NEW GLOUCESTER — Former town deputy treasurer and bookkeeper Sandra Sacco has filed a lawsuit against the town in Cumberland County Superior Court seeking damages related to her departure in November 2013, including returning her to her former position.

The suit generated heated discussion at Monday night’s selectmen meeting, with board Chairman Steven Libby criticizing two other selectmen and refusing to go into executive session with them.

Sacco resigned her position on Nov. 25, 2013, following a reduction in her hours and elimination of her benefits by selectmen. She was hired in 1988 as deputy clerk/tax collector and was deputy treasurer and bookkeeper the last 10 years.

The lawsuit alleges that selectmen held an improper executive session Nov. 4 and Sacco was not notified of her right to be present or given an opportunity to be heard. The board in that meeting voted 3-2 in public session to reduce her work hours and terminated her benefits.

Libby, Linda Chase and Nathaniel Berry IV voted in favor; Josh McHenry and Mark Stevens voted against.

The suit also states that the town improperly failed to reinstate Sacco to her full-time position after the board reversed its action, and that the town unlawfully failed to consider her request to be reinstated and her application for employment.

The suit charges that Sacco’s civil and due process rights were violated.

The suit also alleges that a conflict of interest existed in relation to the town’s and town manager’s negotiation of a consulting or employment contract during former Town Manager Sumner Field III’s term of office, violating Maine law. In October 2013, Field announced his intention to retire Jan. 2, 2014.

The lawsuit is seeking damages, including returning Sacco to her full-time job, back pay, reinstatement of all benefits and the payment of attorney’s fees and costs.

Sacco’s attorney is James Clifford of Kennebunk and the Portland-based firm Clifford and Clifford. The town has 21 days to respond.

When the topic came up at Monday’s selectmen meeting, Libby and Berry spent about 30 minutes criticizing the situation and, in particular, McHenry and Stevens.

During the tirade, Libby and Berry refused to participate in an executive session to discuss the lawsuit. Libby said he wouldn’t attend if McHenry and Stevens were present.

A central matter of contention was prompted by resident Shawn Chayer, who, citing the state’s Freedom of Access Act, had earlier this year requested all e-mails from the five selectmen regarding the Sacco case. Only McHenry provided a disk of the emails. Libby, Berry, Chase, Stevens and Field sent nothing.

Libby chastised McHenry on Monday night, saying he compromised the town’s legal position in the suit by offering the emails and by responding to questions from the public about the matter.

“You submitted 300-plus messages on a disk to the FOAA officer on emails to you, the press, citizens and the Saccos,” Libby said. “Your oath of office was to notify the town of pending legal action.”

At another point, Libby said to McHenry, “You look like someone who wanted to fund the legal defense to help the defense make its case,” and accused him of having a conflict in the matter.

McHenry denied having any conflict, and said he was just obeying the state law. “It’s your perceived conflict,” he said.

Town attorney Matthew Tarasevich addressed Libby, saying, “You called me and I advised you that nothing violated the law, there were no documents released and no breach of the law. The conflict issue is your issue.”

The board ultimately agreed by a 5-0 vote to have interim Town Manager Paul First, Tarasevich and attorney Mark V. Franco handle the lawsuit. The town’s insurance carrier assigned Franco to the case.

Reached Friday, First said he wasn’t in a position to comment on the suit, but said he would be working with the attorneys on a response.

Editor’s note: this story has been updated

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