Malverne Board of Education Trustee Gina Genti does not fault her fellow school board members for following up on a complaint made against her by district employees.
"I feel strongly that any complaint against anyone needs to be addressed," Genti told Patch Wednesday, , to serve as the "impartial investigator" to conduct an investigation regarding staff complaints made against her.
"My biggest issue with the whole thing is who they hired," she added.
To save taxpayer dollars, Genti contends that the district could have tapped an investigator at a fraction of the cost of a law firm. According to the district's last contract with Ingerman Smith, which expired in June 2012, the firm was charging $250 per hour plus the cost of any out-of-pocket expenses including fees for filing, processing, delivery, and photocopying, as well as travel and meals.
Her second objection is to the specific firm selected, questioning its "impartiality" due to its past affiliation with the district and Malverne's superintendent, Dr. James Hunderfund.
According to an article published in Newsday in 2006, Hunderfund's personal attorney, John Gross, is a partner in Ingerman Smith LLP. (Gross is still listed as a partner on the firm's Web site.) Newsday also reported that Ingerman Smith provided legal services for the Jericho School District, where Hunderfund's wife, was serving as an assistant superintendent, at the time.
"The impartial piece goes right out the window," she said.
Board of Education President Peg O' Connor refused to answer Genti's questions regarding the firm during Tuesday's meeting, but she did release this statement to Patch:
The Board of Education interviewed a number of well-qualified law firms to address our need for independent counsel, which was required because existing general counsel cannot (ethically) investigate Board members it already represents. The Board unanimously chose Ingerman, Smith for this work, and the Superintendent was, of course, not a part of the hiring process, as this was not an administrative or school matter.
There is absolutely no conflict here as this is an issue between the Board of Education and one of its members. The superintendent is not a party to the action of the Board regarding its individual members.
Although Genti could not comment on the specific details of the complaint lodged against her at this time, she did say it was filed nearly one year ago and involved Facebook. (Genti is a frequent commenter in the "I Love Malverne And Care About Our Schools" Facebook group.)
It took the board until April 2012, nearly six months after the complaint was filed, to adopt regulations addressing how to deal with it, or any complaint made by a staff member, explained Genti. Four trustees voted in favor of the guidelines but she opposed them for "numerous reasons."
She said she didn't have adequate time to do her "due diligence" on the regulations and therefore, didn't feel comfortable voting on them. But her main objection to the procedure created by the guidelines was that it "stifled a board member's ability to vote," something she says should never be allowed.
Although the board adopted the regulations, Genti said they did not do much with them after that. But with the resignation of Trustee Patrick Coonan and the retirement of Karen Aker, the May 2012 election soon brought two new faces, Michael Taylor and Josephine Bottitta, to the board.
"Now, we have a new board and that new board felt compelled to move forward with this issue even though they weren't here [when the complaint was made]," Genti said.
Although Genti has yet to reveal exactly which of her Facebook posts has put her in hot water, she did say this: "What some people consider a complaint, I consider doing my due diligence."
She also pointed out that she is only one of five board members, and therefore, she alone "couldn't possibly adversely affect the employment of any one employee." She added, "You may not like me, but doesn't mean I can harm you."