May 27, 2018
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West Bath to pay firefighter $16,500 to settle whistle-blower lawsuit

By Beth Brogan, BDN Staff

WEST BATH, Maine — The town of West Bath will pay a captain in its fire department $16,500, and he will retain his position to resolve a lawsuit filed under the Maine Whistleblowers’ Protection Act.

Michael Drake of West Bath filed the suit in February 2013 against the town and former fire chiefs Michael Demers of Bath and Barry MacArthur of Brunswick.

Drake, who is a full-time firefighter for the city of Bath and was a deputy chief with the volunteer West Bath Fire Department for several years, alleged he was wrongfully demoted as deputy chief in March 2011, just one month after reporting to town officials Demers was misusing a town fire engine and funds from the volunteer firefighters association.

The town, Demers and MacArthur denied all allegations of wrongdoing, according to court documents.

According to a complaint filed in February 2013 in Sagadahoc County Superior Court, Drake “learned in a variety of ways” in January 2011 that Demers “was misusing monies of the volunteer firefighters association of West Bath and was using the town’s fire engine to raise money for a private purpose in a way prohibited by the town selectmen, namely by charging private citizens of West Bath a fee for filling their swimming pools with water.”

The complaint charges Drake was demoted by Demers and MacArthur, who also was a deputy chief at the time, after Drake reported the activities to then-West Bath Town Administrator Pam Hile and to two selectmen who are not identified in the complaint.

At a special town meeting held Thursday at the West Bath Fire Station, residents voted first voted 44-15 to settle, then 13-43 against a recommendation of the selectmen to pay Drake $25,000 and accept his resignation.

Judge Andrew M. Horton ordered selectmen to make a formal recommendation at the meeting. In a statement distributed prior to Thursday’s meeting, they recommended paying Drake $25,000, accepting his resignation or issuing a “generic” letter of recommendation.

Selectmen wrote that a town investigation found Drake’s allegations of misuse of funds were without merit, but they said settling with Drake limited the town’s liability, had the settlements been rejected and the case proceeded to trial.

But residents voted down the selectmens’ recommendation; instead, they will pay him $16,500 and allow him to remain a captain in the fire department, Town Administrator Jonathan Davis said.

Drake spoke to those gathered and told them he would prefer to take less money and stay on at the department, according to Drake’s attorney, Howard Reben.

“They wanted to get rid of him and pay him the $25,000,” Reben said. “He preferred to stay. It’s his town, and he’s been a member of the volunteer fire department for over 25 years. He preferred to stay.”

“Everybody’s moving forward,” Davis said. “This is what the town decided they wanted, and we’ll all move forward.”

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