A York County Superior Court judge has ruled that the Ogunquit town manager did not violate the rights of the town fire chief when she fired him last year following an investigation into his job performance.

Ogunquit Town Manager Patricia Finnigan Press Herald file photo

Former fire chief Mark O’Brien filed an administrative appeal of the termination in York County Superior Court two months after a divided Select Board held a contentious appeal hearing and backed Town Manager Patricia Finnigan’s decision to fire O’Brien.

That hearing – during which the Select Board asked about 200 residents to leave the room because people were being disruptive – set off a tumultuous time in local politics that included an unsuccessful attempt to remove three Select Board members from office.

O’Brien, who had worked for the town in various roles for 37 years, argued in his court complaint that Finnigan suspended 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.

Mark O’Brien, former fire chief in Ogunquit Photo from town website

Finnigan placed O’Brien on administrative leave in June 2018 while the town investigated complaints about O’Brien’s management style and interactions with staff. That investigation led to his firing in September and, ultimately, a 3-2 vote by the Select Board to uphold Finnigan’s decision.

In a ruling issued Aug. 23, Justice Wayne Douglas said Finnigan did not violate O’Brien’s due process and her decision to terminate his employment was supported by evidence. He also ruled that O’Brien’s rights were not violated when the Select Board did not reappoint him to serve as the town’s emergency management director.

Douglas wrote in his ruling that, in a letter Finnigan wrote to O’Brien to notify him she was firing him, Finnigan summarized the grounds for the firing based on a report from the attorney who handled the investigation for the town.

“Relying on these findings, Finnigan concluded that O’Brien demonstrated a ‘lack of leadership skills, essential management abilities, judgment or temperament to lead Ogunquit Fire and Rescue,'” he wrote.

Douglas determined the process followed when O’Brien was fired and appealed the termination was consistent with the town charter and rules and afforded O’Brien due process. He also ruled that the Ogunquit Select Board was within its right not to reappoint O’Brien as EMA director when his term expired.

Finnigan did not respond to multiple messages Tuesday seeking reaction to the ruling.

O’Brien said he has not yet decided if he will appeal the decision to a higher court. He feels town officials did not follow policies and procedures that were in place, denying him progressive discipline.

“Just because the judge found it was legal doesn’t make it right ethically,” he said. “It doesn’t make (my termination) right.”

O’Brien, who is now self-employed in construction, said he filed a retaliation complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission that has not yet been heard.

Despite being fired, O’Brien said he misses working for the fire department.

“I miss serving the community as I had for 37 years,” he said.

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