FOXBORO - A health department conflict that has sapped morale, effectively cost two employees their jobs, and hit taxpayers with at least $40,000 in legal bills is close to being resolved, a lawyer and a town official say.

But the board of selectmen want voters to take action aimed at reducing the chances that the health office will ever again spiral into what Selectman Larry Harrington termed a "debacle."

Selectmen have placed an article on the May 23 annual town meeting aimed at putting the "appointment, supervision and removal" of all health department employees under the control of the town manager through special state legislation.

The board of health has taken the position that it controls those functions, attorney F. Henry Ellis III said.

Ellis filed a suit last May against Health Agent Pauline Clifford and the town on behalf of sanitarian Marc MacFarland and environmental specialist Andrea McGillicuddy.

A judge tossed out two of the complaints while allowing three others to go forward to a jury trial, which has yet to be held.

The case was headed for trial, Ellis said, on their claims of defamation and privacy violations against Clifford, and on McGillicuddy's claim that the town denied her medical leave despite her doctor's written statement that she be granted sick leave.

MacFarland and McGillicuddy no longer work in the office, which is now staffed by two temporary employees and Clifford.

"At this time I am only at liberty to say that the parties anticipate that their dispute will be resolved to their mutual satisfaction very shortly," Ellis said this week.

Ellis also said the board of health has taken the position that Massachusetts law gives boards of health broad autonomy and independence from town manager oversight.

Town Manager Kevin Paicos said he plans for now to keep the two subordinate health office workers as temporary.

He said that will save money and keep the town from having to lay off new staffers if future budgets, or regionalization of the health office functions, require changes.

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