Falmouth SSA Governor Sues Selectmen to Block His Ouster

By JULIA WELLS

The standoff between Falmouth Steamship Authority governor and board chairman Galen Robbins escalated yesterday when Mr. Robbins filed a tough complaint in federal court against the Falmouth selectmen, who are trying to oust him as the town's boat line governor.

Among other things, the complaint charges that the selectmen violated Mr. Robbins's First Amendment and civil rights when they took steps last month to remove him as boat line governor.

The complaint states in part that Falmouth selectmen, "through the use of threats, intimidation or coercion, have interfered and are attempting to continue to interfere with Mr. Robbins' exercise of his rights under the Constitution."

Mr. Robbins is suing four selectmen both individually and as members of the board, and among other things is asking for punitive damages. Not named as a defendant in the complaint is Ahmed Mustafa, the only selectman who supports Mr. Robbins.

Last week the selectmen set a date for a disciplinary hearing against Mr. Robbins, and sent him a two-and-a-half-page letter detailing charges against him. The charges center almost entirely on the fact that Mr. Robbins failed to follow the selectmen's own goals and policies for the boat line, especially on the subject of ferry service out of New Bedford.

The letter also claims that Mr. Robbins allegedly made "profanity-laced statements" following a selectmen's meeting August 5.

The disciplinary hearing is set for

Oct. 3.

The 16-page complaint was filed in U.S. district court yesterday afternoon by Paul Johnson, a Boston attorney who represents Mr. Robbins. The case was assigned to the Hon. Mark L. Wolf, a U.S. district court judge.

Mr. Robbins said yesterday that the complaint is simply an answer to the Falmouth selectmen.

"It's really an answer to their letter of last Friday," he said. "We all like to avoid these disputes, but I feel this speaks to the heart of an independent Authority, and this, unfortunately, is what it will take to preserve that. If you are appointed to a board and you are working as hard as possible to make the right decisions, you should be free to do so.

"Every action I have taken since I've been on the board has been made with thought and analysis and my judgment," he added. "Filing this action is something, again, that I think is necessary to preserve that free thinking and the independence of the Authority."

The court complaint filed yesterday is one more piece of fuel in a fiery dispute that began late this summer when the Falmouth selectmen decided to take steps to remove Mr. Robbins.

In late August, the board voted 4-1 to begin the process of ousting the boat line governor. One selectman asked Mr. Robbins to resign, but he refused.

Mr. Robbins was appointed in August 2001 to fill the unexpired term of Edward DeWitt, who resigned midway through his first term. Mr. Robbins's term runs out in December.

In the complaint, Mr. Robbins's attorney has asked the court for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction to halt the disciplinary proceeding begun by the selectmen.

Mr. Robbins has come under some criticism recently because the public boat line is paying for his legal defense, but he said yesterday that the matter of his legal defense was cleared some weeks ago with both boat line general counsel Steven Sayers and chief executive officer Fred C. Raskin.

"As board members, we are indemnified and our legal expenses are covered. Steve Sayers looked into this and it has all been documented. I didn't feel comfortable proceeding without that," Mr. Robbins said.