At It Again: It’s time for a Clinton Township school board member to resign

Oooooh…  Tarnation! They just keep flubbing the law! Teacher’s gonna be mad…

The bad boys and girls of the Clinton Township school board are at it again.

A candidate in the November 6 Clinton Township school board election misused a Clinton Township recreation department Commissioner’s mailing list for his personal benefit, to tell parents of young soccer players to vote for him and his running mates.

New Jersey statute prohibits using an official position “to secure unwarranted privileges.” Even a fifth grader is smart enough to get this — you don’t need to check the ethics laws, or to consult a lawyer, to know you should not cheat to win.

What does it take for this crowd to behave like adults?

The 3 Ms: Campaigning with a municipal mailing list

Daniel McTiernan was appointed to fill a vacant seat on the school board in 2012. On November 6 he was elected for a three-year term along with Kevin Maloy and Rachel McLaughlin. The three campaigned as a team against just one unknown, newbie candidate, and call themselves “The 3 Ms.”

None of them had ever been elected before. All three were appointed to fill vacated seats. McLaughlin ran in school board elections twice before, but lost.

It seems their campaign needed a little last-minute boost.

Township Commissioner of Soccer

McTiernan is also a Commissioner of girls’ soccer for the Clinton Township recreation department. According to the township’s recreation director, McTiernan is provided with an Excel spreadsheet listing names and contact information of parents whose children play on the rec soccer team.


The list is supposed to be used only for official communications about the soccer program.

But on November 2, McTiernan improperly used his official Township position and the Township mailing list to boost his team’s political prospects by telling soccer parents to vote for the 3 Ms. It’s a benefit their sole competitor — Jill Setaro — didn’t have. It’s a “benefit” that New Jersey law prohibits.

“Vote the 3 M’s”

Signing it with his official title, “Commissioner u 15 girls soccer,” McTiernan sent an e-mail to 62 addresses ostensibly about soccer — but turned it into a political pitch for “the 3M’s”: Dan McTiernan, Kevin Maloy, and Rachel McLaughlin.
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Unwarranted Privileges

The law is clear.

“No local government officer or employee shall use or attempt to use his official position to secure unwarranted privileges or advantages for himself or others;”
N.J.S.A. 40A:9-22.5(c)

A Township sports Commissioner using a Township mailing list to campaign: Was it just an innocent boo-boo?

Hardly. All through 2012 the school board has created a climate marked heavily by ethics issues, ethics accustions, and discussion of ethics at virtually every board meeting. Additionally, McTiernan is a human resources executive; a field in which regulatory compliance is more than half the job. McTiernan knows very well how important it is to understand ethics rules and to behave ethically. In the current school board climate, McTiernan’s unethical behavior is inexcusable.

A History of Unethical Behavior

McTiernan, Maloy, and McLauglin have been key players in the mockery that school board president Jim Dincuff has made of the Clinton Township school district. They have repeatedly violated the law, misled the public, spent money they promised to return to taxpayers, attacked teachers publicly, and made insupportable accusations against citizens and board members who spoke against their budget and questioned their behavior.

Several newspaper editorials have railed against their behavior throughout 2012:

Clinton Township School Board should have been punished for Sunshine Law violations, Express-Times

Sunshine serves many purposes, Hunterdon Democrat

Taking sunshine seriously, Hunterdon Review

Misusing Municipal Lists for “Unwarranted Personal Benefit”: More of The Same

It started with squandering of property tax relief funds sent to the township by the governor — which the board spent, after promising to use it for the purpose it was intended. It turned into abuse of teachers in public during contract negotiations, and abuse of citizens during budget hearings. The misbehavior quickly expanded into abuse of two board members — Freda and Sullivan — who were accused of ethics violations and badgered by McTiernan and other board members to confess. Dincuff admitted he had no “irrefutable evidence” against them, and the public record shows there is no evidence against them whatsoever — or any indication that either of them did anything improper. Dincuff and the board have refused to withdraw the accusations.

Then the board graduated to serious violations of New Jersey law. Faced with a draft lawsuit from public-rights advocate John Paff, the board quickly admitted wrongdoing and passed a resolution promising to stop breaking the law.

Enough? Not by a longshot. Close on the heels of Paff’s suit, Hunterdon County Prosecutor Anthony Kearns notified the board in July that it had violated multiple sections of the Open Public Meetings Act on multiple occasions. Even after the Prosecutor’s warnings, the board continued to break the law again and again in 2012.

That’s the record The 3 Ms ran on and won. (Never underestimate the ignorance or apathy of voters.) They won in part thanks to McTiernan’s misuse of municipal lists in his role as a soccer Commissioner for the township. This unethical use of an official Township role is just more of the same for these school board members.

It should be no surprise

It should be no surprise that school board president Jim Dincuff’s key flunkies on the board campaigned as a gang to stop one unknown candidate. They couldn’t afford any more dissenting opinions on the board.

The effort seems to have been masterminded by the 4th M — board member Maria Grant — who owns the domain name 3ms4ctboe.com behind the political campaign. (If just one more board member had been directly involved in the campaign, it would have been an illegal quorum.) Here’s the public record:

Some parents were so upset at the politicization of Clinton Township girls’ soccer that they shared the e-mail with ExMayor.com.

Yada-Yada-Yada: The Core Values Statement

The school board has been working on a “Core Values Statement” which was initiated at two public board meetings with a special consultant — meetings which violated the New Jersey Open Public Meetings Act when the board failed to provide statutorily-mandated public comment periods. (This school board just can’t stop breaking the law.) Dincuff has announced the board will be voting on the “Core Values” shortly.

But the “Values” include no mention of obeying the law or respecting the public — they merely define how board members shall behave toward one another, apparently to avoid embarrassment in public.

The Core Values statement says nothing about misusing one’s official position for unwarranted personal benefit. The Core Values statement, distributed in draft form to the public, reveals that it’s a meaningless collection of feel-good yada-yada-yada.

Welcome Your Politicized School Board

Say HELLO a new breed of “new” board members — seasoned political players.

Last February, “3 M” member Kevin Meloy voted against moving school board elections to November. He gave an impassioned speech, worrying that  the change would politicize school board elections by encouraging political alliances during campaigns.

How right he was.

McTiernan Should Resign

Daniel McTiernan will have to vote on the Core Values Statement. He votes on matters relating to a $30 million budget and to childrens’ education. Having demonstrated blatant disregard for ethical behavior by using his Commissioner’s role for his own political benefit, and for that of his cronies, McTiernan should resign his positions in the Township recreation department and the school board.

Or, what  is McTiernan teaching our kids on the soccer field? That they should look the other way when the coach cheats to win? That one little, itty-bitty transgression is okay… for adults?

