Taxpayers Lower the Boom on Rockport Over Poor Treatment of Fire Department

A handful of Rockport, Massachusetts taxpayers have filed a scathing twelve-count, 147-paragraph, twenty-four page complaint accusing town officials of an assortment of misdeeds in an apparent attempt to undercut the fire chief and re-assign command of the fire department.

The suit stems from the efforts of Assistant Police Chief/Emergency Services Director Mark Schmink to discipline and remove Fire Chief Jim Doyle. That move prompted a threat by firefighters to quit the volunteer fire department.

Eleven Rockport taxpayers, Glen MacLeod, William Brundage, Armand Aparo, Craig Morrill, Kenneth Knowles, William Tobin, Brock Hale Currier, Janelle Favaloro, Patrick Keating, Kathy Milbury, and Barbara Stavropoulos filed suit today in Essex County Superior Court naming the town and the five-member Board of Selectmen.

Explaining the facts and the legal allegations in detail is beyond a simple blog post. However to help grasp the nature of the Plaintiffs’ claims, here is the introductory statement in the complaint:

  • Plaintiffs, all taxpayers of the Town of Rockport, pray this Court asserts its authority over the Town of Rockport and its Board of Selectmen, ordering the Town to comply with the law.
  • The future of the Rockport Fire Department has been put in uncertain waters for the past several months, culminating in early November when members of the Rockport Fire Department sent a letter to Rockport’ s Board of Selectmen, demanding the removal of Assistant Police Chief/Emergency Services Director Mark Schmink from his unlawful takeover of the RFD’ s command structure and the return of the RFD to the lawful command of Fire Chief James Doyle.
  • The firefighters’ demands went unanswered; instead, the Selectmen delegated the problem to Town Administrator Mitch Vieira, who placed Fire Chief Doyle on administrative leave the day after the Firefighter’ s letter was sent to the Selectmen.
  • Rockport’s Town Meeting is the Town’s gatekeeper, not a Town Administrator whose purported powers come from a contract negotiated behind closed doors, which include authorities the Town Meeting never approved.
  • In only 18-months, the Town Administrator was assigned a badge and an unmarked police car, the Asst. Police Chief replaced the Board of Engineers and took over command of the Fire Department, the Police Chiefs spouse, an attorney, was hired to investigate various firefighters (including the Fire Chief), the Police Chiefs wife was appointed to the Town Government and By law Committee to rewrite the Town’s Bylaws, and the [sic] these same officials used taxpayer funds to purchase an email encryption software to communicate with.
  • The Selectmen are accountable for the actions that have brought us to this point, but are unwilling to fix it. Plaintiffs pray that this Court will.

The complaint alleges conflicts of interest, violations of state law, and the failure of the Board of Selectmen to comply with the town’s own Bylaws.

Boston10 quoted the Plaintiffs’ attorney, Liam O’Connell, as saying:

  • They placed the assistant chief of police, who has no firefighting experience, in charge of the entire fire department.
  • The role the town administrator is playing right now is akin to a mayor that wasn’t elected, that doesn’t live in the town that he’s the mayor in and the town doesn’t have a mayor.

O’Connell is Chief Doyle’s son-in-law. Here is a copy of the complaint.

Here is Boston10’s news coverage.

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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