Six former Andover school and town employees signed agreements before leaving their jobs that bind them to secrecy about unknown matters prior to their departure, according to Town Clerk Austin Simko.
Simko, in response to a Right to Know request from The Eagle-Tribune, said all of the agreements have been signed since Jan. 1, 2017.
Three of the agreements were entered into with departing School Department employees and three were entered into with departing town employees, Simko said. The nature of each agreement is blocked from the public.
“Please note that the Town has not entered into any ‘non-disclosure agreements,’” Simko wrote to the newspaper. “Rather, the town has entered into agreements, such as separation, release, and settlement agreements that contain non-disclosure provisions in addition to several other provisions.”
Non-disclosure agreements are defined as contracts in which a person, such as an employee, agrees to keep information confidential.
No current employees or elected officials have signed agreements that include a non-disclosure clause, according to Simko.
He elaborated that the agreements are “not a condition of employment and are only entered into when an employee is ending his or her employment with the Town.”
The use of non-disclosure language has been hotly debated from Beacon Hill to local municipalities, leading some cities and towns to take action to ban the practice.
State Sen. Diana DiZoglio’s efforts to ban the agreements in the state Senate have been at the forefront of discussion.
City councilors in Methuen, where Solicitor Richard D'Agostino said there is no record of non-disclosure agreements, are working to ban any future use of them.
In North Andover, newly appointed Town Manager Melissa Murphy Rodrigues said recently “as a matter of principle and policy, the Town of North Andover will not use non-disclosure language in any personnel agreements” moving forward.
“In the past, for the protection of employees, some personnel agreements have included language regarding non-disclosure,” Murphy Rodrigues said. “This language was used in the agreements with the intent of protecting the interests of employees covered by such agreements.”
The ban on non-disclosures followed a request from new Finance Committee Chairwoman Sasha Weinreich, who is known to DiZoglio, who wanted to weigh the financial impact to taxpayers.
"As a resident of North Andover, I believe this (information) is essential to increase fiscal transparency and protect the silencing of members of our community,” Weinreich said.
In response, Murphy Rodrigues said she consulted with town counsel about costs and determined “there has been no financial consideration associated with any non-disclosure language in personnel agreements in the last three years."
“In order to be the most transparent possible, one of the agreements did include a payment of employee's actual costs associated with resolving the employment matter unrelated to the non-disclosure language,” she said.
In Andover, Simko said it “would not be feasible” to provide a breakdown of costs related to the non-disclosure language because “counsel was not asked to differentiate the time spent on specific aspects of these multi-provision agreements."
He said “most of the time involved in the drafting and negotiation of these agreements was devoted to provisions that are unique to the circumstances of the employee’s departure and not to the non-disclosure provisions.”