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July 14, 2014

City makes offer to former health department director

METHUEN — The city has offered a settlement to stave off a potential lawsuit from the former health department director whose salary was essentially eliminated last summer.

Details have not yet been released, but the nearly year-long legal tussle over former director Brian LaGrasse’s termination last year could be over within the next few weeks, people familiar with the talks said.

“Negotiations are ongoing,” said Mayor Stephen Zanni. “Hopefully in a week or so we should come to some kind of settlement.”

He and Elise Hoffman, an Andover attorney who is representing LaGrasse, did not divulge details of the proposal when contacted, including what kind of money was offered and whether other demands, such as hiring LaGrasse back, were included.

“He is considering the offer,” Hoffman said. She said that she is using attorney Peter McQuillan, a former Methuen city solicitor, as a consulting attorney for his municipal expertise.

Zanni said the City Council was informed about the offer at an executive session after the council’s regular meeting last Monday. The council will have a final vote on any settlement.

If LaGrasse accepts within the next two weeks, Zanni said he hoped the settlement could be on the council’s Aug. 4 agenda for approval. The city’s attorney gave the offer to LaGrasse’s attorney Thursday, Zanni said.

Councilors voted 5-4 on June 25, 2013, to cut the health director’s salary from $73,149 to $1 while approving last year’s budget, effectively laying off LaGrasse, who had worked for the city since 2006.

On Sept. 9, LaGrasse claimed in a letter that the city defamed and wrongfully discharged him, and demanded $145,000 plus attorneys fees.

On Dec. 27, he wrote another letter expanding his claims, roughly tripling his demand to about $400,000 and threatening to sue the city.

The city has kept secret that demand letter.

Several councilors in last year’s municipal election said the city needs a health director, a sentiment Zanni echoed yesterday. “A health director is needed in our community, no question,” he said.

The city is not hiring a new director at this time, however. “Right now, we’re not doing that. We have an offer out and we’ll wait on that,” Zanni said.

Follow Douglas Moser on Twitter @EagleEyeMoser. To comment on stories and see what others are saying, log on to eagletribune.com.

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