September 10, 2008
Ex-Chair of Board Seeking Legal Fees
By M. Dirk Langeveld
PARIS - A former Board of Selectmen chairman asked the board Monday for reimbursement of legal fees he paid to defend himself against a lawsuit and was told the town bylaws don't allow it.
"Now that I've proven that I haven't done anything wrong, is there anything the board can do to eliminate some of this?" asked Ernest Fitts III after presenting Chairman Raymond Glover with a copy of a $400 check he wrote to his lawyer.
Selectman David Ivey said the matter should be referred to town attorney Geoffrey Hole.
"This is a legal matter here," Ivey said. "We shouldn't even be discussing that here in public as far as I'm concerned."
Resident Robert Moorehead filed a complaint in Oxford County Superior Court in April against Fitts and Selectman Glen Young, charging the pair with conflict of interest in their votes to establish an ad hoc committee to review the town's subdivision ordinance and appoint Fitts brother, Ron Fitts, as an alternate member to the Planning Board.
Last week, Moorehead asked that the suit be dismissed, saying that the complaint was nullified by the dissolution of the committee after the suit was filed and the board's decision not to reappoint Ron Fitts to the alternate position. Ernest Fitts did not seek re- election this year due to a health issue.
An item to have the town pay for Fitts and Young's legal fees failed to carry in April. Though Glover and Ivey voted in favor, Fitts and Young abstained and Selectman Gerald Kilgore voted against, failing to obtain the three-vote majority needed to pass.
Glover said the issue can be referred to Hole, but doubted whether anything could be done. According to town bylaws, a decision by the board can only be reconsidered within 30 days of the vote.
"If the time is expired, it's still expired," Glover said. "It wasn't a matter of whether you did anything wrong or not. The issue was just whether this board would vote to pay to defend you."
The issue of the legal fees in the suit came before the board several times after its initial failure.
At a special selectmen's meeting in May, the measure again failed after Kilgore abstained, saying he had a conflict of interest because he had done work for Moorehead's family.
At that meeting, the board also approved a policy to have the town pay legal fees for town officials and employees named in civil suits, providing the person did not act in bad faith or in a criminal manner. The policy did not retroactively apply to Fitts and Young.
The item appeared on the agenda twice in meetings in June. It failed to garner a second in its first appearance after Ivey motioned for approval, and was passed over at the recommendation of the town attorney when it appeared again.
Originally published by Staff Writer.
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