The needler in the haystack.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Disturbing messages from Councilor Brown in the Cathcart basketball matter


A Facebook post by Councilor Tracey Brown
regarding Lenny Cathcart and the Recreation Division's
basketball program, forwarded to me by a reader.
(Click on image to enlarge or print.)

On Friday, I received two disturbing messages by Plainfield Councilor Tracey Brown concerning the Lenny Cathcart-Rec Division basketball program matter .

Both a post Brown made on Facebook and a text message she sent to Mayor Mapp (which he has given me permission to post) contain statements that are not in accord with the facts.

Was Councilor Brown speaking out without bothering to gather all the facts? Or did she purposely make misstatements to inflame public opinion?

In addition, her text to Mayor Mapp reveals some really unflattering attitudes and behavior for a Council person.

But first, a little background.

THE REC DIVISION AND BASKETBALL

As you will recall, the Recreation Division was found to be a mess when it was taken over by Veronica Taylor as Superintendent in April 2014, which was after the 2013-14 basketball season.

The Rec Division had basically operated without adult supervision ever since its former director resigned in disgrace after being faced with the possibility of having his alleged misconduct referred to the Union County Prosecutor's office.

Taylor found records were missing or not kept at all, programs were favored or punished at the former Superintendent's whim (including a fake ordinance used to justify some policies), facilities had fallen into disrepair, and fiscal affairs in the Division were in complete disarray.

The popular basketball program was not exempt from the mess.

Taylor's first order of business was to bring some order and accountability into the Division's affairs -- including the basketball program.

Coordinators of various programs -- including basketball -- are seasonal employees, as are the coaches. Seasonal employees are not full-time or permanent employees of the city and do not have the status that such employment would give. They are hired on an as-needed basis and the length of employment may not exceed six months. Taylor found abuse of these personnel parameters upon assuming her responsibilities and took steps to put an end to them.

Among issues Taylor discovered in the basketball program were these --

  • Lax supervision. The coordinator is expected to put in 15 hours per week with hands-on supervision of the program at the various sites when in session. Out-of-town trips prevented Mr. Cathcart from fulfilling this obligation completely.

  • Failure to file coaching plans as required. The justification for spending taxpayer dollars on the program is predicated on helping youngster progress in their skills at the sport. Coaching plans are an essential component of program accountability to the taxpayers. Throughout the 2014-15 season, Taylor pressed for these. Only two coaches complied.

  • Failure to keep complete attendance records as required. This is really a no-brainer. The city is liable for the safety and well-being of program participants. Accurate and complete records are part of the city's risk management strategy. Nevertheless, Taylor found it impossible to achieve complete compliance by the program in her first season.

  • Fundraising issues. When fundraising is done in support of Recreation Division programs, those doing so are required to provide proof to the Rec Division of their IRS certification as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and that their annual reporting requirements are met and kept current. Taylor was never able to get the necessary certifications from Mr. Cathcart during the 2014-15 season.
At the end of the 2014-15 basketball season, Mr. Cathcart publicly stated to employees in the Rec Division that this was his "last season" and that he would not be returning to the program in the 2015-16 season. I am told he even posted that sentiment to his Facebook page, though such a post seems to have been withdrawn if it was made.

In accordance with Mr. Cathcart's statements, Taylor laid out other plans for the 2015-16 season. Her hiring decisions in the program are based on the individual's experience, interest, performance and her professional evaluation.

As a consequence of Mr. Cathcart's stated decision not to continue with the program, Taylor interviewed replacements. The two coaches who had submitted coaching plans were considered. Both had been recruited by Mr. Cathcart and had served in the program for many years. Taylor felt both were qualified, experienced and familiar with the program and its participating families -- and hired them for the 2015-16 season.

Mr. Cathcart now changed his tune. He was interested, after all. Taylor met with Cathcart on Thursday, November 5, and explained that a hiring decision had already been made for the current season.

She did, however, suggest an alternative. Mr. Cathcart had previously expressed an interest in setting up and coaching a "traveling" basketball team. This would broaden the scope of the program, include more children and allow participation by families that could not afford the expense of an AAU program.

Taylor offered Mr. Cathcart the Recreation Division's support for two years to set up the program, with the proviso that he would provide proof of a 501(c)(3) nonprofit to which it could then be spun off.

The city's support for the two years would include stipend support, uniforms, partial underwriting of facility costs, and payment for referees.

Mr. Cathcart asked to think about it overnight, to which Taylor agreed.

In a text message to Taylor sent after hours to her city cellphone, Cathcart declined the offer.

And that is where things stood as of Friday morning, when it became evident that Councilor Brown was chiming in.

COUNCILOR BROWN'S MESSAGES

The first I knew of Councilor Brown's involvement in the issue was the screenshot of a Facebook post she made (see image at beginning of this post) that was forwarded to me by a reader.

Councilor Brown takes up two issues in the post -- the Mapp administration's reaction to the District's withdrawal of support from the long-planned "Youth Summit" (which I wrote about yesterday, see here) and the Cathcart/basketball program matter.

Councilor Brown uses inflammatory language to make her case about Mr. Cathcart's alleged treatment --

  • "dismantling" the program. This is patently untrue; in fact, the program has been expanded and its funding increased.

  • "tear programs apart that have proven successful". See my discussion of the issues with the program above.

  • "given a certain individual (a reference to Superintendent Taylor) the control to treat people (Cathcart) with utter disrespect and get away with it." On this, see the history of Taylor and the program above.
But this is not the worst.

Shortly before 3:00 PM, Mayor Adrian Mapp received a text message from Councilor Brown sent in obvious high dudgeon, filled with accusatory language, and preacherly finger-wagging.

Mayor Mapp has forwarded Brown's text message and given me permission to publish it here --

"Hello, Just discovered that you allowed one of the most successful coaches in the history of the Plfd. Rec. to be Fired after election.what a disgrace. I regret the day I talked city council members into voting yes for your appointment of Roni Taylor. She is the biggest disappointment to this city and the youth of this city since, well anyway. I have the gift of discernment, you allow her to treat people with total disrespect. She can smile and do evil to people that you approve. What a mistake I made. Because you have made her the untouchable golden child it will backfire, trust me. God will not allow evil to win. You said some horrible things about Bill in planning ,but when the people who support you disapproved you changed your mind and inconsiderately left council hanging. Well people who support Mr. Cathcart will also speak out, but they live on the other side of the tracks so I am sure their opinion does not faze you. I have set back an observed what I thought was corruption in your admin., always knew you were going to bless your supporters and family., but this is truly the straw. I do have the gift of discernment and instead of trying to get and prove your man made power, you need to ask  God to search your heart. Not looking for a response. What a disgrace."
Note again the inflammatory language --

  • Cathcart has been "fired" -- which is not at all the case; he removed himself from consideration.

  • Mapp has made Taylor "the untouchable golden child".

  • "God will not allow evil to win" -- Since Brown has apparently done no factfinding in the matter, what "evil" is she referring to?
There are more questions about this intemperate text message that cry for answers. I will take them up tomorrow.


  -- Dan Damon [follow]


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