CHARLES TOWN – The county’s Parks and Recreation department will have to pay a hefty settlement to former director Tim Barr, who was terminated in a 2010 emergency meeting held while he was on vacation. Barr said the settlement “vindicates (his) position that (he) was wrongfully terminated in an unlawful manner and was completely innocent of the false allegations of forgery.”
“I am very pleased with the settlement which brings this sorry affair to a close,” Bar said in a press release.
Barr’s original complaint alleged he had been fired in retaliation for reporting an inappropriate relationship between a parks commissioner and an employee. It also claimed that the emergency meeting at which he had been fired was held in violation of open meetings laws, and that President Paul Marshall had defamed him by releasing “false” allegations of forgery to the press.
While the settlement was confidential, a copy of it was published on a Yahoo listserv called ‘The Listener.’
Under the terms of the settlement, Barr will receive a total $285,000 from the department. $100,000 will be paid by the department directly – equal to 20 percent of its total budget for the coming fiscal year. The department’s liability insurer will pay $185,000.
The costs of mediation will also be paid for by the defendants, though the settlement does not indicate whether they will be paid by the department, its insurer, or any of the individual defendants – Marshall, parks board Secretary Toni Milbourne and Commissioner Robert “Bobby” Shirley.
Marshall and Milbourne declined to comment. Shirley did not return phone calls requesting comment.
In an interview, Barr affirmed his contention that the termination meeting was not properly noticed. “All board members were not notified. Gene Taylor, Bill Hoak and Mike Jacobs all provided information in depositions that they were not notified of this meeting. There was nothing on the agenda to indicate that my termination or (Jennifer) Myers’ suspension was going to be discussed at this meeting,” said Barr, who said a confidentiality clause bars him from discussing the details of his settlement. He agreed to discuss the events surrounding his termination.
Barr’s lawsuit also alleged that he had been fired in retaliation for bringing to the board’s attention a relationship between Shirley and a former preschool director. His complaint includes several attached emails between Shirley and Cheryl Craigo, written between April and June 2010.
“The emails were brought to my attention by my assistant director, and the concern was that this employee in question was not listening to (Myers), who was her direct supervisor. (Myers) was very concerned about these emails … There were emails being derogatory toward me,” Barr said. “We provided all the emails to Paul Marshall, and we asked him repeatedly for meetings to address the concerns, but our requests were never granted.”
Barr said depositions conducted while he was pursuing his lawsuit reveal that he was fired based in part on untrue statements made during the emergency meeting at which he was fired.
In addition to firing Barr, the board also made a motion to ask West Virginia State Police to investigate allegations that he had been forging the signature of then-Treasurer Matt Knott on department checks.
Knott was not present during the August 2010 emergency meeting. However, Shirley said that he had spoken with Knott. Shirley said Knott told him, “absolutely he’s not given anybody ever permission to sign his name on a check here at Parks and Rec.”
However, Knott contradicted this account of their conversation when he was deposed by Barr’s lawyer.
“I told (Shirley) that I didn’t recall (authorizing Barr to sign checks), but that I wasn’t sure,” Knott testified. “He kept saying, ‘So you didn’t give him permission?’ And I was like, ‘I didn’t say that.’ And he kept trying to – he was basically trying to push me into saying that, I felt like.”
In a press release following the settlement, Barr said the State Police did not investigate the allegations referred to them.
“Starting back in 1994, I’d had permission (to sign checks) from various board members and officers including Paul Espinosa, Mike Jacobs, Bill Hoak and Matt Knott,” Barr said in an interview. “Jennifer Myers would come to me and say that Paul Marshall or one of the officers had promised to come and sign checks, but they never showed up. If I didn’t provide a second signature, the employees wouldn’t be paid on time.”
“I listened to the tape of the Aug. 10 meeting and heard how aggressively Bobby Shirley and Jim Pearson attacked me and vigorously worked to get me terminated at that meeting,” Barr said. “It’s a very daunting thing to see that you’re being attacked and lose your job over statements that turn out not to be true.”
However transcripts of the emergency meeting show that commissioners did not focus solely on the allegations of forgery, but also on complaints from then-parks employee Lauren Thurston, who alleged that Barr was not working full hours. She said he had “screamed” and “yelled” at her when a report was not completed on time. She also said he was using an official vehicle on hunting trips.
Several commissioners also alleged that Barr had told park maintenance staff not to mow the grass at parks in an effort to garner additional funding for the department.
Marshall would later summarize the commission’s position, saying that commissioners had “lost confidence” in Barr’s ability to do his job.
Barr argues he should have been given a chance to defend himself against the charges leveled by Thurston and the commissioners.
“The grievances have to be provided to the director in writing by the employee, and then a grievance board will be set up, and a hearing will be conducted,” Barr said. “That guideline was ignored.”
“If I would have been provided that opportunity to go in and at least defend myself, I would never have filed suit. But they didn’t give me that opportunity, and I felt that I had no other alternative,” Barr said. “What I wanted to do was to clear my name and have a hearing, per county guidelines, to address the issues that were brought forth. That was denied, so I filed a suit.”
Although Barr said he is satisfied with the settlement, he said his firing and statements made to the media have had a lasting impact on his life.
“It’s been devastating. The year before (I was fired) I was appointed onto the state Parks and Recreation Association. I was a director for 16 years. Now I can’t even get interviews for positions I had 16 years ago because of the information that was put out in the newspapers by Paul Marshall. People I’ve run into in the community in the past year and a half come up to me and say, ‘I heard you did some illegal activity – forgery,’” Barr said.
“My family has been in the area since the ‘50s. My mother and father, who live in Shepherdstown, were devastated. I was on the verge of losing my home at one point, and I’m still unemployed,” Barr said. “If you do a Google search on me, you come back with ‘accused of forgery’ and ‘improper conduct.’”
“After 20 years in the parks and rec business, I’m trying to rebuild my career and get somebody to give me a chance. I’ve only had two interviews.”