We Don’t Need No Stinking Values

Say HELLO to another new year of legal violations by a team that has shown again and again that it doesn’t give a rat’s batootie about the law, while they “manage” over $30 million of public funds, four physical plants, and the education of over 1,600 children.

You elected them. Say HELLO to the school board’s new values — same as the old values. Nada.

Jim Dincuff’s Last Stand

On March 29, 2012 Dincuff suggested board members Marc Freda and Michelle Sullivan should consider resigning, for “ethics violations” that existed only in his own fantasy. A few minutes later, Dincuff violated multiple sections of the New Jersey Open Public meetings Act — after his own attorney advised him not to conduct an illegal executive session.

Dincuff later admitted he had “no irrefutable evidence” against Freda and Sullivan — who denied any wrongdoing — but he refused to withdraw his accusations. But the accuser turned accused — and a few months later, Dincuff was reprimanded by the County Prosecutor for leading his board to commit violations of state laws. The evidence was irrefutable.

Now Dincuff is faced with irrefutable evidence of an ethics violation in a board member’s own hand — McTiernan’s e-mail, signed in his official capacity as Township scoccer Commissioner.

Having been busted himself, and having failed to come up with proof against Freda and Sullivan, will Dincuff call for McTiernan’s resignation, and will Dincuff file ethics charges against McTiernan?

Of course not. Dincuff hasn’t got the balls or the integrity to enforce the law against his own cronies.

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Posted in Election 2012, Municipal, Schools, State | Leave a comment

New Jersey swallows JCP&L’s “7-10 days” PR gambit

JCP&L executed a brilliant PR tactic as Hurricane Sandy approached New Jersey. Even before the storm hit, and before they could possibly know the extent of outages, JCP&L announced that “it will take 7-10 days to bring power back.”

How’d they know that? Simple: They didn’t.

It was a brilliant public relations gambit. To ward off public and government pressure, JCP&L preemptively set the expectation low — then failed to meet it. The media and government swallowed the line, and by the time anyone realized that absolutely nothing had changed in JCP&L’s disaster plans, we were well into the “7-10 days.”

The problem is not “communications”

The consultant that JCP&L paid for this bit of “communications” chicanery earned their money. But now what’s clear is that government and the media have gotten sucked into the idea that “the problem is communications.”

The problem is inability to effectively respond to a major disaster

“Better communication” is a bullshit proposition in a disaster.

Even Governor Christie has been regurgitating JCP&L’s line about “communications” being better. But the only improvement in communications is that initial line about “7-10 days.” It was a fraud. JCP&L did nothing to provide better or more accurate information day by day, much less hour by hour.

Speak up!

New Jersey residents should deluge the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities with complaints. JCP&L is a power and logistics operation, and their logistics ability was demonstrated to be virtually non-existent.

Misdirected road crews

Road crews were driving up roads blocked by downed trees and power lines — and turning around to leave. When crews were questioned, they said they didn’t know the roads were blocked, and that they were in fact on their way to another site. What a complete waste of much-needed resources and time.

Out-of-state crews with no work orders

Residents chatted with out-of-state line workers at local eateries — and were told the crews were waiting for work orders. The out-of-town workers were mystified that they had come so far to handle an emergency — only to be left waiting around with nothing to do while residents suffered without power.

JCP&L road crews with no work orders

Mayor Mark Desire of High Bridge reportedly authorized his police to stop all JCP&L crews driving through his town — and to ask them for their work orders. Drivers reported they had none. They were driving around with nothing to do, waiting for orders. (Mayor Desire reported this during the daily “update call” between mayors, Governor Christie, and JCP&L officials.) Every mayor should have ordered local police to do the same.

Inadequate parts inventory

Lack of parts at JCP&L has left residents without power still — estimates for resumption are no longer “7-10 days.” Lack of replacement transformers is leaving our neighbors in the dark and in the cold. Where is the inventory? JCP&L had plenty of time to warn us about the “7-10 days,” but had no time since Hurricane and the Halloween storm of 2011 Irene to stock up?

The bullshit gets deeper — big schools without power 11+ days

Readington Township’s two largest schools are still without power 11 days after Sandy hit — with no projected restoration date.

According to a Hunterdon Democrat report:

“JCP&L has really blown it,” school board President David Livingston said today, Nov. 8… Livingston said that JCP&L has told township officials that the problem is a substation on Ridge Road where the circuits were ‘destroyed or badly damaged.'”

What is JCP&L saying? Reports the Democrat:

“JCP&L spokesman Ron Morano said this afternoon, ‘There is no issue with the substation or parts. The curcuits that serve the schools are still being worked on,’ including ‘line work along the way.'”

We’ll translate Morano’s public relations doubletalk: “Anything we tell you is complete and utter bullshit. We don’t have parts, we were unprepared, and we have no idea when power will be restored.”

JCP&L had no plan for necessary resources

President Obama and Governor Christie took over logistics for JCP&L last week. (Nice backup if you can get it. Imagine Microsoft or Apple getting technical support via the White House when they “run out.”) Obama and Christie called up work crews from as far away as Los Angeles — and flew them in on military transport planes. Where was JCP&L’s “preparedness?”

Logistics? What’s that?

You can order a music CD on Amazon and 4 hours later you can track its whereabouts by the hour until it gets to your house. JCP&L doesn’t know where its trucks are, or which lines are being repaired, or where a truck is going next?

Calls to JCP&L during the aftermath revealed one thing: The “operators” were doing nothing but repeating the press releases of the day. They said they were not provided with information about where repair trucks were, or which roads were due for repair next, or how long it would take.

That’s not communications. That’s bullshit public relations. And it sure as hell isn’t a disaster plan.

What can you do? Lean on your government leaders.

Press your municipal and county government officials to lead the effort to shut JCP&L down in NJ. There are competitors ready to step in. Create a rigorous review process that requires hard proof a power company can actually handle a situation like Sandy, and select the best. Include penalties it the agreement. We’ll get a better power vendor.

Anything less is excuses — poor management, and poor leadership.

Some of the excuses we’ve heard and read so far from officials are inexcusable — many officials are merely covering up for one of the most powerful companies in the state. Wonder why?

Thrice screwed

It’s quite a coincidence that New Jersey suffered three massive power outages due to storms in two years — two of them at exactly the same time of year.

It’s no coincidence that JCP&L was no better prepared this year than last year. The company simply isn’t in the business of delivering and managing New Jersey’s power needs. It’s time to pull the plug on JCP&L — but government officials won’t do it if residents go back about their business and wait for the next “7-10 day” outage.

File your complaint. Then attend your next municipal government meeting, and your next county freeholder meeting, and demand that your elected officials lead the charge to pull the plug on JCP&L. It’s their job. Or is their job “better communication,” too?

We should demand action, not public relations gambits.

Thousands of New Jersey residents who are JCP&L customers still don’t have power. They’re freezing their asses off. And JCP&L has no plan for a better response next time. And no one is holding the company to account. It will happen again.

