— By

Staff Writer

WESTBROOK — Former Fire Chief Daniel Brock is threatening to sue the city, claiming that Mayor Colleen Hilton violated the city charter when she dismissed him in January.

In a letter on Brock’s behalf, his attorney, Barbara Goodwin of Murray, Plumb and Murray, said the dismissal was invalid, in part because Hilton acted without a vote of support from the City Council.

Goodwin wrote that Brock is willing to drop any legal action if the city pays him 4½ years of salary, with related health and retirement benefits, which he would have earned through his planned retirement at age 66.

Based on figures from the city administrator’s office, the payment would be about $333,000.

City officials are preparing for the arrival next month of a consultant who was hired to address sexual harassment in the Fire Department. That issue, which has led to lawsuits against the city and discipline for several firefighters, played a key role in the resignation of Brock’s predecessor, Gary Littlefield, in October 2008.

In her letter to the city on Jan. 15, Goodwin quoted the Westbrook charter:

”The chief of the Fire Department shall be appointed by the Mayor with approval of two-thirds of the City Council,” the letter reads. ”The chief shall hold such office 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.”

City Administrator Jerre Bryant told Brock on the afternoon of Hilton’s inauguration that he would not be reappointed. Hilton said during her inauguration speech on Jan. 4 that difficulties in dealing with diversity and conflict within the department had persuaded her not to reappoint Brock.

”Efforts are under way to improve the conduct and behavior among our fire and rescue personnel,” Hilton said in her speech. ”I believe we need to restructure this department and immediately implement changes to the leadership structure. Therefore, I will not be reappointing the current Fire Chief, in order to engage an experienced management consultant to lead the department through a transition.”

Goodwin’s letter contends that Brock’s ”very public and improper termination has done substantial damage,” and ”his reputation and standing in the community have been irreparably harmed.”

Hilton said in an interview that she sought legal advice from City Solicitor William Dale before making her decision.

”The decision was fully vetted by our legal counsel,” Hilton said. ”I think (Brock) is a decent man, but he clearly isn’t the leader we need for this department.”

Dale declined to comment on the letter from Brock’s attorney.

City Council President Brendan Rielly said Hilton acted within her authority. He referred to another section in the charter, which reads:

”The mayor shall have the sole power of appointment to all the municipal offices established by or under this act; and he may remove from office, by written order, any officer so appointed hereunder, for any cause which he shall in his official discretion deem sufficient, which cause he shall assign in his order of removal.”

Brock received eight weeks of severance pay, an estimated $6,113, along with medical and dental insurance through March, according to his Jan. 4 letter of dismissal.

Police Chief William Baker stepped in to oversee Westbrook’s public safety services temporarily.

Steve Wessler, executive director of the Center for the Prevention of Hate Violence, was hired by the city to conduct sexual-harassment training for the city’s fire and rescue workers. Wessler said the training will start in March.

Brock said he would have liked to continue working to resolve the longstanding issues in the department. He said he believes he was unfairly dismissed.

His lawyer, Goodwin, said city officials have not responded to her letter.

”We want to open discussions with the city to resolve our concerns,” she said. ”We are eager to hear back.”

Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at:

[email protected]