An attorney for the suspended fire chief of Rockport, Massachusetts, filed a lawsuit against town leaders on Monday, arguing that they’re breaking a variety of laws by the way they’re managing the all-volunteer fire department.
The 57-page complaint filed on behalf of 10 taxpayers targets decisions made by both the Board of Selectmen and the town administrator, including appointing the town administrator as public safety commissioner, putting the fire chief on paid leave, installing an assistant police chief to oversee the fire department and hiring an auditor to review the fire department.
The court filing comes nearly three months after the firefighters threatened to walk off the job over disagreements with town leaders over the fire department’s management.
“They placed the assistant chief of police, who has no firefighting experience, in charge of the entire fire department,” said Liam O’Connell, the chief’s attorney and also his son-in-law. “The role the town administrator is playing right now is akin to a mayor that wasn’t elected, that doesn’t live in the town that he’s the mayor in and the town doesn’t have a mayor.”
The latest spat between the fire department and town hall, which is across the street from the fire station, also comes as its chief, James Doyle, remains on paid leave.
“Now, they’re going to tell us they’re doing on audit on our department,” said Capt. Frank Favaloro. “We don’t feel we need an audit. We know what the problems were. We know what our problems are. If anything needs to be audited, it’s across the street.”
In a statement released by his attorney, Doyle said, in part: “Volunteering as a Rockport fireman has been a huge part of my entire life. I never imagined my time as a volunteer would be cut short. All I want is to return to my second family.”
More on the Rockport Fire Department Feud
In November, the volunteer firefighters called for the town’s director of emergency services, Mark Schmink, to be removed. They claimed that morale plummeted under his leadership. He had been overseeing the fire department, but wasn’t a firefighter. Shortly afterward, his position was eliminated, but he continues to serve as an assistant police chief.
Schmink declined to comment.
In a brief statement emailed to NBC10, Town Administrator Mitchell Vieira said there are “numerous factual inaccuracies” in the lawsuit, which the town plans to fight in court.
The Board of Selectmen could not be reached for comment.