PARIS — The Board of Selectmen declined this week to discuss specifics of a lawsuit by former Town Manager Sharon Jackson, who was fired last year without cause.
The board voted 3-2 last June to terminate her employment contract without cause. The contract was approved in January 2009 and extended her employment through 2014 and authorized a salary increase from $60,216 to $64,116 beginning in July 2009, with another increase to $68,016 the next year.
Jackson filed suit in Oxford County Superior Court.
“The case is ongoing and we are working for a resolution to that, and that’s about all I can say at this point in time in public,” Chairman Raymond Glover said at Monday night’s meeting.
“We’re not digging in our heels and waiting for a trial to be held,” he said later in the meeting. “We’re trying to be proactive and trying to negotiate some kind of a settlement.”
Selectman Ted Kurtz said he requested the item be put on the agenda to discuss the possibility of sharing more information about the case. Kurtz said certain matters would have to be kept private so as not to compromise the town’s position, but that a policy could be adopted to release information known to both Jackson’s attorney and the town attorney.
“I feel very strongly that we should share with the public everything that we can that is not in any way going to prejudice us in the litigation,” Kurtz said.
Other selectmen were reluctant to pursue such a policy. Glover said Kurtz has expertise in the area since he works as a lawyer, but that the other selectmen would be less likely to know what information would be safe to disclose. Selectman Lloyd “Skip” Herrick said he would want to check with the town attorney before divulging information about the case.
“I guess I’m a little apprehensive in giving too much,” Herrick said.
Jackson’s attorney, Bryan Dench, argues that then-Selectman Troy Ripley should not have been seated at the board until July 1 under a warrant article passed by the town in 1999. The lawsuit also charges that Ripley, then-Chairman David Ivey and then-Selectman Glen Young violated the Freedom of Access Act by holding secret meetings to decide to fire Jackson.
Town attorney Geoffrey Hole denied the charges, saying that Ripley was properly seated at the time of the vote and that Jackson’s contract allowed termination without cause. The Board of Selectmen also made a 3-1 decision at a later meeting ratifying the decision to terminate the contract.
Ripley and Ivey were recalled from office this year, and Young resigned from the board this week.
Resident Janet Jamison said the Advertiser Democrat previously reported that Dench wrote a letter to the town offering to settle the matter if Jackson were reinstated and the town paid her legal fees. Jamison suggested that the town could accept the option and buy out Town Manager Phil Tarr’s contract. It would require the town to relieve Tarr of his position and pay him nine months of his $57,000 annual salary.
“It’s not getting rid of him, certainly not under the circumstances that Sharon was canned,” Jamison said. “That was totally a political move on other people’s part. This would be a business decision for the town of Paris.”
Glover said he did not want to discuss settlement options at the meeting.
“I just don’t think that discussion belongs here right now,” he said.
Resident Kathy Richardson suggested that the board could draft a letter exonerating Jackson of any blame in her termination if they felt the June decision was unfair. “All the people we talked to felt a wrong had been done,” she said.
Kurtz said the board should not make the decision before the conclusion of the appeal, but that the suggestion was something that could be considered at a later date.
“That certainly falls well with me,” he said. “If that’s relevant to what happens eventually, that could very easily be a part of it.”