Another Lawsuit Looms for Westbrook

The Westbrook, Maine Fire Department has seen its share of legal battles over the past 15 years, and it would seem that another one is on the horizon. Former Fire Chief Daniel Brock, in office only a year, was let go immediately upon newly elected Mayor Colleen Hilton’s inauguration on January 15, 2010.

Brock had been brought in from the outside to help clean up a department in turmoil, but the new mayor wanted her own man. She promptly appointed the police chief to serve as acting fire chief.

However, Chief Brock obtained legal counsel, and a quick check of the City Charter disclosed that the fire chief is entitled to serve “until retirement, resignation or death, or removal for good and sufficient cause, on complaint of the mayor, such complaint being sustained by a majority vote of the full council.”

Even faced with that language, Mayor Hilton remained defiant claiming the charter provision doesn’t apply because she “eliminated” the fire chief’s position (remember… the job she gave to the police chief… she forgot to mention in her inauguration speech that she was really eliminating the position and must have misspoken when she said the police chief would be the acting fire chief because you can’t eliminate a position and then assign someone else to do it on an acting basis. Come to think of it, she actually said would "I will not be reappointing the current fire chief"… but hey… it was her first day).

Anyway – the poor taxpayers and the firefighters of Westbrook seem destined for another senseless legal battle, unless cooler heads can prevail. Am I the only one who is tired of politics as usual?

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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