PERU — Following an emergency meeting Friday morning, selectmen voted 4-0-1 to allow the town attorney to respond to a lawsuit against the town and Selectman Kathy Hussey after all, after having decided to take no action on the case during their meeting on Monday.

Chairman Timothy Holland and Selectmen Ed Ferland, Richard “Dickie” Powell and Laurieann Milligan voted yes; Hussey abstained.

On Nov. 1, residents Martha Witherell and Dawna Kazregis filed suit against the town and Hussey, who has also been board secretary for about 12 years.

The two say they have suffered harm due to the town’s failure to prevent Hussey from serving in both positions simultaneously and want her ousted from the board before her term expires in 2014.

In June, the town passed an ordinance preventing someone from serving Peru simultaneously as an elected official and a paid employee.

Witherell and Kazregis assert that Hussey’s continued employment as secretary violates a state law that forbids municipal officers from being appointed to any civil office for profit or town job for which town officials increased the officer’s wages.

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Witherell and Kazregis also assert that the board OK’d that wage hike in June; Hussey disagreed. She said Friday that she never got a wage hike, “but everyone else did.”

At 8:49 a.m. Friday, Hussey emailed the Sun Journal stating that selectmen would convene a board meeting at 10 a.m. to discuss the lawsuit and apologized for the late notice.

Last week, Holland and Milligan voted for a motion to have town attorney Patrick J. Scully respond to the suit; Ferland and Powell voted against the motion. Hussey abstained.

Then, Monday night’s selectmen meeting ended abruptly after board members failed to agree on whether to respond to the lawsuit, despite being told by Scully that Sunday, Dec. 2, is the deadline.

Scully advised the board that should they not allow him to file a timely response to the suit, the default would put the town and its taxpayers at risk of incurring costs and being forced to take measures that might not be in the town’s interest.

Filing an answer, he said, allows the court to decide the legal questions raised by the complaint without exposing the town unnecessarily to the risk and cost of a default.

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When Holland opened Friday’s meeting, he asked for discussion or a motion. Milligan, however, asked Ferland to repeat his phone conversations with Scully on Thursday night.

Ferland said he asked the lawyer about just filing a response on behalf of the town and not Hussey.

Milligan then asked Ferland if he was ready to make a motion and he motioned to “get representation for the board, just so (the lawyer) can do a filing.”

“This is not including Kathy,” Ferland said. “Technically, the people voted for Kathy to be off the board and I want to pursue this, because Kathy should be off the board. And so I want the attorney to know, this is the feelings I have, that she should be off the board.

“We need representation to get this filed,” Ferland said.

Milligan expressed doubt that such a motion was feasible.

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Powell said Peru isn’t going to win the suit.

“We’re here because Kathy doesn’t want to step down, I guess,” Powell said.

“Well, we’re here because an emergency meeting was called and I was under the impression that we were going to make some ground here,” Milligan said. “Today is our drop-dead deadline.”

She then called Scully and relayed to the board his comments, saying there isn’t any benefit for or against doing what Ferland proposed.

“His recommendation was to respond to the summons as written,” Milligan said of Scully.

Ferland refused to rescind his motion. Powell then seconded it.

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Holland said he still feels the board should have Scully respond on behalf of the town and its employee Hussey.

Ferland disagreed. He considers the lawsuit summons two different filings on one paper.

“It puts us in a bind, because we’re trying to answer two different things,” Ferland said.

Milligan said she felt that by not including Hussey in the motion, that would leave the town liable for litigation.

Ferland then rescinded his motion and made a second one.

“I will make a motion that (Scully) does his filing so that the representation, if there’s any, would be on the part of this board,” Ferland said.

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When Milligan said she didn’t understand, Ferland said, the lawyer would represent the town’s board and not Hussey.

“He would do the filings for both sides, because there has to be an answer . . . and not let it go in default,” Ferland said.

“If it goes into default, then it says she’s guilty, and that’s not my idea of justice.”

When told that was just a reworded version of his first motion, Ferland said he had a bad headache, “so do whatever it is you want to do.”

The board then approved his second motion.

According to Milligan, the town’s attorney will respond to the lawsuit on both parties’ behalf, but should there be a need to decide any further response from the town, and whether that response might include Hussey, “then the board would need to vote how to respond at that point.”

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