The needler in the haystack.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Board of Ed: Slammer for the Grand Slammers? (Part 2)


A Mexican standoff involves three armed parties, as in
the scene above from Steampunk 2012 in London.
(Photo by Martin SoulStealer.)

When we left the Plainfield Board of Ed yesterday, they had gotten their knickers in a twist over the selection of a board attorney for FY2011.

It became evident that board president Lisa Logan-Leach was advancing the interests of Weiner Lesniak, the state senator's firm, while some were supporting the current firm of Hunt Hamlin Ridley (HHR).

At the Board's May 4 meeting, it seemed all had agreed to solicit proposals from law firms and then make a selection
(see Maria Pellum on that point here); Logan-Leach's abortive May 7 Emergency Meeting had been derailed when HHR frightened off Board members with the threat that the matter of attorney selection did not meet the state's criteria for an emergency meeting and would expose the Board to liability.

Interestingly, the Mexican standoff was resolved during the following six weeks, because at its June 22, 2010 meeting the Board of Ed adopted resolutions dividing the legal work between two firms (see minutes here).

Resolution P-1 that evening was to appoint a previously unmentioned firm, Pickett & Craig of West Orange, as general and labor counsel at a rate to be determined. Their selection was moved by Wilma Campbell and seconded by Renata Hernandez. They were joined in the vote by members Rasheed Abdul-Haqq, Keisha Edwards, Lennie Cathcart and Katherine Peterson. Pat Barksdale and Brenda Gilbert abstained; Lisa Logan-Leach voted no. The motion was carried: 6-1-2.

Resolution P-2 was to appoint HHR as Workers Compensation Counsel at a rate to be determined. Lenny Cathcart made the motion, which was seconded by Katherine Peterson. They were joined in the vote by members Rasheed Abdul-Haqq, Pat Barksdale, Wilma Campbell, Keisha Edwards and Brenda Gilbert. Renata Hernandez and Lisa Logan-Leach voted no. The motion was carried: 7-2.

The public was not made aware of how many firms had submitted proposals for the business, what each was to be paid (both resolutions specified 'to be determined'), nor how the decision was arrived at to pick the firms of Pickett & Craig and HHR and divide the work between them.

As the contracts are awarded, we see that the three-way Mexican standoff has been changed to roughly two teams (the GrandSlammers and Barksdale-Cathcart-Gilbert-Peterson), with Logan-Leach disarmed and shunted aside.

None of this intrigue is found in Comptroller Matthew Boxer's report (see here), which only begins to pick up the story at this point.

In his write up for the Courier News (see here), reporter Mark Spivey points out that the Plainfield Board of Ed actually spent much more on legal fees in the year before Boxer's review (about $580,000) when HHR was the sole legal firm, which ought to raise eyebrows even more. No wonder that HHR fought so tenaciously for a piece of the pie.

Now we have to look at how and why the contract as actually drawn up differed from the proposal submitted by Pickett & Craig and how that opened the flood gates to the wave of overbillings and other shenanigans that Boxer uncovered.

We'll pick the story up again on Monday.



-- Dan Damon [follow]

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2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Does the Lesniak law firm promise jobs and campaign contributions to Plainfield Dems in exchange for contracts?

Anonymous said...

It may be the $5000 Jerry Green paid to bankroll the BLKM team the year before, or the $5000 that Lesniak chipped in. Who says money doesn't talk?