ROCKLAND, Maine — The city paid out about $32,000 as part of a “nuisance settlement” to sever its relations with the community development director to avoid her suing over “meritless” claims, according to a confidential memo obtained by the Bangor Daily News.
An Oct. 10 memo from attorney Sarah Newell of Bangor, who represented City Manager James Smith, states that as part of the settlement, Community Development Director Audrey Lovering was given the opportunity to resign in lieu of being fired.
Lovering made numerous threats regarding potential claims against the city over the past week, the attorney’s memo states.
“Although those claims were meritless, we agreed to provide her a separation package to save the city from legal costs likely exceeding the payout, city staff time spent defending such claims, and unnecessary publicity,” the memo says.
Lovering’s attorney Kristin Collins of Belfast said Wednesday, however, there were claims made on both sides and that her client agreed to the separation package. Under confidentiality provisions of the settlement agreement, Collins would not provide details about the claims that were made.
The city manager has declined to discuss the reasons for the settlement, saying it is a confidential personnel matter as dictated by state law.
However, there was a disagreement between Smith and Lovering over how to spend state Community Development Block Grant funds on the downtown, one source told the BDN. Part of the dispute was over whether Lovering provided Smith with accurate information on whether the cost of relocating light poles downtown could be covered by a grant the city received to upgrade sidewalks and pedestrian crosswalks on Main Street.
TerryAnn Holden with the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development said earlier this month that she had a telephone conversation with Lovering in mid-September concerning whether the relocation of the light poles could be covered by the grant. About two weeks later, City Manager James Smith called Holden and asked the same questions about the grant’s use.
Holden said Smith did not say why he was calling with the same questions. Holden said she told both Lovering and Smith that she would need additional information to answer their questions.
Lovering received considerable support with backers saying she had done a great job in her position.
Lovering’s last day of work was Oct. 1. She signed the severance agreement on Oct. 10 and City Manager James Smith signed it Oct. 11.
Lovering was paid three months worth of salary totaling $21,000, health insurance through the end of January that will amount to $2,824, and $2,000 for the cost of her attorney, according to information provided by the city.
The city also paid $3,799 to Newell.
Attorney William Maddox of Rockland, who oversaw a disciplinary hearing, was paid $360, according to the city. The date of the disciplinary hearing has not been confirmed although Maddox’s bill to the city is dated Oct. 3. The hearing lasted nearly two hours.
With payments for Lovering’s unused sick and vacation time, the total cost of the settlement was about $32,000.
The city council was formally informed of Lovering’s resignation and the separation agreement by the city manager on Oct. 10. Councilors discussed the separation that evening during a closed-door session with the city manager.