In the end, there was no hearing.
One month and one week after she was suspended, Galloway Township Council unanimously approved a resolution accepting Township Clerk Lisa Tilton's resignation late Monday night after the two sides were able to reach a deal.
The agreement calls for Tilton to resign as registrar of vital statistics immediately and as township clerk effective Oct. 3, once her accrued comp time and vacation time has been used up.
Acting Township Clerk Carol Hackney and one other employee in the Clerk’s Office are trained registrars.
Hackney has been acting as township clerk since Tilton was suspended on June 10. She has no interest in pursuing the position full-time, and the township will begin looking for a full-time replacement, Township Manager Steve Bonanni said Tuesday morning.
“This is good for everybody,” Deputy Mayor Don Purdy said. “It’s a mutual separation.”
"Lisa feels vindicated," Tilton's attorney, David Castellani said Tuesday morning. "She has a clean slate and she can move on to greener pastures. She's ready to go forward with a clean slate and a bright future."
The roughly 40 Galloway Township residents and employees who showed up for the highly anticipated hearing at 5 p.m. had dwindled to seven by the time the council returned from executive session.
The resolution was approved by all members of council in attendance at 11:52 Monday night, just shy of seven hours after council went into executive session for Monday night’s scheduled special hearing.
But the hearing would never come about, as Castellani, Township Solicitor Michael Blee and Labor and Employment Counsel Russell Lichtenstein, who was representing Bonanni, entered into negotiations for the next several hours.
"There was the beginning of a hearing and then a lot of negotiating," Castellani said. "It was extensive."
Initially, Castellani objected to the call for executive session, which was in effect once an investigation into the actions of Bonanni leading to Tilton’s suspension became part of the hearings. Tilton had asked for the investigation when she appeared before the township council on June 28.
Tilton and Bonanni both received Rice notices, meaning the privacy rights of both employees could be adversely affected, Blee said.
Castellani objected on the grounds that when discussions concerning the hearing first began, Tilton was the only one who had received a Rice notice.
“We continue to request this hearing be held in public,” Castellani said.
“I believe that the rights of both employees could be adversely affected,” Blee said.
Purdy said the two matters were handled simultaneously because the issues were intertwined.
“One had to do with the other,” Purdy said. “We had to talk about Steve because Lisa brought him into it.”
The entire council was present prior to the beginning of the executive session. At some point during executive session, Mayor Keith Hartman recused himself from the proceedings.
Tilton received written notification of her suspension for various disciplinary reasons from the township on June 10. The agreement reached Monday night called for all charges pending against her to be dismissed with prejudice and expunged in exchange for her resignation.
Tilton will not be permitted in any “non-public areas,” including the township clerk’s office while she officially remains in her position as township clerk through Oct. 3. She isn’t entitled to her sick time, but she will be reimbursed for time lost during her suspension, with the exception of 16 hours of pay, which will be considered unpaid time off.
The township will also pay counsel fees for her attorney in an amount not to exceed $3,800 within 30 days of the presentation of an invoice, and the township will provide neutral reference for Tilton when contacted by potential employers, including to state she resigned in good standing.
Council also agreed to indemnify Tilton in the event of any claims made in connection with her duties as registrar from June 13-July 19, 2011. The sides also agreed to mutual general releases, which would release the township, township council, Bonanni, township employees, counsel of the township and Tilton from any and all claims up to and including July 18.
Monday night marked the climax of a situation that had been building and intensifying since Tilton missed her first meeting as township clerk in two and a half years on June 14.
It was a situation that received a lot of attention from media outlets that cover Galloway Township, and had quickly become a hot-button issue among residents.
The scheduled hearing Tilton was entitled to had been delayed a few times leading up to Monday’s proceedings.
Tilton was suspended on a Friday, and a council meeting was scheduled for the ensuing Tuesday.
A hearing couldn’t be scheduled for the ensuing Tuesday “for a multitude of reasons,” Blee previously stated. He also said council members then had various vacations previously scheduled, and that the council preferred to have as many members in attendance as possible for the hearing.
Tilton sought employment elsewhere during this time, prior to her appearance at the June 28 meeting.
The hearing was then scheduled for last Wednesday, but Tilton and her attorney requested a postponement, and the hearing was finally scheduled for Monday night.
Tilton has worked in the township since 2001, and has served as township clerk since 2008. Her salary is $64,429 a year.
Initially, council members and the township solicitor wouldn’t discuss the situation, calling it a “personnel matter.” Tilton eventually said she was absent for “personal reasons.”
Her suspension didn’t become public knowledge until she appeared before council on June 28.
Hackney has been serving as township clerk in her absence, and has been sharing the full-time duties with Karen Bacon.