Dr. Colleen Parker, Shelburne Selectboard member, is suing Volunteer Fire Chief Jerry Ouimet and six members of the town Ethics Committee, claiming she has suffered from intentional infliction of emotion distress.
She also is claiming defamation by the fire chief.
The Ethics Committee has scheduled its long-awaited hearing for Tuesday night to consider the complaints that Ouimet and Parker have filed against each other.
Meanwhile, the Shelburne Selectboard announced Friday it will hold a special meeting Saturday at 9 a.m. at the town offices to try to end the feud.
The agenda says the board will consider this motion: In “the best interests of the town of Shelburne as a community, to authorize the town attorney to approach Fire Chief Jerry Ouimet, the members of the Shelburne Ethics Committee, and Shelburne Selectboard member Colleen Parker to evaluate the parties’ willingness to withdraw their pending complaints before the Ethics Committee and pending in the Vermont Superior Court … all with respect for the positions of the parties, and without judgment of the claims in their various complaints or roles on behalf of the town of Shelburne.”
The move is seen as a way to head off a public hearing by the ethics committee on the complaints Ouimet and Parker have filed against each other.
It was unclear how much the town’s law firm could play a role in trying to bring peace because of its past representation of Parker and the rest of the Selectboard.
Town Manager Joe Colangelo said if the motion passes, Town Attorney Brian Monaghan may be limited just to reaching out to Parker, Ouimet and the six ethics committee members to see if each is willing to settle the cases without full hearings before the town board or in court.
Colangelo said he had tried to encourage a mediation session with Shelburne lawyer Richie Berger, but a planned sit-down on Oct. 23 fell through.
Residents also have urged town officials repeatedly to seek a cease-fire in the bickering that has gone on since Parker asked two questions of Ouimet at a public meeting on Sept. 26.
Ouimet filed his ethics complaint Oct. 11 against Parker because he said the questions made it sound as if he had been bought off by the Vermont Railway in its fight with the town over a hazardous materials ordinance.
Ouimet said Parker “demeaned my honesty, integrity and expertise” by making false accusations against him. He said she undermined his 26 years of town fire service.
Parker, in her cross-complaint, maintained she had been defamed by Ouimet’s written complaint.
He has denied any wrongdoing, according to his lawyer, Pietro Lynn of Shelburne. Lynn, reached Friday afternoon, said Ouimet has been willing to settle their differences for the past two months “if she will make a public apology for impugning his integrity. That’s what it has been about since the beginning.” He said if Parker acknowledged it was not intentional, the case would be over with a written note.
Vermont Railway subpoenaed Ouimet at the last minute to a federal court hearing Sept. 25 on its dispute with the town over a salt storage transfer station in Shelburne.
Parker, who was part of a 3-2 majority that enacted the hazardous materials ordinance Aug. 8, was not at the federal court hearing, but the next night asked two questions that put her on the hot seat.
“Jerry, I’m just curious. Since you were at the court to testify against the town. I’m just curious what your motivation was for that?” she asked.
The fire chief, who did not testify in court, explained he’d been subpoenaed to appear. As he walked away from the microphone, Parker continued,
“I also have another question. Is it true that (Vermont Railway president) Mr. Wulfson offered space to house the antique fire truck on railroad land?”
The chief explained it was one of several offers the department received from local businesses, but it was not accepted.
The latest idea for trying to settle the dispute apparently came after Parker, through her Shelburne attorney Michael Regan, filed a civil lawsuit on Wednesday.
Regan also believes the Ethics Committee members have to disqualify themselves from hearing the Parker complaint because she is suing them, too.
The Ethics Committee’s acting chairman, Thomas Little, a longtime lawyer, said there are court decisions that allowed judges to remain on court cases after somebody tried to get them removed by suing them.
Regan, on behalf of Parker, has said he would seek a court injunction, if necessary, to block the town from hearing the ethics complaints against his client.
The first hearing date was postponed when the Ethics Committee said it was told Parker was unavailable. However, that same night, she called in to participate in a Selectboard meeting.
Colangelo said Friday he was contacted separately by both Chairman Gary von Stange and Vice Chairman Jerry Storey from the Selectboard about holding a special meeting to address the issue before Tuesday’s hearing.
Most Ethics Committee members learned Parker was suing them when they arrived for their monthly meeting at the town offices Wednesday night. That is also where Lana Ouimet learned her husband was being sued.
The Ethics Committee members being sued are Chairman Lee Suskin, Vice Chairman Thomas Little, and members Michael Ashooh, Bill Deming, Gwen Webster and alternate Peter Gadue.
Parker, who is a licensed physician in both Vermont and New York, alleges her professional reputation and career were harmed when the ethics committee determined there was probable cause to hold a hearing on Ouimet’s complaint. Parker maintains that it was baseless, and that Ouimet filed a false statement that caused her to suffer “extreme emotional distress,” and now she has incurred expenses to deal with the emotional distress, the lawsuit said.
Parker asks for special damages from the seven town officials, and wants her legal fees and court costs covered.
The defamation count against the chief maintains he made his complaint with “actual malice” — the standard in a libel suit filed by a public official like Parker.