, Newburyport, MA

Local News

October 13, 2012

Officials are split on Blais deal

West Newbury: Some oppose additional payment for ex-finance director


Given that Blais is willing to settle either way, some Finance Committee members are recommending against the article in an effort to save the town $40,000.

Chairman David Archibald, who has opposed the funding request, said his board is charged with recommending the best fiscal decision for taxpayers, not litigating the lawsuit or renegotiating a settlement already agreed to by selectmen. “It is what it is,” he said.

But others on the Finance Committee said they believe selectmen prematurely entered into an agreement for a case they say has very little merit.

Joe Uniejewski said from what he has reviewed, Blais hasn’t made a sufficient case for her charges that she was discriminated against and defamed by Kemper and former selectmen Tom Atwood and John McGrath in retaliation for a sexual harassment claim she had previously made against McGrath. Fellow committee member Bill Bachrach said he was also skeptical of the charges.

According to court documents, on Sept. 19, 2007, Blais filed a sexual harassment complaint against McGrath regarding “a series of sexually crude, unwelcome and inappropriate comments” she claims he made toward her. Blais says McGrath frequently commented on her marriage and sex life, asking if she was having an extramarital affair. In one instance, she alleges he closed the door to her office to tell her about a movie in which a character responded to a wrong number by referencing a sexual act involving the male anatomy. Blais and McGrath eventually entered into a private grievance resolution, in which neither party waived or released their claims. McGrath resigned as selectman in the middle of his term in July 2008.

The court document states that after Blais filed her sexual harassment complaint, McGrath and the others continued to “subject her to hostile treatment and respond to her complaint in a dismissive way.” She contends she “received no explanation” for a decision in February 2011 not to renew her contract after 19 years of service. Instead, she contends Atwood, Kemper and McGrath “intentionally” and “recklessly” made false and misleading statements and insinuations to the public and the Office of the Inspector General that she had misappropriated town funds and received unauthorized merit bonuses. The IG’s office cleared Blais of all allegations of legal wrongdoing eight months later.

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