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3 MMMbarrassment for Clinton Township

The “3 Ms” running for “re-election” on the Clinton Township school board are an embarrassment:

  • Kevin Maloy
  • Rachel McLaughlin
  • Dan McTiernan

Hundreds of their campaign signs are all over town. The three incumbents have ganged up as a “team” to run against just one other candidate, Jill Setaro, for the three 3-year seats.

The 3 Ms have now out-spent every school board campaign — to block one new candidate from getting elected.

Editorials About The 3 Ms’ Record

In recent months, the press has had a field day with the board of education these “3 Ms” have turned into a mockery:

Express Times: Clinton Township School Board should have been punished for Sunshine Law violations

Hunterdon Review: Taking Sunshine Seriously

Hunterdon Democrat: Sunshine Serves Many Purposes

The Unelected 3 Ms

Keep in mind: The 3 Ms were never elected in the first place. All were apppointed to fill vacant seats. Rachel McLaughlin ran twice before but was rejected both times by voters.

  • Why didn’t they just run as individuals?
  • What are they “protecting” by runnning as an incumbent gang?
  • What do they have against Setaro, who now has to buy signs and “wage” a campaign for a school board seat?

The 3 Ms: Politicizing School Elections

The 3 Ms have now politicized school board elections. Last February, they decided to eliminate school budget elections and to move school board elections to November, supposedly to encourage more people to run for school board. All they did was make it easier to politicize the campaigns — and to block newcomers. This, after Maloy gave a speech about how school board elections should not be political. So, why does Maloy now feel he has to join up with the other Ms to lock out a new person who’d like ot serve on the board?

It’s hard enough to get people to run for the board. This is how the Ms welcome newcomers?

The 3 Ms’ Record

Maloy, McLaughlin, and McTiernan have a record of supporting the misrepresentations, meeting violations, and bullying of board president Jim Dincuff, and pretending that the most criticized school board in New Jersey is doing just fine.

The 3 Ms continue to violate state law after Hunterdon County Prosecutor slams the board of education for multiple violations of the Open Public Meetings Act: Scofflaw School Board Just Can’t Obey The Law: Dincuff’s crew is a mockery

Vote Against 3 MMMbarrassment

Give a newbie a chance — and send a message that you want this school board cleaned up. Vote for Jill Setaro. And then write in two other names to send a signal to the inbred crowd that most of our board members have become. It’s getting tiring watching violations of New Jersey law committed by the board (as found by the county prosecutor) — and now watching them run for re-election “on their records.”

The 3Ms are an MMMbarrassment — and so is ganging up on one other candidate in a Clinton Township school board election!

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Posted in Election 2012, Municipal, Schools | Leave a comment

“The board of education has made some missteps”

From the Hunterdon Democrat, August 29, 2012:

CLINTON TWP. — Jim Dincuff, president of the board of education, offered an apology to the public in the wake of a recent determination by the county prosecutor that the board had violated the state Open Public Meetings Act during several of its meetings.

The act is also known as the Sunshine Law.

At the Aug. 27 board meeting, Dincuff read from what appeared to a prepared statement, saying, “The board of education has made some missteps on procedural items and would like to apologize for any inconvenience to the public.” [Emphasis added.]

 

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From Life In Hell, Copyright (c) Matt Groening.

 

Kearns said a violation occurred when the board went “into closed/executive session without stating the general nature of the subject to be discussed and stating when the information discussed in the closed session can be expected to be disclosed to the public.”

Another violation occurred because the board failed “to keep reasonably comprehensible minutes of actions taken because the minutes with respect to each of these meetings say that a resolution was passed at the meeting going into closed session and that the reasons for going into closed session were set forth, when in fact they were not.”

The prosecutor explained that there is a discrepancy between what is written in the minutes from the meetings on the three particular dates and the audio recordings of the meetings.
Hunterdon Democrat, August 29, 2012

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News articles:

Clinton Township School Board should have been punished for Sunshine Law violations, Express-Times

Sunshine serves many purposes, Hunterdon Democrat

Taking sunshine seriously, Hunterdon Review

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Posted in Election 2012, Municipal, Schools, Taxes | Leave a comment

Dincuff: “I said there’s no IRREFUTABLE evidence!”

At the March 29, 2012 Clinton Township school board meeting, board president Jim Dincuff accused two board members of violating New Jersey state ethics rules. According to the Hunterdon County Prosecutor, Dincuff then violated the Open Public Meetings Act, N.J.S.A. 10:4-13(a) and N.J.S.A. 10:4-13(b), and took the entire board into an illegal executive session to continue his browbeating of “two specific board members” with his accusations.

Dincuff later disclosed that he was accusing Marc Freda and Michelle Sullivan.

Dincuff has no evidence — because Freda and Sullivan did nothing wrong

In subsequent, well-documented board meetings, Dincuff responded to Freda’s and Sulivan’s demand that he put up or shut up. They demanded to know his evidence, because both denied the accusations. Dincuff folded like a wet rag:

When prompted by both Freda and Sullivan as to whether he had any plans to file formal complaints against them, the board president said, “I think in order to file an official complaint, one needs to have irrefutable evidence” that confidentiality was breached. “At this point I don’t think I see that.”
Hunterdon Review, April 24, 2012

Found guilty of violating New Jersey law himself, Dincuff explains the fine points of “IRREFUTABLE evidence”

At an August 14 “goals setting meeting,” conducted in violation of N.J.S.A. 10:4-12 because Dincuff failed to include a statutorily-required public comment section, Freda explained why he and Sullivan had twice asked the board to make a resolution retracting Dincuff’s accusations — since Dincuff, as board president, speaks for the entire board. And since Dincuff has no evidence to file charges.

Dincuff interrupts Freda — and says (this is not a typo): “I never said there’s no evidence. I said there’s no irrefutable evidence!

Duh.

Well, that explains it.

That explains why Dincuff and the rest of the board have refused to apologize to Freda and Sullivan — while they deliberate their “Core Values.”

Do they need to be knocked in the head with a dummy stick to understand that what Dincuff really means is he doesn’t have a dead rat’s ass worth of evidence? And that’s why he hasn’t “filed a complaint” while he has dragged the entire board into a dark, dark place? [Sorry, due to editorial policy we could use only a live rat. No animals were hurt during the production of this blog posting. -Ed.]

But Dincuff makes it crystal clear who he was accusing — and he wants an apology from them for whatever it is there’s no irrefutable evidence for:

That’s the president of your school board talking — who then revealed what’s really troubling him:

Board members are talking to their constituents without notifying Dincuff and without getting his advance permission:

Freda made it very clear to Dincuff at the August 14 meeting that “I have expressed no confidential information outside of executive session.” Never mind that the executive session in question was conducted by Dincuff illegally — and is thus not protected to begin with.

