Mike Scanlon, whose tenure as Basalt town manager ended in acrimonious fashion in August 2016, has, through his attorney, filed a notice of intent to sue the town of Basalt, Mayor Jacque Whitsitt, Whitsitt’s husband Tim Whitsitt, who is a local attorney, and all six members of the town council, several of whom did not hold office during Scanlon’s four-year tenure.
Two letters were sent to the town of Basalt by the Denver-based firm of Benezra & Culver dated Sept. 10. One is a settlement letter, which basically states that the issue can go away if certain terms are met.
The other is a “Notice Pursuant to the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act.” State law requires that people and/or entities that plan to sue government bodies fire a warning shot across the bow before doing so.
In those letters, Scanlon, through his attorneys, makes a boatload of assertions, the gist of which is that several people named in the intent to sue — mostly Tim Whitsitt and Jennifer Riffle, engaged in “defamation, intentional interference with contract and prospective business advantage, emotional distress, and for breach of the settlement agreement that was reached” with the town of Basalt when Scanlon parted ways with the town. That agreement included a $250,000 settlement and included language that neither party would disrespect the other.
Repeated attempts to get comment from Scanlon via email and phone messages over the course of the past six months — the time in which this brouhaha has been developing — have not been successful.
A phone message left Friday with Benezra & Culver was not returned before press time. Basalt Town Attorney Jeff Conklin, to whom requests for comment from town council members were directed, was not able to comment as he is tending to the birth of a child.
The “Notice Pursuant” letter from Scanlon’s attorney to the town states, “Significantly, the Agreement provided that the releasees were prohibited from making disparaging or defamatory comments about Mr. Scanlon.”
Scanlon contends the parties named in his notice of intent to file suit did not live up to that component of the settlement.
At issue, according to Scanlon’s attorneys, is his employment with Habitat for Humanity of the Roaring Fork Valley, where he serves as No. 2 behind President Scott Gilbert.
According to the “Notice Pursuant” letter, “Basalt Mayor Whitsitt’s husband, Tim Whitsitt (who we believe we will be able to show was acting at the direction and with the knowledge of his wife) and Basalt council member Jennifer Riffle have launched a campaign of defamation against Mr. Scanlon in retaliation for his vindicating his legal rights. They have defamed Mr. Scanlon to his new employer, Habitat for Humanity for Roaring Fork Valley (‘HHRFV’) in an obvious effort to interfere with his existing employment and his prospective employment as HHRFV’s new CEO. In the process they have also violated the [severance] Agreement.”
Scanlon’s attorneys state that, in 2018, Gilbert recruited Scanlon for a position as HHRFV chief acquisitions and development officer. Gilbert recruited Scanlon with the plan to transition into Mr. Gilbert’s CEO position.
“On April 12, 2019, Tim Whitsitt (who used to be on the HHRFV Board), called Mr. Gilbert,” the letter continues. “During the conversation [Tim] Whitsitt told Mr. Gilbert that he understood that he was positioning Scanlon to take over for him. Whitsitt then told Gilbert that ‘Mike is poison. He is toxic. Mike will ruin your fine organization. Mike extorted money from Basalt.’ Whitsitt went on to threaten Gilbert that if HHRFV transitioned Mike into the position he would ‘never support Habitat again.’ Mr. Gilbert has reported that the conversation was very threatening and vindictive.”
Gilbert’s only response for comment was, “Nothing to say. People, just let him do his job and lead his life.”
According to the “Notice Pursuant” letter, “On April 15, 2019, Tim Whitsitt called HHRFV Board Member and attorney Eric Musselman. Mr. Whitsitt told him that he was aware that HHRFV was considering hiring Scanlon to replace Gilbert. Whitsitt told Musselman that Scanlon ‘stole’ $35,000 from the town for a down payment on his house and that HHRFV needed to know about this before hiring Scanlon because if ‘it came out, it would hurt [HHRFV’s] reputation.’ Whitsitt went on to say that he intended to talk to HHRFV Board Member Andy Mueller next.”
Tim Whitsitt did not answer an email sent to his office address asking for comment before press time.
Jacque Whitsitt’s response to a request for comment was “No can do.” She then asked if an attempt had been made to contact Conklin.
Town council member Auden Schendler also refused to comment.
The “Notice Pursuant” letter continues, “Similarly, on March 15, 2019, during the Town of Basalt “build day,” City Councilwoman Jennifer Riffle made defamatory comments to HHRFV Volunteer Coordinator and Family Services Director Amy French. Riffle told French that if Habitat hired Scanlon for the CEO position, Basalt would lose all respect for HHRFV. She went on to disparage Scanlon’s character and conduct during his employment with Basalt.”
Riffle did not respond to an email asking for comment before press time.
“These are not the only examples that exist,” the letter states. “It appears that one or more Basalt Town Council Members or their associates may have filed a complaint with the International City/County Management Association (‘ICMA’) alleging that Mr. Scanlon violated the ICMA Ethical Code. This Complaint was rejected by ICMA on April 29.” Attempts to get comment from the ICMA at that time were not successful.
Further, the letter states, “We also have reason to believe that the Town and its associates may be interfering with Mr. Scanlon’s current job search. For example, Mr. Scanlon recently applied for a Town Manager position in a nearby town but didn’t make it to the semifinalist round of interviews despite being as qualified, if not more so, than the rest of the candidates.”
Neither letter from Scanlon’s attorneys state a specific amount he is seeking from the town, though Scanlon will be pursuing reimbursement for legal fees.
The settlement letter lists Sept. 24, which is Tuesday, as the deadline for resolution before Scanlon sues the town. The Basalt Town Council is scheduled to discuss the matter in executive session at its regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday.
This is not the only legal case of heartburn facing Basalt. Local resident Ted Guy and an ad hoc group of citizens are in the process of suing the town over allegations of several alleged violations of the Colorado Open Meetings Law. That case is currently being appealed.