WEST NEWBURY – Although it appears a settlement may have been reached in a $500,000 lawsuit filed against the town by former Finance Director Tracy Blais, the details of the alleged agreement remain illusive.
At a meeting on Monday, the Finance Committee rejected a request by selectmen “to partially fund a proposed settlement for the Blais lawsuit” with a $40,000 reserve fund transfer into the selectmen’s expense account. The vote was 3 to 2 in favor of rejecting the request, pending the availability and review of a more formalized written document outlining the details of the settlement. “We’re not going to direct the agreement,” stressed Finance Board Chairman David Archibald, “We just want to see what it is.” Bill Bachrach and Joe Anderson vote against the motion; afterward Anderson said he would have preferred to have tabled – not rejected – the request pending further documentation. Last July Blais, whose contract was not renewed in 2011 after serving nearly two decades as West Newbury’s finance boss, filed suit against the town, selectman Glenn Kemper, and former selectmen Tom Atwood and John McGrath. She claimed they defamed her, discriminated against her and failed to live up to her contract. The men have strongly denied the charges. An attempt at mediation in March was unsuccessful. Blais left the West Newbury job to become the new town administrator in Newbury.
Selectmen have declined to speak publicly on the specific reasons for their decision to not renew Blais’ contract, but instead released 400 pages of executive session documents in which Atwood and Kemper voiced serious concerns about an annual $2,500 merit bonus they say Blais took for 14 years without authorization and a few payroll discrepancies in which she was overpaid. Blais reimbursed the town $6,972.76 for the payroll mistakes but insisted she was entitled to the merit bonuses. Selectmen have never asked her to repay the $35,000 they claim she took outside her contract.