PARIS — An Oxford County Superior Court judge approved a request Monday for a mediator to work with the attorneys for Paris and for former Town Manager Sharon Jackson to settle her appeal of her firing last year.
“The parties have undertaken settlement discussions, but counsel anticipate the parties may be too far apart to settle the matter themselves,” town attorney Geoff Hole said in a joint motion.
Justice Robert Clifford agreed to the request for mediation filed by Hole and attorney Bryan Dench, who represents Jackson.
Jackson’s appeal filed in Oxford County Superior Court contests a 3-2 decision by selectmen to terminate her employment contract in June 2009.
In the motion, Hole said he and Dench believe it would be productive for them to try to resolve the matter by mediation before it goes to trial. He said the judge should require them to identify a mediator within three weeks and complete the mediation process within four weeks of choosing one.
Jackson became town manager in December 2004, and selectmen voted in January of 2009 to extend her contract to June 2014. The deal gave her a salary increase from $60,216 to $64,116 in July 2009 and another to $68,016 in July 2010.
A majority of selectmen voted six months later to terminate the contract without cause. The contract allowed it if the town paid Jackson salary and benefits for a period of months equal to the number of years of consecutive service to the town.
Dench has questioned whether termination without cause should have been allowed in the contract. A state statute outlining the process for removing a town manager with cause says selectmen must first provide the town clerk with a list of preliminary reasons for removal and allow the manager to speak at a public hearing.
Hole has denied any wrongdoing on the town’s part and said the statute is not applicable due to the clause allowing termination without cause. He also argues that selectmen did nothing to deprive Jackson of equal protection or due process, and have immunity regarding actions taken in their legislative capacity.
The lawsuit said former Selectman Troy Ripley’s vote to fire Jackson was not valid because he should not have been seated on the board until July 2009 following his election the prior month. Jackson also accuses Ripley, former Chairman David Ivey, and former Selectman Glen Young of holding illegal clandestine meetings to decide to terminate her contract.
In a 3-2 decision in October 2009, the three selectmen voted to ratify the June decision. Ivey and Ripley were removed from office at recall elections held in February, Ripley after resigning. Young resigned in March for personal reasons.
The lawsuit asks that the June vote be declared null and void, with a finding that Jackson’s lawsuit was not effectively terminated.
It also charges the town with breach of contract, failure of timely payment of wages, violation of the Maine Freedom of Access Act, violation of state statute, violation of the U.S. Code and U.S. Constitution, negligence and defamation.
Michael Thorne, a former town manager of Raymond and Harrison, was hired as interim town manager after Jackson was removed. In December, selectmen unanimously agreed to hire Philip Tarr, a former town manager of Bridgton, Bethel and Skowhegan.
Jackson was hired as interim town manager in Fryeburg in March after selectmen there decided to end Town Manager Martin Krauter’s contract with cause.