[Disclosure: The editor of this blog has had communications during 2012 with board members Kevin Maloy, Rachel McLaughlin, Kevin Sturges, Michelle Sullivan, Marc Freda, Jim Dincuff, Michelle Cresti, Maria Grant, and Daniel McTiernan.]

Following the exchange with Dincuff, the rest of the board members — Michelle Sullivan was absent — proceeded to verbally attack Freda. Maria Grant suggested that Freda make a motion for the board to launch an investigation against himself.

But there is no irrefutable evidence

No one produced a shred of evidence to back up Dincuff.

Is the board suffering from collective insanity?

Yes. Irrefutably.

 

Just listen to their meetings, read their meeting minutes, and consider that after being cited by Hunterdon County Prosecutor Anthony Kearns, III for repeatedly violating the New Jersey Open Public Meetings Act, they continue to break the law as if… the majority of them are looney tunes?

 

 

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School board attorney spins Prosecutor’s findings

The Clinton Township school board’s official spokesperson, attorney Vito Gagliardi, is misleading the board and the public about Hunterdon County Prosecutor Anthony Kearns, III’s findings that the board violated the Open Public Meetings Act multiple times on multiple occasions.

At the July 23 school board meeting, Gagliardi spins the Prosecutor’s findings. He says that “the Prosecutor’s Office agreed with our assessment,” as if the board had brought its own violations to the attention of the Prosecutor. But that’s not true.

In a July 11 letter to the school board, the Prosecutor found the board created meeting minutes out of whole cloth: “It is particularly troubling that this pattern of non-disclosure at the public meetings is followed by minutes that wrongly state that the disclosures were made.”

Gagliardi even tries to turn the “troubling” misinformation the Prosecutor found in the meeting minutes into a grand gesture by the business administrator to provide “more specific minutes” than were required.

Here’s the spin

Audio clip from the July 23 school board meeting — Gagliardi speaking to the board:



Transcript:

“The Prosecutor’s Office agreed with our assessment, that is, that the three executive sessions at issue were commenced with a flawed resolution that ironically was compounded by minutes that were more specific than the resolution. That is to say, ironic in the sense that the allegations that the board is somehow trying to conduct business in secret are belied by the fact that the business administrator made the minutes more specific than the actual motion to go into executive session to provide the public with the information that the citizen alleges the public was denied.”

Say what???

If you understand this hundreds-of-dollars-an-hour doubletalk about what’s “ironic” and “belied,” drop us a note with a translation.

Here’s what actually happened

The meeting minutes were not “more specific than the actual motion to to into executive session.” The business administrator added words to the minutes that misrepresent what was in the motion. The Prosecutor explains it simply:

“These entries create the impression that all items above labeled ‘a’ through ‘d’ were discussed during the public portion of the meeting. A review of the audio recordings for each of these meetings proves that they were not.”

“The problem is that these entries do not reflect what actually happened at the February 27, March 26, and March 29 meetings.”

That is, the permanent minutes “wrongly state” the meetings.

Who authorized paying a lawyer to spin the violations?

The chair of the school board’s “communications committee” is Maria Grant. She has not explained who authorized spending legal fees for public relations purposes — and there is no record of the board authorizing funds for this expenditure.

Misinformation: This is la-la land

When will the spin and the steady gush of misinformation from this school board stop? When will board president Jim Dincuff issue an apology for falsely accusing board members Freda and Sullivan of ethics violations? When will Dincuff issue an apology for spending $247,310 of tax relief funds after he promised to put it “toward tax relief?”

When will the board just issue an apology for violating the law and explain how it happened? After spinning its meeting minutes, the board is now “ironically” paying a lawyer to spin the story of the violations:

Everything is just fine in our fair school district! No worries in La-La Land!

The school board’s policy toward the public is now clear: We do whatever we want, regardless of the law, regardless of violations, then we spend legal fees to spin it all into doubletalk that you can’t understand, and we never apologize to anyone for anything. School board Uber Alles.

(The complete recording of the July 23 board meeting is available on the school district’s website.)

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Scofflaw School Board Just Can’t Obey The Law: Dincuff’s crew is a mockery

Oh, no! They did it again!

Jim Dincuff’s Clinton Township school board violated the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), N.J.S.A. 10:4-12.

The fourth time in three months — and all after they voted never to do it again.

Last night, at the August 14, 2012 board meeting, president Dincuff failed to set aside a portion of the meeting for public comment, as required by law. According to a member of the audience:

“They didn’t have any sort of motion necessary to ask
for public comment.”
— Nicole Alliegro

The OPMA says that:

“A board of education shall be required to set aside a portion of every meeting… for public comment.”
— N.J.S.A. 10:4-12

The law doesn’t say, When the board feels like it. Or, When we think somebody in the audience wants to speak. There might be no one in the audience — the law still requires a public comment section. The agenda for the meeting did not announce a public comment period, either. The purpose of the meeting, according to the agenda, was “to review core values and Board Goals.”

Now it’s just a mockery

Hunterdon County Prosecutor Anthony Kearns, III, just got done warning Dincuff that his board has to start obeying the law.

The board just hired a brand new, $120,000 business administrator/board secretary to oversee public meetings.

And the board’s attorney, Vito Gagliardi, just got done promising the Prosecutor, the press, and the public that the violations won’t be repeated.

At this point, is it useful to do anything but mock the board? Their behavior has become one childish dumb-show after another.

Why don’t they set as Core Value #1: The Law Is Important. And Goal #1: Obey The Policeman Every Day. And Rule #1: Stop peeing wherever you feel like when you think no one is watching. We can see you.

Hey, look over there!

Gagliardi, designated by Dincuff as the school board’s official spokesperson, referred to the board’s problem behavior as “technical violations that have been remedied” and made a commitment on behalf of the board:

“I don’t think that anything like this (will be) repeated… I’m happy it’s come to a successful conclusion.”
Hunterdon Democrat, July 27, 2012

In other words, “Hey, look over there!” while Dincuff does it again on August 14. (Cute butt.)

An unrepentant Dincuff

Notably, when the school board passed a resolution on May 14, 2012 promising to stop violating the OPMA, board president Dincuff didn’t offer so much as an explanation, much less an apology, to the public for his board’s behavior.

Perhaps he figured he’d wait until he got busted again for breaking the same law. Or until the entire board gets fed up with being spanked again and again for his failure to manage the school board properly.

May 14

The same evening the board passed its new resolution promising to obey the OPMA, Dincuff asked for a motion to go into executive session — and the board violated the OPMA, N.J.S.A. 10:4-13(b). Attorney Gagliardi was present on the dais and didn’t say a word.

May 19

Just five days after the resolution to obey the OPMA, Dincuff’s board broke the same section of the OPMA it broke last night: N.J.S.A. 10:4-12. A portion of the meeting was not set aside for public comment.

