers, just an outpouring of support,” Durham said. “A lot of those people were people that I’ve helped in the past, and to see it come full circle was deeply touching.”