GOULDSBORO — Former Police Chief Paul Gamble, who was fired by selectmen Feb. 3, has filed suit in Hancock County Superior Court challenging his dismissal.
The 40-page complaint hinges on the town’s personnel policy, which states that existing employees who become full-time or change jobs within the town office shall undergo a three-month probationary period.
New employees are on probation for six months.
The significance is that the town does not need to show cause for a dismissal while an employee is still on probation.
Gamble was fired a few weeks shy of six months, but he had been employed by the town since December 2012, first as a part-time police officer then full-time. He was promoted to police chief in August 2015.
Town Manager Bryan Kaenrath said he obtained a copy of the suit March 8.
“We are going to be reviewing the allegations and we will have a more formal statement at an appropriate time,” Kaenrath said. “The town does intend to vigorously defend itself and the taxpayers of this community.”
The eight-count complaint states that when Gamble was promoted to police chief, Kaenrath wrote a letter to him stating, in part, “Your rate of pay will be $23 per hour during the six-month probationary period. Following the successful completion of the first six months, your hourly rate will increase to $24 per hour.”
“Mr. Gamble was not asked to and did not sign Mr. Kaenrath’s letter,” James Clifford, the attorney for Gamble, said in the complaint filed March 4.
The selectmen met in executive session Feb. 2 and again on Feb. 3. Following their 15-minute closed-door meeting on the second evening, they told Gamble he was being dismissed.
Gamble said the selectmen asked him about his use of the town gas card, which he was given when he was promoted to police chief.
It was stated in the complaint that Kaenrath told Gamble to use his personal vehicle when he was conducting town business beyond the town limits.
“The Gouldsboro Fire Chief was likewise directed to use his personal vehicle on town business outside of town limits, and the Town Manager and Selectmen knew the Fire Chief used the town gas card on several occasions,” it was stated in the complaint.
Gamble used his personal vehicle to travel out of town about 20 times between August 2015 and February 2016, but only used the town gas card to reimburse himself for gasoline on four occasions for a total of $120, according to the complaint.
The court filing alleges that former Police Chief Glenn Grant was approached by one or more selectmen Jan. 29 — almost a week before Gamble was fired — to discuss Grant’s appointment as interim chief.
“Mr. Grant stated that he intended to pursue criminal theft charges against Mr. Gamble,” Clifford alleged in the complaint.
The suit claims that when Gamble asked for his personnel file two days after his dismissal he was presented with acknowledgement of receipt of the employee handbook from 2013, two performance evaluations from 2013 and 2015, his oath of office from 2012 and four pages of payroll documents.
The complaint claimed that missing were the letter stating terms of Gamble’s appointment as police chief, the letter from the town manager asking him to be waiting outside the executive session Feb. 3, any other documents relating to the terms or conditions of employment, handbooks or policies, job duties, incident or investigation reports, or documents relating to Gamble’s separation from employment.
The missing documents are considered “part and parcel to the personnel file,” it was alleged in the complaint.
When asked by Gamble for a written reason for his termination, the selectmen wrote a letter Feb. 8 saying his firing was effective Feb. 3; that he was on probation until Feb. 23 and that “it was decided that performance during this probationary period was not satisfactory.”
Gamble then filed a memo with the town detailing the nature of his grievance with the town, saying his legal rights were violated.
On Feb. 12, Kaenrath wrote a letter to Gamble saying the firing was “appropriate.”
The complaint goes on to say that the firing and loss of income have affected Gamble’s reputation and diminished his prospects for future employment.
“Mr. Gamble has heard from several colleagues and townspeople that he ‘stole’ from the town and would be charged with theft in connection with his use of the town card,” it was stated in the complaint. “One of those people is Winter Harbor Police Officer Philip Sargent, who recalled his conversation the night of Feb. 2 with the clerk from the gas station where Mr. Gamble filled his vehicle.”
Sargent, the police officer in Winter Harbor, wrote in a statement filed with the complaint that he was fueling up the police cruiser at Young’s Market the night of Feb. 2 and went inside to buy dinner and pay for the gas.
“Michelle Presnell (a Young’s Market employee) asked me if I had heard the news about Paul Gamble,” Sargent wrote. “When I replied, ‘no,’ Michelle said ‘You haven’t heard about Paul using the town credit card to fill his personal vehicle with gas? I thought it was public knowledge; everyone in town knows about it.’”
Sargent said Presnell then told him that the selectmen were meeting in executive session that Thursday and were going to fire Gamble and a part-time officer, Kenneth Schuurman, both for using the town gas card.
“Michelle then stated that the plan was to fire Paul and Ken, disband the Police Department, recommend that Hancock County Sheriff’s Office hire Tyler (Dunbar, full-time Gouldsboro police officer) and this was all supposed to happen Thursday night at the executive session,” Sargent wrote in his statement.
He went on to say that Presnell told him the use of the gas card was on the Young’s Market videotape and that the tape had been provided to selectmen.
The complaint alleges that Gamble was denied his freedom of access and that under the law he was entitled to be notified of the nature of the executive session so that he could prepare to defend himself.
The complaint asks that Gamble be reinstated with back pay and benefits, compensated for his attorney’s fees and costs and be paid damages for the injury to his reputation and the resulting emotional distress.
Clifford requested a jury trial on all counts that are triable by jury.