OGUNQUIT—The former Ogunquit fire chief has filed a complaint in York County Superior Court seeking to appeal his firing earlier this fall.
Mark O’Brien had served with the Ogunquit Fire Department for 37 years before he was placed on leave, investigated and ultimately fired by the town manager, who had concerns about his ability to lead the department. Within weeks, upset residents launched a campaign to recall the three selectmen who had voted to uphold O’Brien’s termination.
In the complaint, O’Brien alleges that Town Manager Patricia Finnigan suspended and then fired him after he made multiple reports of violations of law or dangerous practices and that she never gave him the chance to respond to her concerns about his management style. O’Brien is asking the court to vacate the decision by Finnigan and the Ogunquit Board of Selectmen to terminate his employment, order the board to reinstate him to his position and award him monetary relief, including attorney’s fees.
“I still feel I was not treated fairly,” O’Brien said. “I was just fired with no progressive discipline.”
O’Brien, an Ogunquit native, had been fire chief for the past six years and served as interim town manager for eight months after former Town Manager Thomas Fortier was placed on leave during a criminal investigation. O’Brien earned just over $90,000 annually as fire chief and oversaw a staff that included eight full-time firefighters, 15 active volunteers and 18 seasonal lifeguards.
O’Brien was placed on paid administrative leave in June while town officials investigated complaints about his management style and interaction with his staff. That investigation led to his firing in September, a decision he then appealed. The selectmen upheld O’Brien’s termination on a 3-2 vote during an October meeting attended by more than 200 people.
Finnigan did not respond to a request for comment on O’Brien’s court filing. But she has in the past defended her decision to fire him, saying she still had concerns about his “management ability, judgment and temperament to lead the department” after the investigation.
O’Brien said he had not been disciplined during his 37 years with the department. His termination led to the loss of income and benefits, but also caused “unnecessary harm to reputation and public humiliation based on false and misleading information proffered by municipal officials,” according to the complaint.
O’Brien says in the complaint that after Finnigan was appointed town manager, he made several reports to her about what he believed to be violations of law or practices that jeopardized the safety of town employees and the public. Those reports included unsafe practices by the town’s highway department that caused a serious injury to the town harbor master; dangerous conditions involving trolleys and sidewalks; complaints about short staffing at the fire department; unsafe road conditions; and recklessness or extreme neglect by a lifeguard captain during a 100-student field trip to North Beach in June 2018, according to the complaint.
The complaint also says Finnigan did not respond to O’Brien’s reports and he brought his concerns about her lack of response to a town selectman.
After O’Brien made those complains, he was notified on June 27 by Finnigan that he was being placed on paid administrative leave while she investigated complaints about his behavior made by several fire department members.
Finnigan said in October that she placed O’Brien on paid administrative leave after multiple complaints that he created a hostile work environment, yelled at employees, behaved erratically and discriminated based on gender. An investigation by a town attorney found no evidence of gender bias on O’Brien’s part, she said.
After the Board of Selectmen voted to uphold Finnigan’s decision to fire O’Brien, a group of residents upset by the decision launched an effort to recall the selectmen who supported Finnigan. The petitions seek to recall board members Madeline Mooney, Charles Waite III and Robert Winn.
The recall petitions must be turned into Town Clerk Chris Murphy by Friday, and she has five business days to certify signatures. If the petitions are signed by 25 percent of the total number of residents who voted in the last gubernatorial election, the Board of Selectmen will then schedule a special town meeting for recall votes.
Mark O’Brien, former fire chief in Ogunquit. Photo from town website