Even with a just-released 16-page defense, the best answer that board president Jim Dincuff can manage is, “Ms. Patricia Leonhardt misspoke.”
Oops! That’s one helluva $247,310 gaffe.
How one man can manipulate taxpayers, local government, and state officials
After Dincuff casually dismissed allegations about the matter last summer, the board of education has released what seems to be a detailed legal defense against highly-questionable actions of four board officials and administrators.
Last summer, two members of the Clinton Township board of education (BOE) along with the superintendent and business administrator withheld a quarter million dollars of tax relief from taxpayers, and they lied in writing to the Clinton Township council about who made the decision.
Board president Jim Dincuff quickly tried to cover up his manipulation of the funds, the board, and the town council by claiming it was all a misunderstanding.
Now the BOE leadership has issued a 16-page “Q&A” about the matter that reads much like a legal defense. The 26 Q&As achieve little, except to emphasize that there are still no answers about what Dincuff and business adminstrator Patricia Leonhard did:
- They lied to the mayor and council in an e-mail about who decided to withhold the tax relief funds from taxpayers, and
- They withheld advice submitted to the board of education by the mayor and council and by state officials.
It was a lie
On instruction from Dincuff, Leonhardt wrote to the mayor and council that:
“The Clinton Township BOE has decided it needs to have a full BOE discussion regarding these monies.”
As has been demonstrated already (School Board Gang of 4: Manipulation, lies and now… the cover up), there was no meeting of the BOE to “decide” anything. As the Q&A admits, the decision to withhold the tax relief funds was made not by the BOE, but by Dincuff, board member Mark Kaplan, superintendent Kevin Carroll, and business administrator Patricia Leonhardt.
How is it that the mayor and council were misled to believe that the board itself took action to withhold the tax relief funds?
“Ms. Patricia Leonhardt misspoke.”
Leonhardt made it very clear that she did not “misspeak” when she repeatedly affirmed that, “…this wasn’t in any way an oversight, it was a decision…”
Dincuff & Leonhardt withheld an important request from one elected body to another
The Q&A fails to address the fact that Leonhardt and Dincuff withheld an e-mail about the matter, written by township administrator Marvin Joss on behalf of the mayor and council, to the entire Board of Education. The e-mail urged the BOE to return the tax relief funds “to this year’s levy.” The e-mail also included this request:
“Therefore, can you please pass this message along to the Board prior to them meeting to make the decision on how to use these funds.”
If Dincuff and Leonhardt had acted properly, they would have immediately notified one elected body (the board) that another elected body (the council) had submitted a strong recommendation about a quarter million dollars of tax monies.
No Answers in the Q&A
The Q&A document fails to address the key issues in this matter:
- Dincuff and Leonhardt did not pass the e-mail on to the full Board prior to “the decision.”
- Contrary to what Leonhardt wrote to the mayor and council, the school board did not decide to reject the mayor and council’s request, because they knew nothing about it.
- Leonhardt’s e-mail to the mayor and council, in which she lied about “the decision,” was not only approved by board president Jim Dincuff — he instructed her to send it:
“Based on the input I received from other board members, I did not call for a special meeting and had the Business Administrator-Board Secretary report that to the Mayor and Council and to the press on behalf of the board. Instead, the increased state aid would be discussed at the regularly scheduled board meeting.”
— Letter to Editor from board president Jim Dincuff, Hunterdon Democrat, August 30, 2011
Having already withheld information from the BOE; having lied to the mayor and council; and having covered up the entire episode, Dincuff once again claimed authority he does not have. While Dincuff authorized a letter to the mayor and council, he did not do it “on behalf of the board” — because the board never gave him such an instruction or its consent.
Yet Dincuff continues to assert that his actions are “on behalf of the board.” Is it possible the man doesn’t understand the limits of his authority? Worse, is it possible the board does not understand the limits of Dincuff’s authority?
Did the board as a whole consult with its attorney about this matter, prior to issuing its Q&A?
Months have gone by since Dincuff publicly dismissed the entire matter. Suddenly, the board issues a 16-page “explanation” that reads like a legal defense. The board of educations’s Q&A seems to be another step to cover up the actions of the Gang of 4.
If there isn’t an investigation going on by the New Jersey State Department of Education and the State Ethics Commission into this matter, then the new Q&A document suggests why there should be, because the key questions have not been answered.
Once again, Dincuff issues “BOE doubletalk” on behalf of the entire board, rather than address the manipulations that he and a handful of officials engaged in.
Commissioner of Education: You don’t get to address the board
Dincuff invokes is powers repeatedly in the Q&A, including why he is permitted to withhold communications to the school board from the Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Education.
Q&A #20 (there are 26 in total) acknowledges that Acting Commissioner Christopher Cerf sent a letter to the school district urging that the $247,310 of special tax-relief aid be given back to taxpayers immediately. Dincuff explains why he withheld this request from the full board:
Why did Jim Dincuff go so far beyond the limits of responsibility and integrity, to stop two requests before they made it to the board of education?
One request was from another elected body, and one from a top-ranking state official? Both were the exact same request — Please give the money back to taxpayers immediately!
Why did Jim Dincuff withhold $247,310 from taxpayers and elected officials? The 16-page, 26-part Q&A document released by the board gives no satisfactory answer.
But the answer is obvious
Why the Gang of 4 did it is revealed in the Q&A Document #1 (page 8): business administrator Leonhardt’s e-mail to the board, notifying them about the appearance of the $247,310 in special tax-relief funds. She states:
“The good (great?) news is that our state aid increased from a previous net (after the SDA interest deduction) of 541,978 to a new net of 789,288, an increase of 247,310… which will net us even more money.”
Leonhardt doesn’t even mention the fact that the $247,310 was intended by the governor and the department of education for tax relief — immediately. A quarter million dollars shows up unexpectely, and the administrator:
- Doesn’t consider it her duty to inform her employers what the purpose of the money is?
- Doesn’t tell them what their options are?
- Doesn’t affirmatively notify them in that initial e-mail that they have until July 19 to meet to make a board decision, and offer to schedule the meeting?
Of course not, because it was Dincuff’s and Leonhardt’s intent from the start to hide the money — behavior that has been a legacy of the Clinton Township BOE.
To avoid further influence over the board, Leonhardt and Dincuff withheld from the board communications and advice about the purpose of the funds — those e-mails sent to the school district by the mayor and council, and by a state commissioner.
All the subterfuge points to one conclusion: Dincuff, Leonhardt, board member Mark Kaplan, and superintendent Kevin Carroll not only decided to withhold important information and options from the board — they conspired to keep “an increase of 247,310… which will net us even more money.”
Who needs an elected board of education when four people decide?
The rationalization is that the board is still free to consider what to do with the tax-relief funds in the coming year. But this rationalization does not address or excuse the manipulation of money, taxpayers, and elected officials by four individuals who acted on their own.
Rather than issue a 16-page defense of indefensible actions, the board of education should immediately initiate a complete investigation by an independent agency into the actions of the four individuals responsible for subverting representative government.
The board owes its constituents the truth. And it’s overdue.