A lawsuit filed by a former Westbrook fire chief who says he was improperly removed from his job can proceed following a judge’s ruling this week.
Daniel Brock sued the city of Westbrook and Mayor Colleen Hilton last year after Hilton announced at her inauguration that she would not reappoint Brock as fire chief.
U.S. District Judge D. Brock Hornby, ruling on a motion by the city to throw out the case, said Monday that the Westbrook fire chief isn’t subject to annual appointment by the mayor, even though the position is listed that way in the city’s charter.
At issue were two seemingly contradictory provisions in the charter: one that says the fire chief is appointed annually and another that says the chief serves until death, retirement or removal for cause.
To be removed for cause, the chief must be given a hearing before the City Council, which then would vote on the removal, the charter says.
That provision was added in 1967 after being approved by the Legislature, and then Westbrook voters. At the time, the Legislature voted on proposed changes to city charters.
Hornby determined that the Legislature at the time intended to make the fire chief a permanent position and overlooked removing the chief from the list of officials who are appointed annually.
Brock, who received about $6,000 in severance pay, is seeking monetary damages and has said he would drop the case for four years’ salary plus health and retirement benefits that he would have earned through his planned retirement at age 66. Based on figures from the city, that payment would be about $330,000.
The case was ordered to be ready for trial in August.
Hornby determined that Hilton, who sought advice from the city’s attorney before removing Brock, didn’t knowingly violate the law and is no longer a defendant in the case.
Brock’s attorney, Barbara Goodwin of Murray, Plumb & Murray, said Wednesday that her client, who still lives in Westbrook and is looking for work, was pleased with the ruling.
“He’s looking forward to his day in court,” she said.
Brock was hired as fire chief in December 2008 amid allegations by two female firefighters of sexual harassment within the department. Hilton said in her inaugural speech that she would not reappoint Brock, but would instead temporarily hire a management consultant to work with the long-troubled department.
Since then, the city has replaced the fire and police chief positions with a director of public safety to lead both departments.
Michael Pardue, a consultant who served as interim fire chief, was named the acting public safety director in January. Hilton is scheduled to announce her permanent selection for the position Friday.
In light of Hornby’s decision, the city will argue that Brock would have lost his job anyway, when the fire chief’s position was eliminated, said Edward Benjamin of Thompson & Bowie, who is representing Westbrook.
Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at: 791-6364 or at: