WESTBROOK – Former Fire Chief Daniel Brock has sued the city of Westbrook and Mayor Colleen Hilton, claiming the city violated its charter and his constitutional rights when Hilton dismissed him in January.
The lawsuit, filed in Cumberland County Superior Court on July 20, contends Brock “has suffered pecuniary loss, damage to his reputation and emotional distress” from his public dismissal during the mayor’s inauguration speech on Jan. 4.
“He was wrongfully discharged, and nothing was done to explain or rectify the situation,” said Barbara Goodwin, an attorney for Murray, Plumb & Murray in Portland, who represents Brock.
Brock declined to comment on the lawsuit.
City Administrator Jerre Bryant told Brock on the afternoon of the inauguration he would not be reappointed as fire chief.
Hilton said in her speech on Jan. 4 that the department’s difficulties in dealing with diversity and conflict 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.”
The lawsuit says Hilton had neither good nor sufficient cause to dismiss Brock.
“We think there is a violation of his constitutional rights and a violation of the city charter,” Goodwin said. “The statements about his ability to lead have harmed him.”
The city charter says, “there shall be a Fire Chief,” appointed by the mayor with the approval of a two-thirds majority of the City Council.
Once appointed, the charter says, “the chief shall hold such office until retirement, resignation or death, or removal by good and sufficient cause, on complaint of the mayor, such complaint being sustained by a majority vote of the full council.”
The council did not vote on Brock’s dismissal. City Council President Brendan Rielly pointed to another section of the charter, which says:
“Unless herein otherwise provided, 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.”
Rielly said Hilton’s action is consistent with how previous mayors have handled personnel matters.
“The mayor was well within her rights to do what she did,” Rielly said.
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.
Brock is seeking a monetary judgment from the court, along with punitive damages and the cost of his lawsuit, Goodwin said. The lawsuit does not specify the amount of damages Brock is seeking.
In a letter sent to city officials Jan. 15, Goodwin wrote that Brock would be willing to drop any legal action if the city pays him the four years of his salary, plus health and retirement benefits, that he would have earned through his planned retirement at age 66. Based on figures from the city administrator’s office, that payment would be about $330,000.
As of Monday, the city had not been served with the lawsuit. Hilton said she has not seen the lawsuit and declined to comment.
Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at: [email protected]