Commission considers settlement with Hiltner

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MARGATE – The Board of Commissioners met in a closed-door meeting Thursday, May 29 to review its options to settle a whistleblower lawsuit brought by City Clerk and Tax Collector Tom Hiltner.

Hiltner sued the city, Mayor Michael Becker and Commissioner Brenda Taube in April 2012 to expose what he claimed were violations of the state’s pay to play laws regarding the commission’s appointment of a new auditor, and harassment by Taube, who said there was a “pattern of misbehavior” in Hiltner’s handling of city business, including the loss of more than 3,000 beach badges that was found by the new auditor.

According to Solicitor Scott Abbott, who reported what happened following the hour-long meeting, the commission discussed settling the case, which is scheduled to go to trial in July.

“We discussed the upcoming trial and the possibility of settling the case. We were just updating public officials at this meeting,” Abbott said after the executive session.

Abbott said that although the city is being defended by David Rapuano of the firm of Archer and Greiner in Haddonfield, he was acting as a conduit to relay discussions about the possible settlement.

The terms of the potential settlement were not revealed.

Although the board took no action to settle the case, it did agree to ask its insurance carrier, the Atlantic County Municipal Joint Insurance and Municipal Excess Liability Fund, to review the case.

“The JIF has acknowledged some responsibility, but not full responsibility,” Abbott said, although he and Taube and Becker believe the city has good standing in the case.

Under the terms of the policy, the JIF could pay up to 50 percent of the cost of the city’s legal expenses up to $100,000.

The court and city would prefer to see the issue resolved rather than incur the expense of a full trial, he said.

Becker and Hiltner each declined comment for the story.

In an email Taube said she feels the case is highly defendable, but would consider a settlement if it were in the financial best interest of the city and if Hiltner retires.

The city has spent nearly $125,000 so far to defend the lawsuit, and costs would climb considerably if it goes to court.

Hiltner, 55, currently earns more than $150,000 a year as the city’s keeper of records and as tax collector. He is also enrolled in the State Health Benefits program.

He has more than 20 years of service and is eligible for retirement.

 

 

 

 

 


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