Wednesday, December 21, 2016

BOE Voting Meeting - December 13, 2016: Legal Fees Controversy

I finished watching the latest recording of the Middeltown Board of Education meeting late Monday afternoon and needed some time to post it to the blog, so that I could process what I had finished watching. And it's good that I did. The Asbury Park Press posted two articles about what transpired during the meeting which saves me a lot of time trying to explain it myself:

Posted online Monday was, "7 highlights from Middletown schools' audit", which pointed out some very good news for the district:

  • $206,501,974: This figure includes all the money that flows into the district, most of which is property taxes. In 2015, total revenues were $192.8 million.
Property taxes
  • $137,004,630: The township schools are the single-biggest contributor to the bottom line on your property tax bill. The district collected about $4 million more from homeowners in 2016, an increase of 3 percent from the previous year. Local taxes make up 76 percent of the public money that fund Middletown schools.
  • 206,168,208: Transportation was one area that shot up. Getting students to and from school cost $10.8 million, or $866,000 more than in 2015.
Teacher compensation
  • $75,592,658: The cost of instruction increased by less than 1 percent from 2015. The $570,000 in new money went to negotiated salary increases and a handful of new positions. The certified teaching staff was counted at 922.
  • 9,698: For some perspective, 10 years ago the district had 427 more students in class on an average day. There are 12.6 pupils for every teacher. The national average is about 16 to 1, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Cost per pupil
  • $16,510: This represents the highest amount the district has ever spent, but it's still relatively low. The average district in New Jersey was paying close to $20,000 for each student in the 2014-2015 school year, according to the Taxpayers Guide to Education Spending.
  • $68,920,000: That's down $3.8 million from the previous year. The district's bond rating remains at "AA", which is the second-highest rating that Standard & Poor's assigns. Generally speaking, the higher the rating, the less it costs to borrow money. About 4 percent of district spending goes to paying down debt and interest.

I would like to see some of that savings "banked" for a rainy day because I know theater are things coming down the line that will cost the district big time over the next couple of years.

The other article posted yesterday, "Middletown school board hires outside lawyers for ethics dispute", however is what gave me pause and the need to think before posting about what I had experienced after watching the BOE video. During a 20 minute discussion (triad really) beginning at 1:12:00 mark of the video, Middletown Board of Education disfunction once again raised it's ugly head.

In essence, a last minute item was added to the night's Agenda that many Board members weren't fully aware of.  That item was for the approval of the hiring of the law firm of Giordano, Halleran & Cielsa, PC as special counsel to represent 5 Board members in connection with the several ethic complaints they filed against fellow member Joan Minnuies, some of which has been dismissed, while some others have been bumped up to OAL litigation.

For this representation, the school district will be paying any legal bills associated with the litigation of the 5 individual Board members, Vinnie Brand, Bob Banta, Ernest Donnelly, Michael Donlon and BOE president Jim Cody  at the rate of $250/hour for litigation counsel and $100/hour for paralegal/legal assistant time with NO cap on the fees!

When the items was being introduced, Board member Sue Griffin made a motion to table the item until the following meeting, when the new BOE could discuss it further and decide whether it was appropriate or not to continue. After a heated argument between Griffin, Brand and Cody erupted about due diligence of board members still sitting on the Board and what was actually stated in the legal agreement that was to be voted on, the board went into executive session to discuss the item further.

Again you can watch the whole exchange staying at the 1:12:00 minute mark of the video.

In my opinion, this is outrageous and utter waste of tax payers money. If the School Ethics Board dropped some other charges against Joan Minnuies but couldn't decide on others and referred them for OAL litigation to pass the buck so to speak, then the charges aren't worth pursuing if it means that it could cost the district tens of thousands of dollars! And that's not easy for me to say, I'm not a big Joan Minnuies fan.  All this comes down to now is a very expensive, personal vendetta against Minnuies by her fellow board members - two of which, Brand and Banta, will no longer be members of the board, when legal action will proceed and representation will be needed sometime next year.

If action does move forward on this now frivolous legal action, than I think Vinnie Brand and Bob Banta should have to pay for their own legal expenses since they will no longer be members of the Board of Education.

There has also been outrage expressed by some Middletown residents HERE and HERE on Facebook over this.