The agenda for that meeting shows no public comment was planned, even though it was required. The official, approved minutes of that meeting confirm that no public comment was held. Oops! Made another wee-wee… That’s two in one week. Call the policeman.

June 4

Just three weeks after voting to obey the OPMA, on June 4 Dincuff took the board into executive session — again in violation of the OPMA, N.J.S.A. 10:4-13(b) — to privately interview candidates for the business administrator and board secretary positions. The board also violated N.J.S.A. 10:4-14, by reporting statements in the official minutes that were never uttered in the meeting. Is the board smarter than a fifth grader? That’s three strikes! Who told???

August 14

As reported above, they broke the law again last night, in the middle of coming up with Core Values and Goals. Clearly, the consultant the board hired, Pam Fiander, doesn’t know the law, either — or maybe she’d have suggested Follow The Law should be Core Value #1. Maybe they should hire a lawyer for another Goals meeting — so they can develop some Legal Goals. No peeing on the law!

How many times before Dincuff is OUT?

This is what it’s come to. The devil made us do it! Who told???

How many times does board president Jim Dincuff have to violate the Open Public Meetings Act before he’s ruled OUT?

How long will eight members of the school board keep letting Dincuff make fools of them? How long will they keep making fools of themselves?

How much public money has to be spent on a lawyer to act as a spokesperson, so Dincuff can avoid facing the public and the press to explain why he keeps pissing all over the the public’s right to open public meetings?

Oh, yeah?

On July 11, 2012 — just over a month ago — Hunterdon County Prosecutor Anthony Kearns, III found the board violated the OPMA on multiple occasions in February and March of this year. Kearns said in a letter to board attorney Vito Gagliardi:

“Since this matter represents the first time that we have been advised of a potential OPMA violation, our purpose at this point is simply to bring this matter to your attention so that you may properly advise your client of its obligations under the OPMA, its obligation to make truthful minutes of meetings under OPMA and other statutes, and that this Office takes such matters seriously.”

 

“Gagliardi said the school board is ‘very pleased that the prosecutor’s office saw fit not to take any further action beyond that letter.’”
Hunterdon Review, July 17, 2012

No kidding, Dick Tracy!

Looks like Dincuff and his board — How do we say this bluntly in New Jersey? — don’t give a rat’s ass what the law requires. And if board Attorney Vito Gagliardi has given the board leaders a crash-course in the Open Public Meetings Act — You’d think he would give them a crib sheet to follow — they must have failed it.

Looks like the good faith warning from the Prosecutor didn’t go far.

We’re not as smart as fifth graders. You got a problem with that?

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Posted in Election 2012, Hunterdon County, Municipal, Schools, Taxes | Leave a comment

Maria Grant: Who cares what the school board voted to do?

The Clinton Township school board has already been warned by County Prosecutor Kearns that it’s a no-no to vote to do one thing, then do something else.

It’s never clear what the Clinton Township school board means to communicate to the public, and Maria Grant — the chair of the board’s “communications committee” — doesn’t seem to care what the board votes to communicate anyway. (When reporting on her notorious “online surveys” Grant doesn’t even bother to tally up all the data before making conclusions about what “the public” wants.)

The school board writes a letter

Since you don’t attend school board meetings, to understand the problem you need to listen to the official audio recording of the last meeting — July 23, 2012. The board voted to authorize a letter to the editor from the board of education — to explain, long after the fact, why it paid a jackpot 40% salary increase to hire a new business administrator who came from a district 1/5 the size of CTSD. The attorney specifically advises the board that it should vote on the letter.

This is from the last few minutes of the meeting. (The whole meeting is archived on the school district’s own website.)

“This [the letter] will come from the entire board?” asks board president Jim Dincuff.

“Yes, and Dr. Clark,” says Maria Grant.

Then attorney Vito Gagliardi says:

“In terms of talking to the press and whether you’re authorized to speak on behalf of the board… The idea is to submit this letter to the editor on behalf of the board. In order to do so, the board needs to formally approve it, hence the vote.”

Dincuff drives the point home. This letter will be from the board, not from any individual:

“I could have sent this out as an individual, Jim Dincuff, member of the Clinton Township board not speaking [sic], Maria Grant could have sent it out as an individual, as a member of the board, but not speaking on behalf of the board. Our feeling was that it was more powerful and more meaningful if there was a motion and it came from the board of education.”

All that discussion — repeatedly making it explicitly clear that this communication will be from the board because no one else is authorized to speak for the board in that letter.

But the letter isn’t from the board

Have a listen to this section of the meeting:

But the letter to the editor is not from the board. It’s from Superintendent Drucilla Clark.

But the board did not authorize a letter from Clark.

So, who authorized the letter from Dr. Clark that actually appeared in the Hunterdon Democrat? Not the board. The board’s name isn’t on it.

Who’s in charge of what the board actually does?

It’s clear that someone is in control — but it’s not the board. Why is Drucilla Clark issuing a statement in her name? Dincuff makes it clear in the meeting that Maria Grant is in charge of the letter:

Who authorized Grant to put Clark’s name on the letter, and not issue it from the entire board?

This board does not control its own behavior.

(We saw that last year, when a select few on the board decided to keep $247,310 of state aid intended for tax relief, without consulting the entire board!) Whoever is driving this bus keeps driving it into the ditch. They can’t even get a letter out.

Is anyone surprised when taxpayers and parents question how the school board manages $30 million of our taxes and the education of our kids? The driver of this bus is asleep at the wheel, meeting after meeting.

No doubt the letter will be “corrected.” After it was issued and published online. Maybe Dincuff will blame the Democrat.

Here’s how your money is spent — after it’s spent

But the bigger point is addressed by board member Marc Freda in the audio. He points out the board should have discussed all the points that are in the letter — but in a public meeting before the board voted to spend $120,000 to hire a business adminisrator making $85,384.

“We’re playing catch-up” says Freda.

And he’s right. If they’d discussed the matter publicly and above-board when they should have, then they wouldn’t need to go through this joke of a “discussion” about a letter after the fact. A letter that doesn’t address the main issues anyway. That isn’t even from the school board.

More of The Same: Act now, make up “explanations” later

Last March, the school board approved a new budget that included over $1.5 million of spending increases — while the number of Clinton Towship students had dropped dramatically. Just before the board voted to approve the extra spending, a taxpayer asked Where is the $1.5 million?

Then-board member Mark Kaplan, chair of the finance committee, explained where the extra funds were. The money had already been spent.

Even when the leadership of this district tries to clean up its own mess, they slip and fall in it.

On June 11, 2012, the school board paid a salary raise to hire a single administrator that’s almost as much as it spends to hire a starting teacher. A 40% increase — $34,616. The board didn’t discuss a word of its decision in public. It was all done in “executive session.” They voted quickly with no deliberation.

