A Dresden firefighter and first responder removed from the department after 21 years is appealing her dismissal in Lincoln County Superior Court.
The Dresden Board of Selectmen discussed the appeal from Sonia J. Lilly behind closed doors at Pownalborough Hall on Monday, Oct. 2. Upon its return to public session, the board voted 3-0 to take no action, citing the advice of the town attorney.
The selectmen removed Sonia Lilly from the Dresden Fire Department in August.
“After careful consideration, the Board of Selectmen has unanimously decided to remove Sonia Lilly from the Dresden Fire Department,” the selectmen said in an Aug. 17 letter to the department. “Her history of confrontational and unprofessional conduct with colleagues, other agencies, and the public makes this necessary. We thank her for her service and do not mean to belittle it, but there have been too many unfortunate and avoidable incidents.
“Firefighters put themselves in harm’s way for the public good and public safety. Harmony and cooperation are essential in these situations and should not be jeopardized.”
The letter is signed by all three selectmen: First Selectman Dale Hinote, Second Selectman Dwight Keene, and Third Selectman Allan Moeller Sr.
Dresden Fire Chief Steven Lilly – Sonia Lilly’s husband – objected to the termination in an email to Hinote on Aug. 24.
“After reading the letter I am wondering why I was not made aware of this matter as the fire chief,” Steven Lilly said. “So I am requesting a copy of the documentation that (led) up to the (board’s) decision to terminate this member of the department so that I can review and investigate. … Volunteerism is diminishing rapidly and I believe that due process is owed to all accused.”
The selectmen, however, confirmed the decision in a reply email the same day. The email is from Hinote’s personal email account, but bears the names of all three selectmen.
The email opens with criticism of Steven Lilly’s communication with the selectmen before addressing the termination.
“Your suggestion that you conduct an investigation into the reasons why your wife has been dismissed from the Dresden Fire Department is a clear conflict of interest on your end and absurd on our end,” the selectmen said in the email. “We have evidence and will stand behind it.”
On Sept. 22, Sonia Lilly’s attorneys filed the appeal, known as an 80B appeal of governmental actions. Roger R. Therriault and Michael E. Therriault, of Therriault & Therriault in Bath, are representing Sonia Lilly.
The complaint states that, under state law, only a fire chief has the authority to remove a firefighter, and may do so only “for cause after notice and hearing.”
The complaint also states that the termination violates Sonia Lilly’s First Amendment rights to due process, that there was no “just cause” for her removal, and that she did not receive notice of any proceedings regarding the board’s consideration of termination or an opportunity to respond to their reasons for the termination.
Sonia Lilly is asking the court to find that her termination “is null and void”; to reinstate her; to order payment of back stipends, benefits, legal fees, and punitive damages; and to provide “such other and further relief as this Honorable Court may deem meet and proper.”
The selectmen declined to discuss the matter at their meeting Monday. Steven and Sonia Lilly attended the public portion of the meeting prior to the executive session, but left for the executive session and did not return when the public meeting resumed.
Steven Lilly updated the selectmen on department activities during the public meeting, but there was no discussion of Sonia Lilly’s termination or other recent points of contention between the board and the department.
The selectmen decided to accept applications for fire chief, assistant fire chief, and emergency management director this year, a departure from their past practice of following the recommendations of the Dresden Volunteer Fire Association.
The board later reappointed its only applicants: incumbent Fire Chief Steven Lilly and Assistant Fire Chief Ron Theriault. Sonia Lilly, who was the incumbent emergency management director, did not apply, and the board appointed Wally Staples to replace her. Theriault resigned Aug. 2.