North Yarmouth board cuts TV feed, calls in sheriff, after more complaints over firefighter firing

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NORTH YARMOUTH — Continuing criticism of the town’s December 2014 firing of one of its Fire-Rescue Department paramedics led the Board of Selectmen on Feb. 17 to cut the audio portion of the cable TV feed of its meeting and call in a sheriff’s deputy in case the discussion became too heated.

Deputy Chief of Emergency Medical Services Bill Young was fired Dec. 1. Jeff Toorish, a lieutenant medic with the department, resigned the same day. Both men claim town officials violated their civil rights, and Young says he has filed a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission.

Young, who said soon after the firing that on the advice of his lawyer he was limited in what he could say, posted his side of the story Feb. 16 in an open letter on the blog nyourtown.com.

Steve Palmer, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said he had the meeting audio feed cut “because people were pushing their limits of conversation. They kept entering into personnel matters; we couldn’t answer their question, they kept persisting, so finally I just had (the camera man) turn off the camera, because it was going nowhere.”

The sound was cut initially for about 2 1/2 minutes. It was cut again, toward the end of the meeting, for about five minutes, the chairman said, because of the escalating nature of a conversation between Selectman Alex Carr and Town Manager Rosemary Roy about a Feb. 3 broken water pipe at the vacant North Yarmouth Memorial School.

Carr was criticizing Roy’s management of the situation, “and things were being said that were too damaging and insulting, so I had to turn the camera off,” Palmer said.

 A video of the meeting is online at vimeo.com/119971531.

Carr on Feb. 18 said he was concerned about weatherization and a boiler failure at the former school, leading to freezing and breaking pipes, and water damage. He said the board had been assured an emergency plan was going to be put into effect, and that he objected to Roy not providing a sufficient explanation for why the plan failed.

The Cumberland County sheriff’s deputy was called during the portion of the meeting where people were complaining about Young’s firing, Palmer said.

“There was just concern that … things may get out of hand,” he said, noting that the deputy “just stayed there, and just was a presence in the room. I’m not sure that it was necessary for him to be there, but he was.”

Carr said he was unaware that a deputy was going to be called, and was “very disappointed” about it.

Roy said in an email Feb. 18 that the deputy “was there in case things got out of hand. Jeff Torrish asked if someone was feeling threatened and I said yes.”

Lt. Thomas Williams of the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday that his department was called in advance by Town Clerk Debbie Grover about having a deputy at the meeting, since topics were to be discussed about which people were quite passionate.

“To our knowledge, there are no threats against any person at all that we have been made aware of,” Williams said, encouraging anyone receiving threats to notify law enforcement.

Toorish said in December that his departure and Young’s firing followed disagreements that escalated after the town prohibited firefighters from washing their private vehicles at the fire station.

Roy has said the car washes were prohibited after the town received complaints about the practice. Young emailed Roy on Nov. 30 about the situation, according to a Dec. 8 reprimand letter from Fire Chief Greg Payson, who criticized Young for taking the dispute outside the department.

Palmer said Young sent him the email first, and that he forwarded it to Roy without notifying selectmen, since he considered the matter internal and selectmen are prohibited from having direct involvement with employees.

The reprimand letter to Young said employees cannot ignore the chain of command “unless authorized or an unexpected abnormal event occurs.”

It added that the “issue of employees going around their department head is not (taken) lightly,” noted a prior incident involving Young, and said a third would force “further action,” including demotion or firing.

In his blog, Young said “it is important to understand, as a resident of the town, it is my right to be able to communicate my concerns to my elected officials. It states that in the 1st amendment of the Constitution of the United States as well as the State Constitution.”

Toorish said the letter of reprimand was not signed, and questioned whether it was Payson who wrote it. Neither Payson, Palmer, nor Roy responded to that question.

When a Dec. 11, 2014, meeting with firefighters and Roy failed to resolve anything, Toorish said, he resigned and left the meeting. In his testimony, Young said an argument between Roy and him over his roles as a private citizen and employee of the town led to the manager firing him.

Young, who said he has filed a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission, claimed he was told he was fired because he was “threatening and disrespectful.”

“That is simply not true,” he said in the blog.

Amy Sneirson, the commission’s executive director, said she could not confirm or deny whether a complaint is pending.

“Even if there was a case pending here, I could not say anything about it or predict when we might complete an investigation,” Sneirson said in a Feb. 18 email. “By statute, the Commission has two years to complete an investigation when a complaint is filed, though we try very hard to finish long before that.”

Young said a mediation session in early February included him, Payson, and their attorneys, and he was offered a chance to return, but without his pre-firing rank for three months.

“That doesn’t make any sense at all,” Young said Feb. 18. “… What, am I supposed to earn something back? I’ve been there since 2001; I’ve earned it.”

He said Payson then offered to have him return to the department at the same rank, with a three-month probation period.

Payson on Feb. 18 declined to discuss those conversations, and referred questions to Roy.

Young said he learned from Payson Feb. 10 that the chief could not keep the deal. Young said he was instead offered a return, but without his rank for two months.

He has not accepted that deal, he said.

Young said he now expects to be permanently terminated.

Roy said Feb. 18 that she had read Young’s statement, and there were several inaccuracies regarding his conversations with her. She declined to comment on any deals offered to Young.

“I think somebody’s just got to step up, and say, ‘you know what? We screwed up,'” Young said Feb. 18. “… We’ve given them so many opportunities to (end) this, and we keep telling them that we’re just going to keep ramping this up, and they just ignore it.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.