The Frankford Town Council has voted to settle a lawsuit brought by former town administrator Terry Truitt for part of her back vacation and sick time.
“It’s a very emotional, touchy issue, because we all have our personal opinions about this,” said Councilman Marty Presley of the lawsuit.
According to Truitt, on her last day, with her having stayed through the last payroll of the month, both then-council-president Joanne Bacon and Councilwoman Pam Davis signed a check paying her for her unused vacation and sick days. However, Bacon placed a stop-payment on it the following day.
Truitt retained Greg Morris of Liguori, Morris & Yiengst as her attorney in the case.
Although the Town has referenced an employee benefits policy from 1998 that it says supported not paying for the full amount of accrued vacation and sick time, according to Truitt, the council had never followed that policy when it came to other former employees.
She noted that former employees, including police officers William Dudley and Nate Hudson, had been paid for their unused sick days and vacation days following their departures from the Town’s employment, both of which were also within the prior year.
Frankford Town Solicitor Chad Lingenfelder stated that the council had held a special meeting in February to discuss the lawsuit.
Lingenfelder said the Town’s policy at the time, which is still in effect at present, would have capped the pay at $4,500.
“However, there were certain things over the tenure of Mrs. Truitt… Other employees that were hired, employees quit or resigned… There’s an argument to be made that those policies were not abided by for other employees,” said Lingenfelder at the March 7 council meeting. “There was a lot of faith, trust given that those payments were made, with the understanding that those policies were being followed.”
Lingenfelder said after the special meeting, at which he presented the council with all their options related to the suit, he was given the authority to settle the suit for $7,500.
“So that will end this chapter with Mrs. Truitt and her employment with the Town,” he said. “This has nothing to do with anything else that’s going on related to her… This has ended; this chapter has ended.”
Presley said that when the suit was first brought against the Town in December of 2015, he was angry.
“Nothing made me madder than this, because I think it’s blatantly obvious that the Town of Frankford is being taken advantage of.”
Presley went on to say, when weighing the options, he feared that it wasn’t worth the risk to potentially win $500, versus paying Truitt thousands.
Councilman Greg Welch, however, stated he was not for the settlement.
“I think we’ve got a very strong case. And I wish we would pursue it. At this point in time, we’ve already agreed. This vote is just to show, I guess, to act like we’re voting now — but it’s already a done deal. Chad’s already signed on the dotted line,” he said. “It was her job; she knew about it; she was misrepresenting the policy.”
“I think a wrong has been done,” agreed Councilman Skip Ash, who was sworn into office the same evening, returning to the council after having previously served as councilman and council president.
Welch noted that he also understood why the majority of council chose to settle the suit.
He added, however, that he had little knowledge of what was going on prior to stepping onto the counsel. Once on council, and specifically at the special meeting in February, he was given a great deal of information regarding lawsuit, he said.
“I certainly didn’t think that was the end-all be-all of reviewing the information, but apparently it was.”
Elizabeth Carpenter, who formerly served on the council but resigned in December, said that when she was on the council and the suit came about, she was for it going to trial.
“I remember saying to Marty, to everyone else, ‘Let her sue. Let it all come out in the wash. Let it happen,’” she said. “In human-resources law, if one person is treated differently than other employees, that is considered discrimination.
“What her lawyer is making the case, and what Chad is trying to explain, is that the lack of oversight by the council enabled her to interpret and put into effect the policy that she wanted to, not the policy that was on paper. Had the counsel at the time been more diligent in their oversight, that overpayment to Dudley and to Nate and to Terry likely would not have happened. Not a guarantee, but likely would not have happened.”
Carpenter went on to ask what is being done to avoid such a situation in the future. Presley said the Town’s employee handbook would be put in place and followed.
Although Presley said it was not a requirement for the council vote to settle the case, the council was taking a vote at Monday’s meeting. The council voted 4-1 to approve the settlement, with Welch opposed.
Discussions on charter change continue
Welch said that the Charter Committee continues to meet, and that discussions continue as to whether or not non-resident property owners should be allowed to vote in Town elections.
“There’s a little bit of contention as to whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing,” he said.
Welch added that he had spoken to Delaware Department of Elections Sussex County Director Kenneth L. McDowell regarding the Town moving to State voter registration.
“Apparently, it’s not easier,” said Welch. “He said no Sussex County towns use it. He said they’re all very much against it.”
Welch added that if Frankford moved to the State registration process, there’s no nonresident voting application, and that the Town would have to have a separate registration process for that.
The council could not come to a consensus as to whether or not they would be sending a charter change to the Delaware legislature for this session. The next meeting of Charter Committee will be March 15 at 7 p.m.
Egg hunt set for March 26
The Town will hold an Easter Egg Hunt on Saturday, March 26, at Frankford Town Park, from 1 to 4 p.m. Attendees will be able to enjoy food from Hocker’s BBQ, games and a hunt for 5,000 eggs, divided up into four age groups. A special hunt will also take place for children with special needs. The Easter Bunny will also hop into town to meet with children and take some photos.