NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Local News

October 8, 2012

Town will pay $10K for selectman's legal bills

(Continued)

McCarron noted that in a meeting with selectmen in June 2011, he repeatedly emphasized to Atwood that the legal fees must be “a reasonable request” and the “town must have some kind of control” over legal costs.

“At no time did I misrepresent the town’s position regarding its obligations to indemnify Mr. Atwood,” said McCarron, adding that he was “disappointed” that Atwood had not “accurately described the events” and hoped he “would apologize for his misstatements.”

Atwood says the bottom line is “the legal bills should have been resolved months ago and they were not” — a fact for which he faults Selectmen Bert Knowles and Dick Cushing.

“Overall, I blame Bert and Dick for playing politics with the whole thing, especially since they were the ones seeking the settlement,” he said.

But when reached on Friday, Knowles responded, “It’s totally the opposite. The onus for this foolishness is on him.”

Knowles and Cushing both strongly disagreed with a decision made when Atwood and Kemper were on the board not to renew the 19-year veteran finance director’s contract after questions were raised over the legality of annually bonuses selectmen had apparently signed off on for Blais over the years.

In March 2011 selectmen ordered a $25,000 forensic internal control review of the Finance Department. It revealed some cases of overpayment and underpayment in a sampling of employee payrolls, but the state Inspector General’s Office cleared Blais of all allegations of legal wrongdoing eight months later.

Blais’ suit contends the real issue was a desire for retaliation by Atwood and Kemper for an alleged sexual harassment complaint she issued against McGrath in 2007. 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.

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