Englewood Cliffs 'whistle-blower' settles suit
The agreement with Deborah Fehre, a Democrat who resigned Jan. 5, 2010, when Republicans took control of the council, covers a $10,000 retroactive raise and payment for 75 unused sick days and 59 unused vacation days.
Fehre, whose husband is the Planning Board chairman, filed suit in May 2010 claiming she was forced to resign after the Republicans advertised for her job without notifying her. She alleged it was in retaliation for refusing to provide confidential employee information and declining to shut down a voting machine during the 2009 election after a candidate, Carrol McMorrow, reported a problem. Fehre's suit says an election official checked the machine and found it to be operational.
She sought $60,192.05 to cover the raise and unused sick and vacation time.
The borough paid her $14,134.50 after she filed the lawsuit and will pay about $46,000 under the settlement. The borough's insurance company is contributing another $20,000.
The council voted 4-1-1 on March 14 to approve the agreement. Councilman Edward Aversa abstained and McMorrow, the lone Republican who is named individually in the suit, voted against it.
McMorrow took issue with the $10,000 payment, which the settlement stipulates will be credited toward Fehre's final year of employment and could boost her pension if the Public Employee Retirement System board accepts the adjustment. The borough has no liability if the board doesn't accept it, Borough Attorney E. Carter Corriston Sr. said.
"While I am glad the borough will be able to put this issue to rest for the sake of our taxpayers, I am critical of a settlement, which, in my opinion, pays so much and creates a fiction that she was earning $10,000 more than what she was earning when she left," McMorrow said in a statement Monday.
Mayor Joseph Parisi Jr. said he is happy the matter is closed.
"I think you have to always be fair to your employees and Debbie worked hard for this town," he said. "She got what she was entitled to."
In her suit, Fehre claimed former GOP Councilman Eric Petrone and McMorrow also defamed her. She sought punitive damages against the council for withholding her pay and offering to make a payment only if she signed a document that would bar her from filing future lawsuits, which she said violated her rights under the Conscientious Employee Protection Act.
McMorrow said Monday she would have rather a judge decided the case. She also said she was not on council when Fehre resigned and should not have been named in the Conscientious Employee Protection Act claim, since she was not Fehre's employer.
"The 'whistle-blower' claims against the borough, myself and Eric Petrone were on the verge of being dismissed by the judge, who said as much at two hearings," McMorrow said in a statement Monday. "However, before the motion to dismiss the claims was decided, a majority of the governing body decided to settle with Ms. Fehre."
The $10,000 raise was not in the 2009 salary ordinance. However, Fehre produced a letter written by Parisi in November 2009 that said the Borough Council agreed in April 2008 to give her $10,000 raises in both 2008 and 2009, but Fehre agreed to postpone the second raise due to a salary freeze.
"In my opinion, Mayor Parisi had and has no individual authority to write a letter promising a raise to an employee based on a closed session discussion," McMorrow said in the statement. "Records do not indicate that there was ever a public vote on the $10,000 in question."
Parisi defended the letter on Monday. "We put a salary freeze in effect and Debbie did say she would take a salary freeze, but it was owed to her," he said. "I had the authority to do that because the council agreed to it in closed session."