NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Local News

November 10, 2012

Town rejects final $40K for Blais

Despite funding denial, settlement will still proceed

WEST NEWBURY — Voters at a Special Town Meeting on Thursday rejected a plan to fund the remaining $40,000 of a $100,000 settlement to resolve a lawsuit filed against the town by former Finance Director Tracy Blais.

But because of how the settlement agreement was crafted, all charges in the suit were to be dropped, regardless of the outcome of Thursday’s vote.

Blais had agreed to settle for $60,000 if voters chose not to contribute the additional $40,000 from the town’s free cash account as the final portion of the payment, according to the agreement.

The settlement states, “If the town fails to appropriate funds for the second payment, the first payment of $60,000 is deemed to be full and final settlement of any and all alleged claims.”

Blais, who has since become the town administrator in Newbury, has already received $40,000 through a reserve fund transfer previously approved by the Finance Committee to bind the agreement. The town’s insurance company, Massachusetts Interlocal Insurance Association, is footing a $20,000 portion and covering all legal fees, except $10,000 incurred by former Selectman Tom Atwood. Atwood’s outstanding fees were funded with a second reserve fund transfer.

Atwood was named in the suit along with current Selectman Glenn Kemper and former Selectman John McGrath.

In exchange for the $100,000, Blais agreed to drop charges of discrimination, defamation, retaliation and breach of contract stemming from a decision not to renew her contract in 2011. Blais claimed that decision was related to an alleged sexual harassment complaint she filed in 2007 against McGrath, who has denied the allegations.

As part of the settlement, all parties agreed not to make any further comments about the negotiations.

Thursday’s vote, which was supported by a clear majority of the 124 voters at the Special Town Meeting, will likely end a long and bitter chapter in town history that, in some cases, pitted neighbor against neighbor.

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