Former Galloway Township Clerk Lisa Tilton will receive $250,000 as part of her settlement with the township, according to the agreement released by the township on Monday, Jan. 7.
There is no admission of guilt in the agreement, as the township denies Tilton was ever subjected to a hostile work environment, intimidation or retaliation, as she claimed in her lawsuit.
Tilton agreed to the dismissal with prejudice, meaning her claims will forever be barred. She indemnifies the township on various counts, and will be held responsible for any taxes that result from the agreement.
According to the agreement, Tilton will receive her settlement through the Indian Harbor Insurance Company within 30 days of the execution of the agreement.
The township agrees to provide a letter of recommendation to future employers, provided that request is sent to the township manager. The township is not to be held responsible for the result of any inquiries directed by Tilton to any other township employee or representative.
Tilton is not permitted to apply for employment or re-employment with the Township of Galloway. She also can't enter into any contract in which she would exchange her services for monetary gain from the township.
In her lawsuit, Tilton had been seeking reinstatement to her position, with back pay and benefits, among other judgments. Tilton didn't specify a monetary amount in the lawsuit, despite three prior tort claim notices for $3 million each, filed against Galloway.
There is no confidentiality order for either side in the agreement.
If either side finds any dispute with the contract, the sides will once again appear before Judge John J. Keefe Sr., and, if necessary, go back into mediation prior to a lawsuit being filed. However, this doesn’t mean any of the parties involved necessarily waive legal rights, including the right to file a future lawsuit. The cost of the mediator would be shared by all parties involved.
A portion of the agreement was redacted in its release to the media, concerning the removal and possible destruction of unspecified records.
The details of the agreement were released nearly one month after the township passed a resolution to enter into the agreement. However, signatures were needed from former Township Manager Steve Bonanni, former Councilman Dennis Kleiner and representatives from the Atlantic County Joint Insurance Fund (JIF) before it could be fully executed. According to Township Clerk Thalia C. Kay, the township received the final copy, fully executed, on Friday.
The agreement was released on Monday.
“With the various aspects of litigation promising to continue for many years, this resolution allows me to put an end to a costly dispute and achieve closure,” Tilton said in a statement made via email. “Although no settlement can replace the pride and unique experiences afforded by my former employment as the Township Clerk, I am very satisfied with the outcome of this matter. During the nearly 10 years I was employed by Galloway, I was blessed to serve the community in which I was a longtime resident; it is indeed a special place filled with kind and engaging citizens who care deeply about their community. I was also blessed to work with many truly caring and devoted dedicated public servants and extend my thanks and gratitude to them, as well as to so many other friends and family members whose unwavering support during this time in my life opened my eyes to the true meaning of loyalty and friendship. With the settlement now finalized, I am excited to move forward both personally and professionally and look forward to returning to a career in public service."
While Tilton was satisfied with the agreement and looked forward to the future, Kleiner believed the recently released details would clarify the situation in the eyes of the residents.
“People should see that she was lying about everything and she got what she wanted, which was a payday,” Kleiner said, adding that the fact that she settled and the amount she settled for don’t seem like the actions of someone “who was treated as badly as she said she was treated.”
“Why not just go for the $3 million. If this doesn’t open most people’s eyes, I don’t know what will.”
Kleiner added that “95 percent of what she said would’ve easily been disproved in court.”
“The township settled because they would’ve had to pay $600,000-$700,000 in attorney’s fees, so they settled and basically paid her legal fees with no admission of guilt,” Kleiner said. “They saved the taxpayers half a million or more. … Everything I’ve been saying is validated.”
Bonanni could not be reached for comment, and his attorney was unavailable for comment on Monday.
Tilton filed the lawsuit in May, and was seeking a rescindment of the Settlement Agreement and Release agreed to on July 18. She claimed that agreement was later violated by the township.
The agreement released on Monday specifies that the July 18 agreement remains fully intact. However, it also specifies that in the event of any inconsistencies between that agreement and the most recent agreement, the most recent agreement is the superseding agreement.
Additionally, if any aspect of the most recent agreement is declared invalid, illegal or unenforceable, that part of the agreement becomes invalid, and the rest of the agreement remains fully intact.
Tilton claimed her suspension and later dismissal were the result of a vendetta Bonanni and Kleiner.
Former Township Solicitor Michael Blee was also named in the suit, as it relates to the release of Tilton’s personal information in an Open Public Records (OPRA) request from a third party not involved in the dispute.
Bonanni resigned as township manager on Jan. 31 of this year. Kleiner resigned from council effective June 25. Blee was appointed to the position of Superior Court judge earlier this year, resulting in his resignation as township solicitor.
Each man had his own attorney in the matter. Blee was not part of this settlement.
Kleiner said he used his own attorney because since he resigned from council on June 25, he’s had no communication with the other members of council, the Atlantic County Joint Insurance Fund (JIF) or the township manager.
“I wanted to make sure my interests weren’t sold short,” Kleiner said.
Kleiner said he would have liked to have gone to court, but that he feels vindicated. He also said he feels no ill will toward Tilton.
“I hope she can move on and make a career for herself,” Kleiner said.
The full list of defendants in the case included: the Township of Galloway; former Township Manager Steve Bonanni, in his individual and official capacity; former Councilman Dennis Kleiner; former Township Solicitor Michael Blee, in both his capacity with the township and the law offices of Michael Blee; Mayor Don Purdy, in his individual and official capacity; Deputy Mayor Tony Coppola, in his individual and official capacity; current council members Tom Bassford, Jim Gorman, Dennis Kleiner; Brian Tyrrell and Whitney Ullman, each in their individual and official capacities; Township Clerk Thalia Kay, in her official capacity; Registrar of Vital Statistics Carol Hackney, in her official capacity; and former Acting Township Clerk Karen Bacon, in her official capacity.
In the lawsuit, Tilton touted her “exemplary employment” as a member of the township prior to the appointment of Bonanni as Township Manager in January, 2011.
As of Nov. 25, 2011, Tilton would’ve been up for reappointment and thus been eligible for tenure.
She alleged Kleiner had threatened this reappointment because, as a member of the Planning Board, she didn’t vote in favor of his preferred choice of engineering firm.
She claimed that, following a meeting with Bonanni and Blee, an investigation was conducted into the matter. She claimed that although her allegations were substantiated, no action was taken against Kleiner.
She also claimed Bonanni subjected her to numerous and substantial sexually explicit comments, including comments about her body, her clothes and requests to engage in an extramarital affair.
She claims that Bonanni asked her to withdraw an OPRA request she filed against the Atlantic County Board of Elections. He then told her she was not allowed to have contact with any members of council, she said, calling the command unconstitutionally overbroad on its face and as applied.
She says he asked council members to sign an acknowledgement of this policy, and although many members of council declined to sign, none attempted to prevent Bonanni from disciplining her.
She alleges Bonanni subjected to her to three disciplinary actions between May 24 and June 10 for “pre-textual reasons.”
She claimed she was told if she didn’t resign from Planning Board, her five-day suspension would become a termination of her employment. She then resigned.
Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, the township filed a request to narrow the charges, and clarify which charges applied to which defendant in the case. Those charges were narrowed, but the sides entered into settlement talks before the township issued its response.
Tilton also filed tort claim notices against Atlantic County, the Atlantic County Board of Elections and Middle Township. The Middle Township tort was filed recently. She claims Middle Township discriminated against her in its hiring process for a new deputy clerk.
A copy of the agreement is attached to the story as a PDF.
This is a developing story. Check back with Galloway Patch for updates.