During the election season we noticed residents were unsure what to think about the $75,000 dollars the Village expended to reimburse Mary Shkut for part of her legal fees. We didn’t like the expenditure either; especially because it came out of a necessity to hold our Council members accountable for unlawful conduct.
1. Holding unlawful meetings counter to state law 2. Spending public funds to pursue private civil lawsuits 3. Unlawful decisions equating to abuse of municipal power
4. Unlawfully trying to invalidate an appointment and threaten arrest
It occurred to us that perhaps not all Marvin citizens knew Mary Shkut had offered to settle at zero-cost to taxpayers back in October. Those of us who received her bulletin knew she offered to absorb her own legal fees (~$30,000) if all parties would jointly drop all lawsuits for the sake of the Village. (Shkut's Zero Cost Settlement Offer) Pollino and Vandenberg refused! (Pollino & Vandenberg Refusal)
We’re certain absorbing $30,000 in legals would not have been easy on Shkut’s family but at least she attempted to make peace. Instead, Pollino and Vandenberg continued to make court motions and voted to use more taxpayer dollars to add another $100,000 to their own public legal defense budget. (Minutes Council Majority Increase Legal Defense Budget)
Had Pollino and Vandenberg been thinking about the Village, they would have accepted the peace offer; put disputes aside, and saved taxpayers an approximate total of $225,000 in legal fees and reimbursements. Shkut has been in the minority. They had little to lose by having her on the council for one year. With this in mind, it doesn't seem that Marvin’s welfare was their priority.
The $100,000 Vote to Increase Legal Defense Using Public Funds It bears noting that none of the Council members who voted on the $100,000 should have voted according to North Carolina statutes. The statute says city council members are prohibited from voting on any motion from which they would financially benefit. (NCGS §160A-75) The $100,000 budget increase was required to provide the three council members with legals fees and a legal defense fund (legal defense they wouldn’t have needed if they had settled with Mary Shkut in October for no cost). Yet, neither Pollino, Vandenberg nor Dispenziere recused themselves. (Excerpt from Meeting Minutes) Meanwhile, Shkut continued to use personal funds to defend against Pollino and Vandenberg in the Quo Warranto suit, even though they lost their lawsuit several times.
Why didn't Mary Shkut just drop the lawsuit regardless? We asked Shkut and she explained the following:
“My attorneys advised me not to drop the suit, as it would have left my position on the Council in jeopardy, again. A portion of my lawsuit was a 'writ of mandamus'; which is a 'reverse injunction' keeping the Council majority from trying to remove me or isolate me from participation. My lawsuit was keeping the Council from unlawfully trying to remove me; the way they had tried to do on July 10, 2018.”
Court documents reveal Village attorneys lost substantive motions in February. The Council majority had attempted to have all of the charges regarding unlawful meetings, abuse of power and unlawful spending of public funds dismissed. The judge ruled against them and said Council members Pollino, Vandenberg & Dispenziere could be held accountable for charges and that Shkut could pursue Pollino and Vandenberg, in particular, for unlawful use of Village funds.
In the meantime, both Pollino and Vandenberg had been deposed and the information revealed by those depositions did not look good for them. Meanwhile, the Council majority didn’t even attempt to depose Shkut until they lost their motions to dismiss in February. By that point, Shkut explains that Dispenziere had begun to talk about reaching a settlement and did not feel it was in anyone’s best interest to increase legal fees any higher on either side; particularly because Shkut’s fully compliant discovery documents showed no wrong-doing whatsoever. It's highly unlikely a $5000 deposition would have revealed anything more; especially since the claims involved Council's actions and not Mary Shkut's conduct.
As the Village's legal standing worsened, Dispenziere and Epps agreed it was in the Village's best interest to settle the case and reimburse part of Shkut’s legal fees before Village legal bills and Shkut’s legal expenses grew any higher. It’s unfortunate Pollino and Vandenberg hadn’t settled earlier for $0 cost. As part of the partial reimbursement, Shkut agreed not to pursue any additional lawsuit which might otherwise be pursued based on the evidence provided in depositions and discovery. (Stipulation of Settlement)
Had Pollino and Vandenberg been thinking about the Village, they would have accepted Mary Shkut’s peace offering in October; put all legal disputes aside, saved taxpayers approximately $225,000 in legal fees and reimbursements. It seems the Village was not their priority. Instead, it appears they seemed intent on pursuing a personal vendetta with the benefit of public funds.
Pollino & Vandenberg $225,000 in Public Money vs. $0.00 Cost Settlement
We too, are upset the Village had to reimburse Mary Shkut for $75,000 however, we don’t feel she was the financial liability. After all, citizens (like Shkut) occasionally need to need to hold government officials accountable when they over-reach. Secondly, she did try to bring Pollino and Vandenberg to their senses. It turns out Pollino and Vandenberg were the ones who cost the people of Marvin ~$225,000, all because they refused to put the Village’s well-being ahead of their own personal political pursuits.