Thursday, June 13, 2024

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City of Mebane, former employee now candidate refuse to reveal terms of settlement

Neither Montreena Hadley, who served in the city’s planning department, nor current city officials will reveal what the terms were to a financial settlement that was reached with Hadley after her retirement from city employment in 2020.

Hadley had sued the city in 2018 for racial discrimination, claiming that the city manager favored a white, male candidate, Cy Stober, who was subsequently named as planning director, over her.

Hadley’s case faced repeated setbacks in court, but she was ultimately able to get a settlement from the city.

The Alamance News has repeatedly heard that the essence of the settlement was to pay $10,000 or more for her legal expenses as a means to bring the remaining parts of the lawsuit to an end in late 2020.

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Subsequently, in 2021, Hadley filed to run for city council.


Hadley won’t say how much she got from city
The Alamance News asked Hadley a specific, individualized question in this week’s edition about the settlement – both the financial amount she received, as well as how she would work with council members and staff against whom she had filed this litigation.

Her response, printed elsewhere (on page 8), alludes to a confidentiality agreement between Hadley and the city.

For complete list of questions and answers from this week’s edition of The Alamance News, click HERE

Hadley’s answer to the individualized question is on page 4 of the attached (page 8 in October 14, 2021 print edition).

“The parties concerned reached a confidential resolution to whatever issues were pending,” Hadley says. “As I always did during my 19-year tenure in the planning department,” she adds, “I will work professionally with all council members and city staff.”


And city won’t say how much it paid Hadley to settle
Meanwhile, The Alamance News had filed a public records request with the city of Mebane last Wednesday, seeking to “examine and inspect” the documents associated with the settlement with Hadley.

Specifically, the newspaper requested to look at “the amount of any check(s) or other payment(s) made to her, or on her behalf, as a part of the settlement – whether directly from the city or any other source.”

City attorney Lawson Brown informed the newspaper Wednesday that the city would not provide the information.

While Brown alluded to the possibility that the city would have been willing to do so, a communication from Hadley’s attorney strenuously objects to turning over such information.

In a Tuesday e-mail to Hadley, Brown had advised, “In reading the controlling statutes and their interpretation, I have advised management that the information [requested by The Alamance News] is subject to disclosure.”

But after Hadley’s attorney objected, Brown reversed himself.

In an e-mail to the publisher Wednesday, Brown now says, “The city is subject to the terms of the agreement with Mrs. Hadley.”

“She through her attorney,” Brown says, “will not authorize the disclosure. I have an opinion from Frayda Bluestein at the School of Government stating that the same is a personnel record [the position Hadley’s attorney had taken].”

Also enclosed was a text message from Keith A. Bishop, Hadley’s attorney, emphasizing that “the settlement agreement is considered a personnel record.” Bishops adds, “No release of this confidential settlement of a personnel matter is authorized.”

However, in his conversation with the city attorney, and in the publisher’s original public records request to the city last week, Alamance News publisher Tom Boney, Jr. took exception to several of Brown’s and Bishop’s responses.


State law prohibits jurisdictions from making “confidential” settlements

At the time of the settlement, Hadley was no longer an employee of the city, and Boney stresses that state law prohibits local governments from entering into confidentiality agreements.

In his letter to Mebane city officials, Boney quoted liberally from the Public Records Law, “All settlement documents in any suit, administrative proceeding or arbitration instituted against any agency of North Carolina government or its subdivision . . .in connection with or arising out of such agency’s official actions, duties or responsibilities, except in an action for medical malpractice against a hospital facility.”

The law further provides, Boney pointed out in writing and in the conversation with Brown, “No agency of North Carolina government or its subdivisions, nor any counsel, insurance company or other representative acting on behalf of such agency, shall approve, accept or enter into any settlement of any such suit, arbitration or proceeding if the settlement provides that is terms and conditions shall be confidential, except in an action for medical malpractice against a hospital facility.”

“I hear what you are saying,” Brown responded, as the publisher repeatedly pressed how a “confidential” agreement could have been reached on the city’s behalf, even if by an insurance company or its attorney, when state law explicitly prohibits the practice.

Boney’s letter also quoted extensively from court cases resolved in newspapers’ favor against the city of Kitty Hawk and Columbus County, that upheld the right of the press to obtain public record information about personnel cases in certain situations.

“This is most disappointing,” the publisher said this week.

“It is especially disheartening to hear the news from Mebane,” which, he said, had traditionally been exemplary in complying with both Open Meetings and Public Records statutes.

Boney said the refusal for either the city or Mrs. Hadley to provide the information was especially disappointing “now that Mrs. Hadley is a candidate for public office as a city council member in Mebane.”

“Mrs. Hadley is not, and was not, an employee of the city of Mebane when this agreement was reached. It is illegal for cities, counties, or other public agencies to enter an agreement with a supposed ‘confidentiality’ clause. One has to wonder what good the laws of the state are if insurance lawyers and the cities they work for don’t abide by the law.”

Boney added, “Let me be clear. We certainly have nothing against Mrs. Hadley or her candidacy. We always found her delightful to work with when she was with the city, and unfailingly professional, and we would fully expect that same demeanor and relationship if she were elected. But, the public’s business should be conducted openly, particularly when thousands of dollars of their tax dollars are being paid out.”

Boney added, “Public officials better hope I never win the lottery. If I had millions of dollars, I’d have an attorney on full-time retainer to sue cities, counties, and other public agencies that persistently and flagrantly violate the Open Meetings and Public Records laws of the state.”

“But my chances of winning the lottery are only slightly less than those who actually play,” he added.

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