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Monday, July 1, 2013

Board of Ed: Should it be the slammer for the Grand Slammers? (Part 1)


The Grand Slam team was elected in April 2010;
the struggle over the District's attorneys began at once.

The Office of the State Comptroller Matthew Boxer's investigation of the Plainfield Public Schools (PPS) legal expenses focuses on FY2011, which ran from July 1, 2010 through June 30,2011; the Courier story by Mark Spivey can be found online here.

Many will recall that late spring and early summer 2010 was a period of great turmoil in the school district, with Superintendent Steve Gallon III and his two top aides (and Florida imports) facing criminal charges for lying about the residency of children of the two women who were enrolled in the South Plainfield schools using Gallon's apartment address as their own for registration purposes.

This was also the beginning of the term of the Grand Slam team: Renata Hernandez, Wilma Campbell, Rasheed Abdul-Haqq and Keisha Edwards.

While attention was focused on the Gallon affair, moves were made to ditch the PPS legal firm of Hunt, Hamlin and Ridley (see here) which had a contract to run through June 30, 2010, in favor of Wiener Lesniak, the law firm of State Senator Ray Lesniak (see here).

Boxer's review only picks up after the selection of the new attorneys.

The Board of Education met on May 4, 2010 to reorganize after the April elections, seating the 'Grand Slam' team as new members (Abdul-Haqq, Campbell and Hernandez for three years; Edwards for one year, filling an unexpired term). Lisa Logan-Leach was elected Board president and presided.

On the agenda that evening as 'item U' was a resolution to (re)appoint the firm of Hunt Hamlin Ridley as attorneys for the ensuing fiscal year (FY2011). The resolution was moved by Brenda Gilbert and seconded by Lisa Logan-Leach.

As Maria Pellum subsequently reported (see here), a squabble developed after the resolution was introduced, when Brenda Gilbert attempted to bring to the floor a counter-resolution which evidently would have appointed the Wiener Lesniak firm as the Board attorney. Maria notes that before a discussion could take place, Wilma Campbell objected that Gilbert had not discussed the matter in the executive session preceding the public meeting.

According to Maria, Keisha Edwards asked Gilbert to reveal who told her to move her resolution, which Gilbert refused to do.

After further discussion, Maria reports, it was agreed that the professional services contracts would 'go out for bid' and then be decided.

The vote on the resolution appointing HHR then became pro forma; seven members voted against the motion: the Grand Slam team (Abdul-Haqq, Campbell, Hernandez, Edwards) and Pat Barksdale and Katherina Peterson, meaning that no attorney was selected for the ensuing year.

What happens next is revealing.

An Emergency Meeting is scheduled for that Friday evening, May 7.

By this time, there is considerabe excitement in the community, mainly on account of the Gallon affair and the likelihood it would be dealt with at the Emergency Meeting.

Note the May 7, 2010 Emergency Meeting
is not listed on the District website.

Though a crowd gathered for the Emergency Meeting, the only Board member in attendance was President Logan-Leach; all eight other Board members stayed away. Though the meeting was given public notice, it does not appear on the very thorough list of meeting agendas on the Plainfield Public Schools website (see image above).

Though Board member Renata Hernandez blogged about the meeting the next day in an oblique way on her PepTalk blog (see here), it was not until late August that Maria finally got the exchange of emails she had requested that revealed the maneuvering going on behind the scenes leading up to the May 7 Emergency Meeting (see her post here). It is important to remember that Maria observes a 'suited man' pacing back and forth at both the May 4 and May 7 meetings.

The emails Maria obtained about the May 7 meeting are well worth reading in their entirety. They portray a great deal of anxiety on the part of Board President Logan-Leach, the HHR firm and a previously unheard-from Wiener Lesniak partner, Mark A. Tabakin, who may be the 'suited man' Maria had noted.

But more than that, they contain the text of the Resolutions put forth for that ill-fated meeting. Though they are contained in an email of President Logan-Leach, my suspicion is that they were drawn up for her professionally (see my post on the matter here). Since HHR would hardly have drawn up resolutions intended for their demise, one is left to wonder who did the legal footwork. The answer lies with Logan-Leach.

Here is the multi-part but single resolution Logan-Leach proposed for the Emergency Meeting --

From: Logan-Leach, Lisa C.
To: Ottmann, Gary
Subject: resolution
Sent: Fri 5/7/2010 12:35 PM
Gary here is the resolution for tonight
1. Resolved that pursuant to N.J.S.A. 18A:25-6, the Plainfield Board of Education hereby approves the suspension of Dr. Steve Gallon effective immediately (May 7, 2010), with pay, pending the outcome of the criminal charges filed by the Prosecutor’s office and pending further administrative action by the Board of Education.

2. Resolved that pursuant to N.J.S.A. 18A:25-6, the Plainfield Board of Education hereby approve the suspension of Angela Kemp effective immediately (May 7, 2010), pending the outcome of the criminal charges filed by the Prosecutor’s office and pending further administrative action by the Board of Education.

3. Resolved that the Plainfield Board of Education hereby appoints Gary Ottman as Acting Superintendent of Schools effective May 7, 2010 for a period not to exceed 60 days, subject to the approval of the Executive County Superintendent of Schools.

4. Resolved that the Professional Services Agreement entered between the Plainfield Board of Education and the Law Firm of Hunt, Hamlin and Ridley is hereby terminated, effective May 7, 2010; and

Be it further resolved that the Law Firm of Weiner Lesniak LLP is hereby appointed as legal counsel to the Board, effective May 7, 2010 through June 30, 2010, at the hourly rate of $135.00, pending completion of the RFP process by the Board; and

Be it further resolved that the Law Firm of Hunt, Hamlin and Ridley is directed to immediately cease working on all pending matters and transfer all files to the Law Firm of Weiner Lesniak LLP, along with all appropriately executed substitutions of attorney.

5. Resolved by the Plainfield Board of Education that Angela Kemp be immediately removed from the District payroll as a result of her forfeiture of public employment, unless she produces a Court Order evidencing that she lawfully remain on the District payroll.
Suddenly, without explanation, the replacement of HHR with Wiener Lesniak is introduced, without any justification, in a series of items dealing with the Gallon affair.

Why is the matter of the Board of Ed's attorney brought up in this connection? Was the switch of attorneys an emergency matter?

All of this took place outside the purview of State Comptroller Matthew Boxer.

Read more tomorrow.


Pat Turner Kavanaugh said...

Dan: worth the wait, I guess...where in the world is Maria Pellum when we need her...and what happened to the PHS coaching staff and AD...two state champs boys' basketball...what's this about?

Anonymous said...

Wild police chase in Plainfield today guns and stuff that's the word in da hood.
Word is Snoop caught them

Anonymous said...


This is just the tip of the iceberg!!!!

What about Campbell's PRIOR relationship with Pickett and Craig?

Try real estate.....