But, as Board president Jim Cody stated during the video, there's nothing really to worry about.  No money from the school budget will be allocated for legal fees. The cost of legal fees will come out of the BOE's Legal Services budget.  HA-HA, ain't that great! It's all one and the same to me.

I would expect that once the new Board takes control next month this issue will be looked at once again and the correct decision will be made to kill this nonsense once and for all.


Anonymous said...

Once again Mike, you are misinforming people.

“If action does move forward on this now frivolous legal action….”

Where do you get this stuff from, Facebook?

You could not be more wrong. The reason that this matter has been forwarded to the Office of Administrative Law is because the State Ethics Board determined that the charges were in fact serious and not frivolous.

If the charges were determined to be frivolous the matter would have been deemed so and that would have been the end of it. I would think that Joan’s lawyer filed a motion to have the charges declared frivolous and it failed.

The matter has moved from the agency that determines ethics violations to the OAL which decides legal matters. It was moved because it is more serious than just ethics violations.

The Ethics Board didn’t punt, they referred it to a higher authority.

Michael Morris said...

The Ethics Board dropped one charge and could make a decision on the other charges without more information so they "punted" and referred the matter to the OAL.

Lord knows I'm not an advocate for Joan Minnuies. Spending 10s of Thousands of dollars in legal fees just to settle a score is assine and a waste of taxpayers money.

Two board members that signed the complaints against Joan won't be on the board any longer when the case gets to OAL sometime in March. Should taxpayers have to pay their expenses? I think not.

I believe once the new school board is sworn in next month, one of the first things they will do is cancel the contract with the lawyers and move to end proceedings.

I've come to the conclusion that Joan Minnuies is Teflon.

Anonymous said...

Joan Minnuies may have broken the law this time.

Michael Morris said...

If she did then why didn't the Ethics Board rule against her? Because the Ethics Board doesn't nessessarily believe she did. The Board wasn't comfortable in doing so so it recommended sending the case to OAL for further investigation.

The Middletown BOE didn't have to accept the Ethics Board recommendation. The BOE could have let it be but because of the bad blood and the vendetta against Joan, while Cody and Brand still had majority control, they decided to pursue the charges at OAL.

We'll see what happens next month.

Anonymous said...

“Joan Minnuies may have broken the law this time.”

“If she did then why didn't the Ethics Board rule against her?”

The ethics board does not have the authority to make legal determinations. They rule on ethical matters, not legal matters. They referred it to the OAL because that is the job of the OAL, to rule on legal matters that come before state agencies like the state school board.

Members of the Ethics Board are not lawyers. They are appointed by the governor and apparently it is not high on his priority list since there are currently 3 vacant seats.

Joan is going to have a hearing before a OAL judge who can render a legal decision. That judge will refer his decision back to the Ethics board. They have 45 days to dispute or accept the ruling. If they do not dispute it, the OAL decision becomes the final decision.

This is far from frivolous and it is far from over.

Michael Morris said...

Not if the new Board that will be sworn in next month decides to end the proceedings before they start.

As I said, we'll see.

Michael Morris said...

Also keep in mind, this OAL hearing isn't a criminal hearing. No one will be going to jail over any violation of ethics.

That is why this is a frivolous exercise and a waste of tax dollars.

If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and sounds like a duck it must be a duck. Either Joan Minnuies committed ethical violations or she didn't. End of story.

Anonymous said...

There may be more to the story and in fact I have heard that there is more. I won't relay what I heard because I don't spread rumors. Ask around Mike. But don't expect Joan's friends on Facebook to tell you.

Maybe there are more charges than are mentioned in the paper.

You've never shied away from spreading rumors about the BOE before Mike, this is no time to start using discretion.

Michael Morris said...

If you know something than say it. As you well know, you're protected by anonymity when you post here. If you know so much than say it, otherwise you're a troll and no better than I. At least I have the courage to state what I hear and know on this blog.

Anonymous said...

You view spreading rumors as an act of courage?

If that is the case, you must fancy yourself quite the hero.

Michael Morris said...

Just as I thought, you know nothing. You're just troll, always have been and always will be.

Don't bother commenting further, I won't post them.

Anonymous said...

Ugh, this is what we have on our board of ed. and posting anonymously online. No wonder the taxpayers are forever on the hook for their stupidity.