North Yarmouth officials continue to draw heat after firefighter's firing

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NORTH YARMOUTH — The Town Hall meeting room was packed for Tuesday night’s Board of Selectmen meeting, largely by residents critical of the circumstances behind, and lack of action since, the abrupt departure last month of the town’s two Fire-Rescue Department paramedics.

Jeff Toorish, a lieutenant medic with the department, resigned Dec. 11, 2014. Deputy Chief of Emergency Medical Services Bill Young was fired the same day. Both men claim town officials violated their civil rights.

Toorish said last month the departures came when disagreements escalated after the town prohibited firefighters from washing their private vehicles at the fire station.

Following an executive session prior to Tuesday’s meeting, board Chairman Steve Palmer read a statement addressing “a looming question as to what the board has done” in the matter.

The statement said the panel met with Town Manager Rosemary Roy and Fire-Rescue Chief Greg Payson on Jan. 13 “to discuss the circumstances that led to the separation of a member of the Fire-Rescue Department. The Selectmen concluded that no action was warranted” by the board.

That conclusion drew fire from several members of the audience.

“It’s very discouraging to come to this meeting tonight, and know that the Board of Selectmen has come out of an executive meeting, and has decided to take no action, when it’s an issue that could easily be solved through some kind of mediation,” Rob Haile of North Road, a lieutenant firefighter/EMT with the department, told the board.

He said he is embarrassed by what has happened to the town and its Fire-Rescue Department, noting that “it’s not about car washes. What has been purported to be a personnel issue is quite obviously an issue of personalities.”

Palmer said “a lot of erroneous information (has) been circulated.”

“Anything we say is going to be criticized,” he said. “Anything we say is going to be regarded in some way as illegal. It is a personnel matter that started this whole issue, so we are bound to basically keep quiet. … I don’t know how best to reveal information without causing more insult, or more trouble.”

Palmer said he believes “the truth will emerge, and it will prevail.”

Dixie Hayes of New Gloucester Road said she is glad Yarmouth is assisting North Yarmouth with paramedic services, “but given a choice of having highly competent, responsive people from my town coming to my home, or my mother’s home, as opposed to waiting an additional 15 or 20 minutes for Yarmouth to show up, for me there’s no choice.”

She asked for “neutral mediation,” with everyone heard respectfully.

“What I really hope is that we model problem solving for our children,” Hayes said. “This is a problem, people. We all care about the town; let’s get this straightened out.”

Last month, Roy said the car washes were prohibited until further review 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 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, because 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.

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

A Dec. 11, 2014, meeting with firefighters and Roy failed to resolve anything, Toorish said, which is when he resigned and left the meeting. Soon after, Toorish said, Young told him Roy had fired him.

Since Young’s firing is a personnel matter, Roy and Palmer have both said they cannot comment.

Young said Dec. 17, 2014, that he was limited in what he could say under the advice of his lawyer, noting that “it’s not about the car washing. It never was about the car washing. It’s about respect, and our civil rights.”

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

Sidebar Elements

Architect presents costs, designs for 3 North Yarmouth development options

NORTH YARMOUTH — Three development options facing the town could cost between nearly $2.7 million and more than $3.5 million, a Portland architectural firm told the Board of Selectmen Tuesday.

The board hired Stephen Blatt Architects last month to conduct a facilities study on the options, paying the firm $18,000 from an economic development fund.

Blatt’s work followed that of Portland firm Planning Decisions, which originally presented the three options and their potential impacts to the Board of Selectmen in November 2014.

Residents are expected to vote this year on which of two town-owned parcels should be developed as a municipal campus: North Yarmouth Memorial School, which School Administrative District 51 closed in June 2014 and gave to the town, or the existing Town Hall at 10 Village Square Road.

The future of the land where Wescustogo Hall stood before its destruction by fire in August 2013, and what level of development is most suitable for the center of town, a well-traveled area around the intersection of Route 9 and Route 115, are also to be determined.

Under Scenario 1, a municipal campus would be centered at the current Town Hall. It could cost $2.88 million, including $140,000 for 3,700 square feet in renovations to Town Hall, $930,000 for 5,500 in new construction at the building, and $1.1 million for construction of a new 5,500-square-foot community center, which might serve as a replacement for the approximately 4,000-square-foot Wescustogo Hall.

“The town office … needs quite a bit more space, for offices, for meeting space, for storage and archival space,” Blatt said.

Sixty-one parking spaces would facilitate the town hall and community center.

Scenario 2 is split into two variations. In option 2A, the municipal campus would be located at the school building; while the existing facility would be used, part of it could be demolished. The 2B plan would see the school demolished and replaced by a new building.

Option 2A would be the least expensive of the three options, at $2.67 million, Blatt said. That sum includes $1.4 million to renovate the former school as a town hall, $650,000 to renovate the gym as a community center, and $70,000 to demolish the rest of the building. About 14,800 square feet in the rear of the existing building would be unused, of which 12,500 could be rented if that section is not demolished.

The town hall and community center together would comprise 24,000 square feet in that option.

Option 2B would be the most expensive scenario, at $3.53 million. The cost includes $1.65 million to build a new 7,200-square-foot town hall, $1.1 million to construct a new 5,500-square-foot community center, and $120,000 for demolition of the entire existing building. A 1,250-square-foot lobby would connect the town hall and community center.

Blatt said the costs and floor plans he offered were conceptual, more a planning study than an architectural presentation.

Alex Lear

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.