Now the board issues a letter — almost two months after the fact — to “explain.” Except the letter and the explanation isn’t from the school board.

Line up the letters — and the apologies

Board president Jim Dincuff still needs to issue a public apology to board members Marc Freda and Michelle Sullivan after falsely accusing them of “ethics violations” to punish their NO votes on the indefensible school budget. Good luck. Dincuff hasn’t got the guts or the integrity. And he has already publicly admitted he has no evidence.

The board voted to issue a letter to the editor from the board. Grant sent it out from an individual.

The next letter needs to be a public apology from communications committee chair Maria Grant — to the rest of the board and to the community, for once again playing games with “communications” from the board. Grant should issue it before she starts issuing her campaign literature next time she runs for re-election.

Doesn’t Clinton Township deserve a break already from this constant mis-management?

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Posted in Election 2012, Municipal, Schools, Taxes | Leave a comment

New Superintendent Drives Cover-Up

In response to criticism about paying another over-the-top salary to an administrator (CTSD Pays Another Jackpot Raise to an Administrator: 40% and a letter to the editor), the Clinton Township school board has issued a statement. But the statement is not from the the board president, Jim Dincuff, or the chair of the communications committee, Maria Grant, or even from the board itself. It’s from new superintendent Dr. Drucilla Clark.

The hope was that the new superintendent would make the board more transparent. Instead, the trend of deflection and misdirection continues. The new super is covering up for the school board’s super-spending on an adminsitrator salary.

A letter from the superintendent, defending the school board?

Superintendent Clark didn’t vote on the hire of a new business administrator (BA). She’s not an elected official. Her letter “explaining” the board’s action to pay a 40% raise to hire a new BA doesn’t explain what the board members themselves have to say about the matter.

Why is the board hiding?

The board has said nothing about the matter. It discussed the matter in executive session on June 4 during interviews. Then it voted on June 11 with no discussion whatsoever in public. Slam, bam, vote to make the hire with no justification. Once again, the BOE engages in duck-and-cover spending. Let a “spokesperson” explain the board’s actions. More of the same.

Same CTSD Story: Pay administrators more, pay teachers less

When you can’t justify spending too much money, explain that everyone is doing it. That’s Dr. Clark’s story in her letter.

But Dr. Clark’s explanation of a 40% salary increase holds no water because she claims the board paid based on the market. Let’s look at the market.

According to the NJ State Report Card, median salary for teachers in NJ in the last reported year was $59,575. The Clinton Township school district (CTSD) pays its teachers 10% less than the median — $53,118. But the board just offered a salary of 8% more than the state median for a new administrator.

Why do we pay teachers less, and administrators more?

BA’s don’t teach kids. And we can’t afford to keep paying taxes to support 40% salary increases for administrators.

Dr. Clark, show us the teacher who was hired in the past year for a 40% salary increase. We’ll show you 4 schools full of teachers who are paid under the state median.

Clark’s apologia is a shameful public relations cover-up by a new administrator who has been deployed by a school board that refuses to explain its own indefensible spending decisions. To add insult to tax injury, Clark tells us the County Superintendent blessed the 40% increase. One highly-paid, un-elected official citing another to cover up an elected board’s super-spending.

Did County Superintendent Jeff Scott interview Spitzer? Has he certified that she’s worth $120,000?

Why didn’t the school board just explain itself before it voted to spend the money and make the hire? There was not one word of discussion by the board at its meeting.

Another jackpot salary raise

The school board has done it again and again — hired adminsitrators earning dramatically less in tiny school districts, giving them jackpot salary increases without explanation or justification.

Dr. Clark does not explain how BA Spitzer’s experience and skills add up to a $120,000 salary when she was making just $85,384 in Franklin.

Show us the experience and expertise

Clark does not explain how and why Spitzer qualifies to manage business for a district that has 5X the budget of Spitzer’s former employer, 4X as many schools, and over 5X more students. Clark explains that the district had a budgeted amount for the position, and that it spent every dime available.

Spitzer may be worth the money, but the board’s action is indefensible because it never explained itself before it made the hire. Once again, deflection and misdirection by a board that demonstrates disregard for the public, and poor stewardship of $30 million in tax dollars.

This isn’t about how much money we can spend, it’s about spending only what we need to. If the board was bent on spending the maximum, why didn’t it find a BA with skills and experience commensurate with the size of our district? The freeholders recently filled a top management position at half what they’d been paying before — they didn’t try to spend all the funds available.

The bottom line

In routine fashion, the board hid its decision process from the public before offering a huge salary increase without saying one word in public to justify the action.

The story is that the chair of the board’s communications committee, Maria Grant, has thrown another PR message to the public after the board — as the Prosecutor has reported — once again withheld information from the public. Grant has repeatedly engaged in duck-and-cover PR while she’s been in charge of communications — her contrived “polls” are legendary.

The bottom line is that spend-and-cover behavior by the school board continues. When the board wants to spend over the top, it does it without saying a word in public. When it gets busted, it sends out “a spokesperson” to “explain” without explaining anything.

Time to stop driving the district into the wall

If the board is to take the Prosecutor’s warnings to heart, it will start disclosing information to the public in public meetings before it takes action — and not offer half-baked second-hand rationalizations after the fact in a letter. Taxpayers, parents, and students deserve better.

Spitzer may be a wonderful BA. But the board has done her and the public a disservice by completely cloaking its decision process and then deploying a spokesperson to defend itself after the fact — without answering the questions that matter.

Rather than justify the hire by telling us what makes Spitzer worth $120,000, Clark explains that the board spent every dime in the budget on the position because it had the cash, and because the County Superintendent said it was okay.

It would have been easy enough for the board to pay Spitzer a small increase, and raise her salary after Spitzer proved herself capable of handling a district 5X bigger than her last one. Just like they do with teachers.

Don’t blame Clark, or Spitzer yet. They’re newcomers. The board has a communications committee that drives information around the district. And once again, the facts — and people — are getting run over. Communications committee chair Maria Grant seems to have no compunction about hanging two new players out on the front hood to take the impacts, while the board’s leadership continues to drive the school district into one wall after another.

If Clark wants to do this district a favor, she needs to take the wheel and demonstrate that there’s new leadership in town. The authorities have already issued one warning to the school board for running the public off the information highway.

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Deliberate, Willful & Knowing: School board keeps breaking the law after resolving to end violations

In a detailed July 11, 2012 letter, Hunterdon County Prosecutor Anthony Kearns, III found that the Clinton Township school board violated several sections of the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) on multiple occasions, failing to properly disclose its executive sessions, and producing inaccurate meeting minutes.

Since then, the school board has made several statements through its attorney, Vito Gagliardi, claiming the violations were “technical violations that have been remedied.” According to a Courier News report, this has been communicated to Prosecutor Kearns, who said, “My office was informed that the school board will use its attorney for guidance in these matters and corrective action will be implemented.”

