PARIS — The former town manager has appealed the decision of the Board of Selectmen to terminate her contract, challenging the validity of one selectman's vote and accusing the majority of the panel of holding illegal meetings.
Sharon Jackson, whose contract with the town was terminated without cause in a 3-2 vote last month, filed the appeal in Oxford County Superior Court through attorney Bryan M. Dench.
Dench argues that the vote of Selectman Troy Ripley in favor of terminating Jackson's contract was "unlawful and invalid." Ripley was elected on June 9 and sworn in following the annual town meeting on June 13. Ripley attended his first board meeting on June 22, the same evening Jackson was fired.
Dench states that voters approved a warrant article at the 1999 annual town meeting stipulating that municipal officers' terms should run three years, beginning July 1.
"Because the term of Troy Ripley could not have commenced until July 1, 2009, he was not a selectman of the defendant town of Paris on June 22, 2009. He should not have been seated as a member of the board of selectmen, and his vote should not have been counted," says Dench. "Any vote cast by him is null and void."
Dench asks that the court review the vote and declare that Jackson's employment contract remain in effect. The suit also charges the town with breach of contract and failure of timely payment of wages, and seeks damages on those counts.
In addition, Dench says the vote on June 22 demonstrated that Ripley, as well as Chairman David Ivey and Selectman Glen Young, "engaged in clandestine meetings or communications outside lawful sessions of the board of selectmen." Dench says the vote should also be considered null and void on that basis.
Jackson's contract would have extended her employment to June 2014. It also provided for a pay increase from $1,158 per week to $1,233 per week from July 1, 2009, through June 30, 2010, and an increase to $1,308 per week in the year after that. The contract allowed selectmen to fire Jackson without cause, with the condition that her salary and benefits must be paid for a period of one month for each consecutive year of service.
"It's really unfortunate that she has to go to court to try to preserve her job, but I really don't know what the legal standing will be on that '99 town meeting article," said Selectman Raymond Glover. "It will be interesting to find out."
Ivey said the town attorney has responded to questions raised by the 1999 warrant article and the response will be presented at Monday's selectmen meeting. Town Clerk Anne Pastore said interim town manager Michael Thorne found that a question of the 1999 warrant article came up in 2005 and the law firm Kurtz and Perry determined that it contradicted state law.
Pastore said Jackson has been receiving a weekly paycheck since her termination.
"She's accepting her pay, so I don't see how you can appeal," Ivey said. "I mean, it's in her contract: the clause for no cause."
Ivey also denied that the selectmen who voted to terminate the contract had convened prior to the decision. A meeting of three or more selectmen is illegal if notice of the gathering is not given to the public.
Ivey said the selectmen's decision was reached on the evening of June 22. The agenda called for the selectmen to go into executive session, but the meeting was held in public at Jackson's request.
"Sharon knew something was going on. That's why she wanted it public," Ivey said. "They were more prepared than we were."
"If they have done such a thing, it is totally improper, unethical and illegal," Glover said of the accusation of an illegal meeting. "They should make every effort to not conduct business outside of selectmen meetings."
Jackson was hired by the town in December 2004, and previously served as the Oxford finance clerk for eight years. She also served as Oxford's interim town manager on two occasions.
On July 13, selectmen appointed Thorne as interim town manager. Thorne served as Harrison town manager for 21 years and as Raymond town manager for two years. Thorne is being paid $600 a week.