City pays $96K to former assessing employee

NASHUA – City officials agreed to pay former longtime Assessing Department employee Cheryl Walley nearly $100,000, including $50,000 for “emotional distress.”

However, the agreement was short on details, as it omitted information about why Walley and two of her former superiors are prohibited from “making any disparaging or derogatory statements” about each other.

The terms are among numerous conditions contained in an 11-page “confidential separation agreement” the parties signed in November, a copy of which was provided to The Telegraph this week.

The city, represented by attorney Beth A. Deragon of Concord, stipulates that the agreement “is in compromise of disputed claims … “and it is “not to be construed … as an admission of liability, wrongdoing or culpability (by) the city,” according to the document.

In total, according to the agreement, the city paid slightly less than $100,000, broken down as follows:

• $50,000 for “emotional distress damages;”

• $30,175 in wages; and

• $16,000 for Walley’s attorney’s fees.

The agreement also stipulates that Walley acknowledges “she has received all wages” she is due, which includes $4,573 in “accrued and unused earned time” and $7,575 in “accrued and unused sick time.”

While the agreement itself is vague in detailing how the parties reached this situation, a news release crafted by the city and agreed to by both parties gives more details.

It states that in 2018-19, “performance issues” surfaced regarding Walley, “which formed the basis for her separation from the city.”

Walley “disputed her performance issues,” and, according to the city, “made allegations against the city,” which weren’t specified in the release.

Deragon, the Concord attorney for the city who provided The Telegraph with a copy of the release, said the city “decided it was in its best interest to resolve all differences with Walley and to part amicably,” which prompted the parties to enter into the separation agreement.

Walley, according to the release, agreed to retire from the city in exchange for “severance” pay of $96,175 – the total Walley received for emotional distress, wages and her attorneys fees.

Given that city taxpayers may have incurred as much as $500,000 in legal fees and related expenses had the matter reached the courts, officials “made the business decision to settle,” which “was in the best interest of the city and its taxpayers,” according to the release.

The numerous stipulations in the agreement include orders that Walley may not “make any disparaging or derogatory statements about the city and its officials,” while it also bars city Administrative Services Director Kim Kleiner and Assessing Department supervisor Louise Brown from making such statements about Walley.

Another stipulation compels the city to “remove Walley’s disciplinary actions of 2019 from her personnel file,” but allows the city to retain the documents “in the event of future litigation.”

Both Deragon and Walley’s attorney, Richard Lehmann, declined to comment on the agreement.

Nashua resident Laurie Ortolano, whose research into city assessing practices began with her own Berkeley Street property, said she was saddened to learn of Walley’s departure.

“This is someone who is an honorable, hard-working staff member,” Ortolano said, referring to the Assessing Department. “Cheryl always performed her job with the highest ethical standards.”

Ortolano said Walley, with 20 years in the assessing office, “was the most experienced, and was the only one who would help me” when Ortolano, a frequent visitor to the office, asked assessing employees for assistance with reviewing files and documents.

Ortolano alleged that the other employees stopped assisting her shortly after Mayor Jim Donchess appointed Kleiner to lead the department after the city eliminated the chief assessor’s position.

Kleiner allegedly began “a campaign to stop my research,” Ortolano said.

By “removing” Walley, she added, “the city was unable to realize her skills.”

Dean Shalhoup may be reached at 594-1256, or at dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com.