CANNON BEACH — The former fire chief in Cannon Beach has filed a lawsuit against the Cannon Beach Rural Fire Protection District alleging that his firing had nothing to do with his job performance.
Mike Balzer, who served as fire chief from January 2012 until he was fired in October, claims the fire district’s board retaliated against him because of critical comments made by his wife on social media. He also alleges that board directors made comments about him after his firing that defamed him and damaged his reputation.
Balzer, who alleges breach of contract, wrongful discharge and defamation, is asking for more than $525,000 in damages and his reinstatement as fire chief.
An attorney representing the fire district’s board could not be reached for comment about the lawsuit, which was filed in Clatsop County Circuit Court in December.
Balzer’s firing has caused an uproar in Cannon Beach.
Residents have defended the former chief and complained about the way Balzer was treated by fire district directors, who locked him out of his office the morning after his dismissal.
Garry Smith, a board director, described the firing as “strictly business, not personal,” and other directors questioned Balzer’s administrative skills.
Susan Neuwirth, a Cannon Beach resident, has filed a recall petition to remove three of the board’s five directors: President Sharon Clyde, Smith and Linda Beck-Sweeney.
Jim Stearns, of Hermiston, is serving as interim fire chief. The fire district board hopes to hire a new chief by June.
According to Balzer’s lawsuit, board directors conducted a performance evaluation in the first quarter of last year that was very critical of Balzer’s work.
Balzer claimed directors, in particular, chastised him for allowing his wife to criticize board directors on social media and other comments.
Balzer said the board set goals for him to accomplish by November that were “impossible to obtain” within that time frame and then “intentionally created a hostile work environment” before his firing.
Balzer said he has “suffered irreparable injury to his business and personal reputation, and will have serious difficulty finding substitute employment, particularly in the small coastal community in which he resides.”