Wednesday, December 4, 2013
By PAUL KOENIG Kennebec Journal
WEST GARDINER — The Board of Selectmen has dismissed the town's first female fire chief less than three months into the job, saying she did not meet requirements of a settlement with the town.
Vicki Dill became chief of the volunteer Fire Department in February after signing a settlement to resolve complaints that the town previously had refused to appoint her as chief in 2009 because she's a woman.
The West Gardiner Firemen's Association elected Dill as fire chief in 2009, but selectmen intervened and chose the third-place candidate.
Gary Hickey, a volunteer firefighter for West Gardiner, said he doesn't think Dill has attempted to improve her firefighting skills since the selectmen chose another candidate over her four years ago.
"The association's not a huge fan of her," Hickey said. "The town had to do what they had to do, but the association's not a huge fan. She burned a lot of bridges, and people are starting to see that."
Even as town officials on Monday confirmed that Dill had been fired, the details for the dismissal remained murky.
Former selectman Victor Goodwin Sr. said in a previous interview that Dill had until May to prove she had fulfilled the requirements of the position, including being able to drive a firetruck. The board reviewed the documentation of Dill's firetruck certification at its May 2 meeting, according to meeting minutes.
Selectman Earle McCormick said the dismissal was finalized at that meeting.
Dill said in an interview last month that she had completed the requirements of the settlement, though she had to complete additional training for using firefighting equipment and trucks.
"That's all complete, and everything is done," Dill said April 16.
Asked Monday about her firing, Dill said conversations were still ongoing and she thought an unspecified matter related to paperwork had not been resolved.
However, the board chairman, Selectman Gregory Couture, said Monday of Dill's firing: "As far as I know, we've finalized it."
Meanwhile, town officials have refused to disclose terms of Dill's February settlement. The town's Portland attorney, Jonathan Brogan, of the firm Norman, Hanson & DeTroy, has denied a Kennebec Journal public records request for the details on the grounds that a settlement or conciliation information is confidential in Maine Human Rights Commission cases.
The state's public access ombudsman, Brenda Kielty, told the Kennebec Journal that the Maine Human Rights Commission had received a letter that conciliation had failed for the case. Brogan would not reconsider the town's refusal to disclose settlement details in light of Kielty's research.
Voters at the annual Town Meeting on March 23 approved spending $5,000 to repay the Maine Municipal Property and Casualty Pool loan in connection with Dill's settlement.
Selectmen last week swore in the former fire chief, Chris McLaughlin. Board members told McLaughlin to step down earlier this year to allow Dill to become chief.
McLaughlin said the board told him May 2 that the fire chief's job would be available again and asked whether he would accept the position.
Some firefighters association members, including its president, voiced concerns about Dill's qualifications when the association elected her in 2009 and again when she was sworn in earlier this year.
Scott Taylor, the association's president, previously had said he went to the selectmen in 2009 to express concern about her lack of experience in driving or operating a firetruck. Taylor could not be reached for comment Monday.
West Gardiner amended the fire chief's qualifications last November to include the requirement that the chief must be able to drive, operate and set up all firetrucks and be able to use all firefighting equipment.
The town also added a requirement to maintain good working relationships with municipal officials, Fire Department members, state and federal authorities, and the general public.
Paul Koenig — 621-5663