Brigantine questions city manager Barber. Investigation Jim Frugoli

April 13, 2011 BRIGANTINE¬†– In a closed-door meeting held March 16, the city’s manager defended himself against accusations from City Council that he did not fully discuss with council an internal investigation into the city’s former police chief, executive session minutes released by the city this week show.

Questioned by City Council about the sexual harassment investigation into Jim Frugoli – as well as when he first told council about it – City Manager Jim Barber said he did tell council about the investigation one week after a settlement agreement was signed, the minutes show.

“I feel comfortable that I did my job,” Barber is recorded as saying, adding he became involved the day he found out about the allegations.

But just what he originally told council last year – and whether he was largely referring to another, separate investigation into another rumor – has been mostly redacted, or blacked out, from executive session minutes.

The executive session was attended by Barber, Mayor Phil Guenther, all six council members and the attorney who conducted the investigation.

The minutes state that Archer & Greiner attorney Susan Hodges said Frugoli would have been reported to the state for disciplinary action if he were not allowed to retire but that she would not have recommended Frugoli be fired.

Frugoli had violated department sexual harassment policy by making “offensive or derogatory comments” about a female employee, as well as “slapping her on the behind” and standing “uncomfortably close,” Hodges found in her report, issued a year ago.

Asked by Councilman Tony Pullella if the case should have gone to the state Pension Board, Hodges said the city would have been required to report it to the board and that disciplinary action would have had to be taken – but “Hodges added that it is very difficult to take someone’s pension away,” the minutes state.

In those minutes, “(city attorney Tim) Maguire said that this was the least-expensive option the city could have taken. Mrs. Hodges agreed.”

In the agreement, the alleged victim agreed not to sue the city if Frugoli retired and never sought city employment again. The victim received no money as part of the settlement, while Frugoli announced his retirement and received a $159,778 retirement package in addition to his pension.

The minutes state that Councilman Frank Kern, who was not on City Council last year, said, “We need to know when and what council knew,” to which Pullella said that he had been told nothing.

“You were told about it,” Barber responded to Pullella, the minutes show.

Barber then referred council to the executive session minutes of April 7, 2010, in which the matter was discussed one week after Frugoli and the city signed the settlement agreement.

“Barber said that he was aware of ‘vicious lies and dirty rumors’ that had been circulating around the community but none was ever confirmed by any law-enforcement agency,” the April 2010 minutes state. After a string of redactions, the document continues: “Mr. Barber said that none of the (redacted) warranted serious punishment or termination. There was a confidential settlement between (redacted) and (redacted) and nobody is to discuss the issue.”

After Barber read that excerpt to council, the March 16 minutes state, Kern asked if there was “‘another report we are unaware of’ regarding a rumored incident involving Chief Frugoli. Mr. Barber responded, ‘There was an inquiry, notes and phone messages. It was documented.'”

Those were not the first references to a separate investigation into a separate, debunked rumor about Frugoli that occurred at the same time. In an April 9, 2010, story in The Press of Atlantic City, Barber was quoted as saying, “There was an internal investigation, and we are confident (in its results). There were a lot of rumors, but did anything really occur? No.”

A January letter by Maguire refers specifically to that Press story, stating that Barber was talking about the other investigation, not the sexual harassment investigation.

The March 16 minutes also state that Hodges reminded council that the confidentiality order included in the settlement agreement is still in effect and that no council member or city employee should discuss the matter publicly.

Hodges added that Maguire should not discuss the matter either, although the minutes state that Maguire said he was offended by a recent weekly newspaper article submitted by TheBrigantine¬†Taxpayer’s Association that alluded to “a cover-up,” and he would respond if anyone from the public brings that up.

Maguire did not return a call seeking comment for this story.

As for what she recommended council do next on the matter, the minutes state that Hodges was blunt: “Nothing,” she said.

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