But public records reveal the school board continued to violate the OPMA at its May 14 meeting — with Gagliardi present — and again on June 4.

The systemic nature of violations that deprive the public of information about the board’s business is further revealed in the board’s failure to “keep reasonably comprehensible minutes of all its meetings.” Inspection of available public documents has revealed that the board conducts executive sessions of one to seven hours — and keeps minutes no longer than one sentence. Failure to record details of closed session meetings suggests tampering with public information records, a violation of a different statute.

School board continues to violate the law

The school board has continued to violate the laws cited by Prosecutor Kearns:

  • After the board was threatened with a lawsuit by an open public meetings advocate.
  • After the board became aware a complaint had been filed with the prosecutor.
  • In Gagliardi’s presence in public, on May 14, without correction from Gagliardi.
  • After the board learned from Gagliardi that the actions were illegal.
  • After the board passed a resolution detailing the violations and implementing procedures to prevent further violations.

The board knew what it was doing was wrong, but kept doing it anyway, thereby subjecting all participants to personal liability.

The Cover-up: Busted again

Evidence gathered from the school board’s own website clearly shows that statements made to the press by attorney Vito Gagliardi on behalf of the school board on July 16 and 17 are inaccurate. These public relations quotes seem intended to cover up additional violations and to deflect attention from the board’s deliberate, willful, and knowing actions to withhold information from the public.

Actions of the board’s officers reveal that:

  • The board either doesn’t understand the law, even after voting to implement procedures to ensure it follows the OPMA, or,
  • The board doesn’t care about following the law, as witnessed by board president Jim Dincuff’s lackadasical behavior at meetings.
  • The board has inadequate legal counsel, reflected in its attorney’s failure to correct an insufficient OPMA resolution in his presence.
  • The board’s officers directed the repeated commission of the violations after all were advised the actions were illegal.

The Cover-up: Busted again

Gagliardi was quoted in the press saying the board put new procedures in place back in May, only days after the complaint was filed:

“We’ve had no issues with regard to the May or June meetings. I don’t think that anything like this (will be) repeated… I’m happy it’s come to a successful conclusion.”
Hunterdon Democrat, July 27, 2012

This is untrue. Public records show the board committed more violations in May and in June, even in the attorney’s presence.

Gagliardi said it’s all taken care of:

“The Morristown-based attorney called the matter ‘technical violations that have been remedied,’ adding that new guidelines under which the board has been operating recently are even more transparent than what’s required under the law.’

‘I’m not sure if there’s anything else the board needs to do,’ Gagliardi said.”
Courier News, July 17, 2012

But what the board needs to do is understand and actually follow the law.

The Hunterdon Democrat asked Gagliardi to “describe” the new procedures that would prevent further violations:

“Gagliardi said, ‘There is a form of resolution that the board secretary will read for an executive session with a very specific itemized list of the basis for going into executive session, that if that process is followed, I think quite frankly the board will be presenting even more detailed information than the statute requires in terms of the basis for going into executive session and informing the public appropriately. The process, I think is what will insure us that we will not have to confront this issue again,’ the board attorney said.”
Courier News, July 17, 2012

But the “form of resolution” implemented after the May 14 “remedy” does not even disclose the information the statute requires — even though it was formulated by the board’s own attorney and its officers, Jim Dincuff, Michelle Cresti, and Anthony Del Sordi.

New violations at same meeting as new resolution

Gagliardi’s references are to the May 14, 2012 school board meeting (click here for meeting minutes), at which the board passed a lengthy resolution detailing the procedures it would follow to ensure compliance with the Open Public Meetings Act.

Attorney Gagliardi was present at that meeting and listened while board president Jim Dincuff violated the OPMA to initiate an executive session in which the board would discuss candidates for a vacant board seat:

N.J.S.A. 10:4-13 states:

No public body shall exclude the public from any meeting to discuss any matter described in [N.J.S.A. 10:4-12b] until the public body shall first adopt a resolution, at a meeting to which the public shall be admitted:

a. Stating the general nature of the subject to be discussed; and
b. Stating as precisely as possible, the time when and the circumstances under which the discussion conducted in closed session of the public body can be disclosed to the public.

With Gagliardi sitting beside him, once again Dincuff broke the law. It is evident in the official recording that Gagliardi did not intervene as his clients voted to adopt Dincuff’s resolution for executive session that violated N.J.S.A. 10:4-13(b.). Dincuff did not state when the board would disclose the discussion it was about to conduct in closed session. And the attorney didn’t say a word.

Dincuff had just put a lengthy resolution on the same meeting’s agenda, to ensure the board properly disclosed information required in both parts (a.) and (b.) of the law. How could the board fail to follow that very law?

Oh, this is so technical — Do we really have to bother?

Are a bunch of town residents serving on the school board supposed to know the law and follow the tedious process of public meetings?

The Clinton Township school board’s officers are:

  • School board president Frank “Jim” Dincuff, a career school administrator with decades of experience as principal in the South Plainfield school district.
  • School board vice president Michelle Cresti, a New Jersey attorney.
  • State-certified school district business administrator and board secretary, Anthony Del Sordi.

All are experts of one kind or another in school board meetings and the law. They know the importance of technical requirements in the law. With three officers who should know better leading them — and with their attorney standing by — the rest of the school board members went into executive session illegally on May 14.

Everything is just fine

Here’s Gagliardi, the board’s attorney of 17 years, speaking this week on behalf of the board to the press about Prosecutor Kearns’ findings:

“Gagliardi said the school board is ‘very pleased that the prosecutor’s office saw fit not to take any further action beyond that letter.’ He added that the Board of Education implemented a new procedure at the beginning of May, which he expects will ensure that ‘technical violations are not likely to be replecated [sic].'” [Emphasis added.]
Hunterdon Review, July 17, 2012

Oops.

Any other public body would have bent over backwards to show the prosecutor that it was worthy of just an initial slap on the wrist — without penalties. This board, through its attorney, repeatedly dismisses the violations as “technical,” misleads the press, the public, and the prosecutor about compliance at subsequent meetings — and keeps violating the law. All the records documenting these violations are on the board’s website.

The minutes of the meeting (p. 6270) confirm the failure to disclose part (b.) of N.J.S.A. 10:4-13.

Three weeks later: Another violation on advice of the business administrator

At the June 4 board meeting, three weeks after the resolution which attorney Gagliardi says “remedied” the board’s bad behavior, board president Dincuff wants to take the board into executive session to interview candidates for the school board business administrator position.

Listen to the audio below.

Dincuff forgets about the law he voted on May 14 to defend, and asks for a motion to go into executive session without the OPMA resolution. Board member Kevin Maloy, who also forgot, makes the motion. (Maybe Maloy figured if the lawyer didn’t say anything last time, there’s no reason to worry this time.)

