WESTBROOK – The city has reached a proposed settlement with former Fire Chief Daniel Brock, who sued the city in 2010 after recently elected Mayor Colleen Hilton announced she wasn’t reappointing him to lead the troubled department.
The City Council will take an initial vote on the agreement Monday. Until then, representatives of both the city and Brock declined to give any details of the settlement.
Brock, 63, who received about $6,000 in severance pay, claimed in his lawsuit that the city violated its charter and wrongfully discharged him. He has said he would drop the suit if the city paid the equivalent of four years’ salary plus the health and retirement benefits he would have received through his planned retirement age of 66. That payment would be more than $330,000.
“Everyone gave a little, but we’re pleased with the outcome,” Brock’s attorney, Barbara Goodwin, said of the tentative agreement.
The city’s insurance will cover much of the legal bill for the case. Its policy, however, only covers up to $100,000 for settlements on claims for lost wages, said City Administrator Jerre Bryant.
Anything more than that would be paid by the city, which is why the council has to vote on the agreement.
“I think it’s unfortunate. I don’t like to spend any money unnecessarily,” Hilton said Tuesday.
She defended not rehiring Brock, saying she needed to make an immediate leadership change in the department at that time.
“I don’t regret it. I think it was the right thing to do,” she said.
The city no longer has a fire chief. Instead, a public safety director leads both the fire and police departments.
Hilton was elected mayor soon after two female firefighters sued the city for failing to address complaints of sexual harassment within the department. They received a combined settlement of $846,000 under an agreement reached with city officials last September.
Brock wasn’t chief when the alleged sexual harassment occurred, but Hilton felt he wasn’t the right person to turn around the department.
Brock had held the job for about a year when Hilton announced during her inauguration in January 2010 that she wasn’t reappointing him and two other department heads — the city’s finance and recreation directors.
Most department heads in Westbrook are subject to annual appointment by the mayor, according to the city’s charter. A different provision in the charter, however, says the fire chief serves until death, retirement or removal for cause.
On a motion by the city to throw out Brock’s case, U.S. District Judge D. Brock Hornby ruled in May that the fire chief isn’t subject to annual appointment.
A charter commission formed in Westbrook earlier this year is looking to resolve the issue of the contradictory clauses.
Although Hornby’s ruling allowed the case against the city to move forward, he dismissed the case against Hilton, who Brock had also named in the suit.
Hornby ordered the case to be ready for trial in August. Instead, the settlement agreement was reached earlier this month in a mediation session with another federal judge.
“If these disputes can be resolved prior to going to trial, it’s generally beneficial to all parties,” Bryant said.
Goodwin said Brock is still looking for work.
Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at: