EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

September 29, 2013

Former health director demands $145K

Claims councilor's comments were defamatory; now suffers from anguish

(Continued)

Alleged defamation by Fountain

The City Council voted June 25 to cut LaGrasse’s $73,149 salary to $1, effectively eliminating the position of health director. Five councilors voted in favor: Fountain, mayoral candidate Jennifer Kannan, Michael Condon, Ron Marsan and Tom Ciulla. Voting in the minority were Jeanne Pappalardo, Joyce Campagnone, Jamie Atkinson and Lisa Ferry.

The council also voted unanimously to reduce public health nurse Amy Ewing’s work week from 35 to 20 hours, which saved $25,000. As a result of the cuts, state public health officials in August pulled the plug on the $325,000 regional grant.

LaGrasse had served as administrator for the four-year grant, which was awarded in 2012 to help financially strapped health departments in Lawrence, Methuen and Haverhill pay for a full-time public health nurse and part-time environmental health inspector. The decision to cease grant funding after this year means the three cities will lose out on $214,000.

In the Sept. 1 edition of The Sunday Eagle-Tribune, Fountain said that he stands behind the council’s vote to eliminate the health director position. Before the cuts were made, Fountain said councilors had heard about potential problems with how the grant was being administered, specifically with how LaGrasse and Ewing were splitting up their work time between the grant and their regular responsibilities within the city’s Health Division.

Fountain said all his efforts to investigate how LaGrasse’s and Ewing’s work hours were spent were “hampered” by city officials. Fountain said he was told his request to examine their payroll records would cost $2,500.

Fountain also said that, before the cuts were made, councilors and city employees would call the Health Division office looking for LaGrasse, only to be told he and Ewing were tied up in a grant meeting or working outside of the city.

In her demand letter, Hoffman wrote that Fountain’s comments caused LaGrasse “personal humiliation and mental anguish, and significant harm to his reputation and standing with the residents of Methuen and a considerable segment of the Merrimack Valley region.”

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