Anthony Del Sordi, the board’s state-certified business administrator, has to remind the board president that Dincuff must read the required resolution before anyone can make a motion to go to executive session. Dincuff pauses and jokes:

“That’s why I’m glad Michelle showed up!”

There is laughter at the mistake. Michelle Cresti is the vice president of the board to whom Dincuff has assigned the task of reciting the required legal notifications, per N.J.S.A. 10:4-13 (a. and b.). Cresti has probably read so many laws, this one must be a slam-dunk now that she voted special measures to ensure she and the board will follow it.

But Cresti asks whether she has to read the whole thing. Del Sordi, to whom the board pays an annualized $152,000, advises her:

“You can just read the purpose for which we’re going into exec. The last paragraph. The last whereas.”

Uh, yeah. (Who’s the lawyer…?) One school board officer — Del Sordi — has just advised another — Cresti — to ignore half the law. And she does:

Cresti makes no reference to part (b.) of N.J.S.A. 10:4-13. Dincuff takes over, asks for a motion and a second, and takes the board into executive session — again illegally.

Lawyers, a career principal, a certified business administrator — if they can drag the school board into trouble they’ve already promised to avoid, then it’s time to investigate how they’re running the rest of this “Oops — did we do that?” operation. They control education and spend over $30 million each year.

More falsified minutes

Prosecutor Kearns found the board in violation of another section of the OPMA: N.J.S.A. 10:4-14, which, he explains:

“Requires in part that a public body shall keep reasonably comprehensive minutes showing the subjects considered and the action taken.”

The minutes of the June 4 meeting report statements pertaining to the OMPA that were never made. This is notable because, while the board secretary often omits from the minutes details of what was actually said in  meetings, the minutes never report more than what was said. Except in instances involving the OPMA, when the minutes — as Prosecutor Kearns notes — include entire paragraphs that were never spoken at the public meeting.

Again, as the prosecutor notes, it seems the board secretary just copies and pastes boilerplate verbiage into the minutes — different meetings include “nearly identical entries.”

However, the June 4 minutes do confirm that N.J.S.A. 10:4-13(b.) was omitted from the required disclosure.

It’s time for Plan B: The board’s officers knew they were violating the law

As detailed here, evidence from the school board’s own records demonstrates the school board’s officers willfully, deliberately, and with full knowledge of the law violated the Open Public Meetings Act again and again at their May and June meetings — after voting a resolution promising they’d stop, and after their attorney tells the prosecutor they didn’t do it again.

Prosecutor Kearns should now bring actions for the imposition of penalties for violations of the Sunshine Law and other statutes against the board officers who led the entire board to join them in unauthorized actions.

Prosecutor Kearns let the school board off easily, and it’s understandable why. Armed with evidence from just three board meetings, his first objective is compliance with the OPMA — not prosecutions. He writes in his July 11 letter to the board:

“Since this matter represents the first time that we have been advised of a potential OPMA violation, our purpose at this point is simply to bring this matter to your attention so that you may properly advise your client of its obligations under the OPMA, its obligation to make truthful minutes of meetings under OPMA and other statutes, and that this Office takes such matters seriously.”

Kearns grants them the benefit of the doubt, and wants to believe the board did not “knowingly” violate the law — because, he tells them, that would constitute yet another violation.

But Kearns also puts them on notice that “this office takes such matters seriously” and that “the County Prosecutor or the Attorney General may choose to bring an action for imposition of penalties for violations of the Sunshine Law against board members who participate in the unauthorized action.”

It is now well-documented that board president Jim Dincuff, vice president Michelle Cresti, and state-certified board secretary Anthony Del Sordi all knew the law when they continued to violate it — because:

    • They had just adopted a resolution that acknowledged their offenses under the OPMA;
    • They’d been given legal advice about the OPMA by their lawyer Gagliardi; and,
    • They agreed with a public vote to use the legally-required disclosure notices before going into executive session.

Yet at the very meeting where they adopted the “remedy” and discussed the violations — in the presence of their attorney — the officers of the board take the board illegally into executive session.

And again at a meeting just three weeks later:

  • Dincuff ignores the law when he asks for a motion to go to executive session without disclosing the required information to the public,
  • Del Sordi advises Cresti to act in a manner that violates the law,
  • And Cresti — an attorney who should know better — delivers a truncated, inadequate OPMA disclosure statement.

On June 4, the school board’s officers once again led the board into executive session illegally — but with full knowledge of that law at that point. Worse, at the May 14 meeting, they did it under the nose of their attorney Vito Gagliardi — whose inaction reveals the board lacks adequate legal counsel.

The school board officers have created their own public record of willful, knowing, and deliberate violations. The prosecutor should now prosecute the board officers for violating the public’s right to know — and for flaunting the the law after they promised to obey it.

Personal liability

Holders of elected office are citizen volunteers who are assumed to be naive about the law. When they make mistakes, they are protected from liability — or no one would ever serve in public office. If government gets sued and officials are named, government’s attorneys defend them, and the government’s insurance carrier covers litigation costs and the costs of judgments against them. Except when the officials have the benefit of legal counsel that advises them an act is illegal.

If they commit the act anyway, legal principle holds that the governing body they serve on — and its insurance carrier — are no longer liable. They were advised the act was wrong but did it anyway. They become personally liable.

It is clear, based on the actions the board took with respect to the OPMA on May 14, that the board’s officers and the board members had the benefit of legal counsel and that they acted affirmatively to defend the OPMA. They knew the law. When they then violated it, they subjected themselves to personal liability. Or perhaps their laywer didn’t explain that to them. The question now is, who will turn evidence, and who will continue the public relations charade to defend Dincuff’s administration at potentially significant personal cost?

Dincuff has stated that he doesn’t need a lawyer at his board meetings. He’d rather spend the money “on the kids.” (According to an Express Times news report, “Board Attorney Vito A. Gagliardi Jr. said he attended two meetings over the past year. He comes to the meetings only when he is invited, he said.”) Perhaps it’s time for the Hunterdon County Prosecutor to come to the aid of the Clinton Township school board — and to take it over until a full investigation reveals why the board operates as if it is above the law.

Editorial calls for penalties

The Easton Express-Times has called for penalties in the matter:

EDITORIAL: Clinton Township School Board should have been punished for Sunshine Law violations

Note

Complete audio recordings, from which excerpts are provided here, are available on the Clinton Township school district website. So are minutes of public meetings. Minutes of executive sessions are kept under lock and key until you file an OPRA request. (Learn how to do it — get involved in keeping your school board honest.) ExMayor.com will continue to publish as many executive session minutes as we can get our hands on. What you do with them is up to you.

Next

Coming next: Violations of N.J.S.A. 10:4-14 and N.J.S.A. 2C:28-7. Since at least 2007 the board routinely tampered with public records by failing to adequately record its executive sessions.

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