West St. Paul’s former city manager is suing the city, claiming that a City Council member made negative comments about him that violated the terms of a separation agreement.
Matt Fulton, who resigned as city manager in January 2017 amid pressure from some council members, is suing for defamation and breach of contract, according to a complaint filed last month in Washington County District Court.
Fulton cites a separation agreement that he and city officials signed stipulating that neither side make disparaging comments about the other.
He claims his reputation has been harmed and that he has suffered “mental distress, humiliation and embarrassment” because of the comments and seeks damages in excess of $50,000.
The comments in question occurred at the June 11, 2018, City Council meeting. A resident said she had been happy to see Mayor Jenny Halverson elected but was disheartened when Fulton was ousted.
Council Member John Bellows responded: “First of all, there was mention some time ago of a problem because we asked the prior city manager to leave and we hired a new city manager. I don’t think anybody at this council table will tell you that we are not better off as a city with our current city manager.”
Council Member Dick Vitelli and some audience members objected to Bellows’ statement.
The complaint alleges that the separation agreement’s terms were breached when Bellows said Fulton had been asked to leave and again when he said that everyone on the council believed that a new city manager had improved things for the city.
Fulton has said that he resigned because several City Council members wanted new leadership.
Both parts of the comment were false, disrespectful and disparaging, the complaint alleges, citing a portion of the separation agreement that states that neither Fulton nor the city is allowed to make “acrimonious statements” about the opposite side.
As part of the separation agreement, Fulton received about $75,200 — half a year’s salary — over a six-month period, along with benefits. He was also paid about $40,000 for 70 unused vacation days. West St. Paul hired Ryan Schroeder, who previously served as city administrator in Cottage Grove, after Fulton left.
Schroeder and Bellows said they couldn’t comment on the complaint.
Neither Fulton nor his attorney, Sarah McEllistrem, could be reached.