HILLSIDE, NJ — The Hillside Township Committee has passed a resolution approving a payment of $60,000 to a former employee in exchange for him dropping a lawsuit against the township.
Tharien Arnold, a former employee of the township hired in 2015 as acting director of the Department of Public Works, filed the lawsuit in 2016. In the lawsuit Arnold claims the township violated both state and federal laws by changing his salary during his employment; he also claims the township created a hostile work environment.
According to the resolution passed at the Feb. 28 meeting of the Hillside Township Council, the council wants to avoid “the cost and expense of further litigation” and the parties had reached an agreement to fully resolve all claims by paying $60,000 “in release of all claims” contained in the lawsuit.
In a closed session, Council President Andrea Hyatt, Vice President Gerald “Pateesh” Freedman and councilmembers Donald DeAugustine, Chris Mobley, George “Tony” Alston, and Sip Whitaker voted to pass the resolution, while Councilwoman Diane Murray-Clements voted against the payment to Arnold.
But the fact that a lawsuit exists is the only matter parties close to the issue agree upon.
Former and current council members disagree on just about every facet of the case, and all but two council members requested anonymity when speaking to LocaLSource. Points of disagreement include when Arnold was hired, how long he served in his position at the DPW, whether or not he was voted out of his position, and how much his salary was. Some council members have also alleged that Garretson fired Arnold after a “huge fight,” while others claim that Arnold was placed in another position by Garretson. Still others have said that Arnold got paid for time that he did not serve in the township.
Arnold, however, was talking.
According to Arnold, who formerly worked in the city of Newark, he was appointed by Hillside Mayor Angela Garretson in May, 2015. While Arnold claims that he was owed $15,000 for the 90-day period he served, some council members have stated that the $15,000 salary was annual and not for the 90-day period.
Arnold also told LocalSource that he was suing the township because he had a contract — one that was breached by the council.
“It was a contract for $100,000,” Arnold said in a March 5 phone call. “It’s not like I don’t come with a skill set to perform the task.”
According to Arnold, he served in the township from May 2015 until January 2016.
As for council’s claim that he was voted out of the position by the council, Arnold said that this is simply not true.
“They never had a vote to approve me or disapprove me,” Arnold said.
Arnold also reiterated that his annual salary was for $100,000, as promised by Garretson.
“They went and changed my salary from $100,000 to $15,000,” Arnold said.
Arnold claimed that the rumored fight with Garretson is another falsity put forth by the council. In addition, he said that he was never put in another position by Garretson.
Garretson, unfortunately, did not respond to LocalSource’s request for comment as of press time.
While some council members have stated that Arnold came to the township after he had been fired from his position as the director of neighborhood services in Newark, Arnold denies the allegation.
“I was not fired from Newark,” Arnold said. “The new mayor wanted to bring in his own people. The council knew that. They are trying to make it seem like there is something wrong and tarnished with me.”
Murray-Clements, the only council member to vote against the resolution to pay Arnold, told LocalSource that the administration should put a plan in place in order to avoid lawsuits against the township in the future.
“Lawsuits should be the last option in settling any dispute,” Murray-Clements said in a phone call last week. “They are emotionally and financially draining to all parties. Litigation costs the township residents the most, whether directly with their tax dollars or indirectly through the township insurance premium increases. Either way, the taxpayers are getting the short end of the stick.”
Freedman told LocalSource in a phone call last week that settling with Arnold was a better and cheaper option for the township.
“We stood to lose a whole lot more money than that,” Freedman said of the resolution to pay Arnold. “Rather than pay for litigation, we decided to settle.”
Murray-Clements also alluded to the many lawsuits and legal disputes the township currently faces, and the fact that council should not necessarily sign off on these lawsuits.
“Conflict will happen,” she said. “However, mediation should be the first mandatory step in resolving issues regardless of the complexity. Mediation provides the same results but a much smaller price tag. Paying attorneys an average of $250 per hour takes away from road pavement and cleaning the community. Hillside residents deserve elected officials like myself, who will fight for appropriate spending and not continue to co-sign on every lawsuit that comes our way. Unfortunately, until administration puts a plan in place to address the complaints that lead to lawsuits, the township will continue to spend big on lawsuits.”
According to Arnold, he has agreed to the township’s settlement in order to end the litigation.
“I’m not satisfied, but I don’t want to have this thing drag out any further,” Arnold said.
“I came to work and wanted to work, and people put unnecessary roadblocks in front of you,” Arnold said. “It could be personal, who knows? I don’t see them giving anyone else as hard a time as they gave me,” he said of the council.
Arnold also claimed that council issued several RICE notices against him during his time in Hillside.
“Maybe they didn’t want me because they didn’t want the mayor to succeed,” he said.