CHELSEA – Residents delivered a message loud and clear Thursday to a former clerk who wants to collect $72,000 on her disputed contract.

Bring it on.

At a special town meeting, residents rejected a proposed $25,000 settlement with former town clerk Flavia “Cookie” Kelley, who has threatened to sue to collect pay and benefits she says she is owed.

More than 20 people spoke Thursday, some saying they were “sick and tired” of being “taken advantage of” by “unscrupulous people.”

“This has happened to us so many times over the years,” said resident Joe Mills. “We still have one person waiting to do what Cookie is doing — and he will move in and be here next with his hand out.”

Mills was referring to Frank Monroe, a Whitefield plow contractor who also is threatening legal action to retain a town contract that selectmen apparently never signed.

“What are we teaching our kids? ‘Go to the town of Chelsea, they’ll leave the checkbook out,’” Mills said. “We’re not that kind of a town. Don’t give her any money. Set an example. We’re not an easy take. We’re going to fight back.”

State Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea, who attended Thursday’s meeting, opposed the settlement with Kelley, calling it “extortion.”

“I personally feel, once again, we are in the middle of an extortion ring,” Sanderson said. “We’re being threatened. … We need to push back. We’re not going to cave in and pay you off to make you go away. There’s right and there’s wrong, and this is wrong.”

Resident Peter Hanson agreed. “This is extortion,” Hanson said. “We’ve had unscrupulous people do unscrupulous things to us, and I think it’s time to say no and vote down this settlement and put it away.”

Town Attorney Stephen Langsdorf told residents at the meeting that he believes the town has a good case if Kelley decides to sue.

He said former Town Manager Angela Gordon did not have the authority to sign a three-year contract with Kelley because she did it without the authorization of selectmen.

The town has been in turmoil since the Feb. 10 arrest of former selectman Carole Swan, who is charged with accepting kickbacks from Monroe. Police allege Swan received $10,000 from Monroe on two occasions in 2010 — including $3,000 paid to her in February 2010, a month before Monroe retained his original two-year contract without bidding.

Monroe and his attorney, Sean Farris, also have threatened to sue the town for breach of contract if selectmen opt to put the winter plowing contract — which Monroe claims is his — out to bid. In April, selectmen voted to do just that.

But at Thursday’s meeting, it was Kelley’s contract that was on residents’ minds. They asked Langsdorf again Thursday if he thought her contract was valid.

“No,” he said. “It isn’t. But her attorney has a different opinion.

“I have a better argument, but we’re not sure of the outcome,” he said. “(A court case) is a time-consuming process and very expensive for the town..”

Langsdorf said officials have approached the town’s insurance carrier to see if it would cover court costs in a legal fight with Kelley. He said the town’s policy specifically covers claims by employees against the town.

It could cost the town $125,000 to defend the case, Langsdorf has said.

Despite her lack of municipal experience, Kelley’s disputed contract included a premium hourly wage, full health benefits, four weeks of vacation, 12 paid sick days and automatic annual wage increases — outsized perks for a town Chelsea’s size, the Kennebec Journal has reported.

Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Mechele Cooper can be contacted at 621-5663 or at:

[email protected]