After lining up his ducks in a row for a drawn out legal battle, Brian Sweeney, former economic development director of the city, settled for $312,500 on Wednesday afternoon.
Sweeney accepted the settlement with a great deal of reservation on whether the total amount would be approved by the city council and the state. If for political reasons or for whatever reasons the city council, said Sweeney, doesn’t approve the settlement, what then?
Ralph DeLuccia, superior court judge, said if the council or the state Department of Community Affairs do not approve the settlement money, the proceedings will continue.
Despite being re-assured by the judge, Sweeney said, it’s a political year and the settlement could easily be jammed at the council with so many elected officials harboring enmity towards Jeffery Jones, the city’s current mayor. “I could see the council just denying it,” said Sweeney.
“What reason do I have to believe they’re going to suddenly honor their duties?” asked Sweeney. “There needs to be a deadline here.”
The judge set a deadline for the DCA to approve or disapprove prior to the first week of May. DeLuccia assuaged some of Sweeney’s concerns by stating that the council will have to make a decision during it’s next regular meeting.
Derlys Gutierrez of Adams Gutierrez & Lattiboudere, an outside law firm, represented the city in the trial. Gutierrez said the city would have the settlement before it prior to its next regular meeting.
Jones was set to testify at the court hearing today, but he did not show. Lanisha Makle, the director of Community Development, gave partial testimony in front of the jury. The lawsuit came about after Makle allegedly mistreated Sweeney, who was appointed as the economic development director in 2010, after Jones took office.
Sweeney often got into disputes with the director leading her to demote him, and then eventually fire him. Sweeny was making $60,000 as economic director, after he was demoted the salary was cut in almost half, $35,000. At one point Makle had him conducting business out of a park bench, according to the complaint.
During Wednesday’s court proceeding, Sweeney wanted his personnel file purged, but Gutierrez said she could not agree to that condition. The lawyer did agree to provide Sweeney a neutral letter of reference from the city.
There are couple of other similar lawsuits against the director.
Sweeney had gotten permission to bring before the court Joan Chisolm, a city employee, who famously testified before the council during the overtime scandal following Hurricane Irene that resulted in a 60-day suspension for Makle.
“I guess I have to have some faith in the system,” said Sweeney, finally accepting the settlement. Stephen Bosin, Sweeney’s lawyer, said if the settlement money isn’t approve the proceedings will simply continue echoing the words of the judge. “If we don’t get the approvals the action continues,” said Bosin.