Editor’s note: The Cortland Standard retained an independent editor, Julia Hunter of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, to edit this report.
Adam Megivern, former director of the Cortland Downtown Partnership Inc., is suing that organization and its president — Evan Geibel, who is also publisher and editor of the Cortland Standard — for libel and defamation.
The lawsuit, filed Dec. 31 in Cortland County Supreme Court, seeks $500,000 in damages for allegedly misrepresenting the amount of notice Megivern gave prior to his resignation.
Megivern, who served as the executive director of the CDP for exactly a decade, contends that he made an agreement with Geibel and the CDP board in July 2018 to resign at the end of that year because of a revenue shortfall. After projecting a budget deficit in the summer of 2018, the nonprofit membership organization learned in November 2018 there would be additional significant funding cuts, according to the lawsuit. The CDP would not receive expected county occupancy tax revenue or revenue from a downtown concert series.
Given the dire financial straits, Geibel and the CDP board “reached an agreement…to accept his resignation at the end of December, according to the complaint.” Megivern was then reportedly involved in training his replacement, Jane Witty, and corresponded with Geibel about his “unemployment benefits, severance, and medical coverage termination, and met to discuss those details.”
Megivern argues that the CDP had adequate notice of his departure, and it should have been no surprise when he provided the board with his notice of resignation, effective Dec. 28, 2018, on Dec. 26, 2018.
However, the lawsuit points to three media accounts of his departure from the CDP — a Jan. 3 WXHC.com article, a Jan. 4 Cortland Standard article and a March 29 WHXC.com article — in which Geibel is quoted saying that Megivern resigned on “short notice” (in the Cortland Standard article) or “unexpectedly” (in the WXHC.com articles). The lawsuit also faults Geibel for claiming in the Cortland Standard article that Megivern’s resignation “was not the result of the recent kerfuffle over distribution of Cortland County occupancy tax,” which the Megivern contends is “a false statement.”
Megivern argues that these statements, which Geibel “published or caused to be published,” were untruthful and defamatory, imputed his professional reputation, and suggested that he was “dishonest, acted in an improper manner and/or was otherwise unfit for his profession.”
He further claims that Geibel made these comments “with ill will, actual knowledge of their falsity, and with actual malice or implied malice to harm Mr. Megivern and his reputation within the community.”
The lawsuit states Megivern was questioned about his “sudden and unexpected resignation” during final interviews for six jobs, it took him six months to find a new job, and that he “suffered harm to his professional reputation, lost job opportunities with significant salary prospects.”
Megivern, who served as the 7th Ward alderman for the Cortland Common Council from 2016 to 2018, currently works as the managing director of the International Student Exchange in Bayshore, N.Y.
Megivern, contacted by phone, would not comment on the lawsuit.
Geibel also declined to comment.