The Westbrook fire chief and deputy fire chief are suing the city, alleging the mayor retaliated against them for raising legal and safety concerns in their department.

The lawsuit details months of tension beginning last year between Mayor Mike Sanphy and the top two officials in the Westbrook Fire Department. In their complaint, Fire Chief Andrew Turcotte and Deputy Fire Chief Stephen Sloan claim that the mayor repeatedly undermined them with their subordinates and threatened to fire them. It also alludes to a strained relationship between the mayor and at least one other department head, who was recently placed on paid administrative leave for months.

“The chief and the deputy chief, Andy and Steve, did everything they could to try to work it out informally without taking this step, and they just weren’t able to get anywhere with it,” said their attorney, Jonathan Goodman.

City Administrator Jerre Bryant said the city had received notice of the lawsuit and would file a response in the coming weeks.

“All I can say is we have a very, very different perspective on this than Chief Turcotte and Deputy Chief Sloan,” Bryant said. “I’m not going to say anything more than that.”

Sanphy also declined to comment Friday on the contents of the complaint.

“There’s a lot more to the story than meets the eye,” he said. “I’d look at both sides. We have an attorney working on it.”

The mayor is retired from a 40-year career in the Westbrook Police Department, and he represented Ward 5 on the Westbrook City Council from 2011 to 2016. That year, Sanphy was elected mayor, and he is currently in the second year of a three-year term. The Westbrook charter grants the mayor the power to hire and fire employees, but Sanphy said he has not fired anyone while in office.

“I don’t micromanage them,” Sanphy said of Westbrook department heads. “I let them do their thing.”

City Council President Brendan Rielly said Friday he had not yet read the complaint and did not want to comment until he had done so.

The lawsuit claims Turcotte and Sloan raised several legal and safety concerns last spring with the mayor, city administrator and other officials.

One of the concerns was about a volunteer firefighter who also was being paid to work as an independent fire inspector for the city. Turcotte and Sloan believed this arrangement created a conflict of interest because the person was inspecting buildings on which he or his company had worked. The complaint did not name that employee or identify his company.

BUTTING HEADS OVER BUILDING USE

They also raised concerns about the potential reuse of an old fire station at 41 Cumberland St. That property is owned by the Sappi paper mill, and it was given to the city to be used for municipal purposes. Fire crews moved out of that building when the existing public safety complex was built.

Sanphy proposed using the space for the city’s hourly fire/police division and call company. That group typically helps as needed with traffic control at the scene of car accidents, during bad weather or at parades. Although the members usually respond from home, the division is allotted common space and equipment storage at the city’s main public safety building. Sanphy was a member of the call company until 2003.

Turcotte and Sloan opposed this plan, saying the building did not meet safety codes and would require costly renovation.

“Soon after Chief Turcotte and Deputy Chief Sloan raised their concerns, they learned from other city employees that, because the mayor had personal and/or political interests in the issues about which Chief Turcotte and Deputy Chief Sloan had raised concerns, the mayor was now seeking to terminate their employment and also that the mayor was undermining them with their subordinates, particularly with the city’s volunteer ‘call company,’ ” the lawsuit says.

The document does not elaborate on what those personal or political interests were. The chief and deputy chief reported what they believed was retaliation by the mayor.

“The city administrator and the human resources director each independently told Chief Turcotte and Deputy Chief Sloan that, although each agreed that the mayor was retaliating against Chief Turcotte and Deputy Chief Sloan, nothing could be done about it as he was the city’s chief executive officer,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit also alludes to a comment that Director of Human Resources Jennifer Ogden made last year about her own concerns about the mayor.

“The human resources director also told Chief Turcotte and Deputy Chief Sloan that she herself was in fear of retaliation from the mayor,” it says.

Ogden was placed on paid administrative leave from Dec. 4 to March 26, and she said in a written message last month that she is now on maternity leave until the end of June. The city has declined to comment on her current status as an employee, but the proposed budget for fiscal year 2019 would dramatically restructure her job, and it is unclear whether she will return to the position.

It’s also unclear whether Ogden’s concerns referenced in the lawsuit are related to her administrative leave.

WHISTLEBLOWER ACT CITED

The lawsuit says the chief and deputy chief wrote a memo last June reiterating their concerns and saying the mayor was violating the Maine Whistleblower’s Protection Act, which shields employees from retaliation for reporting violations of law, unsafe conditions or certain other issues. As a result, the mayor allegedly told other people, and eventually the two administrators themselves, that he wanted to fire them.

In their complaint, Turcotte and Sloan say they were subject to restrictions that made it difficult and stressful to perform their work duties, and the mayor continued to undermine them with department employees. The complaint does not include more detail, and attorney Goodman declined to elaborate.

At a workshop in July, members of the City Council objected to the mayor’s idea about the former fire station, and several members of the on-call crew quit. That same month, Turcotte and Sloan filed complaints with the Maine Human Rights Commission.

In February, the rights commission issued “right-to-sue” letters for Turcotte and Sloan, indicating that they tried to pursue resolution through the commission but are moving ahead to a trial before the process is complete. A public records request related to their case with the commission had not been fulfilled by Friday.

Turcotte and Sloan filed their lawsuit in April. It says they are seeking unspecified damages. Both Turcotte and Sloan declined to speak about the case.

Turcotte was hired in February 2014 as deputy chief. He was later promoted to interim chief and then chief. Sloan was hired as deputy chief in January 2015.