The Malverne Board of Education approved a resolution Tuesday night to appoint the law firm of Ingerman Smith, LLP to investigate complaints made by staff within the school district against Trustee Gina Genti.
Although school officials did not explicitly say that Genti was the subject of the investigation, she was barred from voting on the resolution, which received the full support of all her fellow board members, Peg O'Connor, Michael Taylor, Joey Bottitta and Danielle Hopkins.
However, Genti was permitted to ask some questions about the matter, which were fielded by Board President Peg O'Connor and the district's attorney, Florence Frazer, Frazer & Feldman, LLP.
"Why do we need another law firm at needless added expense in this time of fiscal hardship, thereby, depriving the children of tax dollars that should be used for educational, and not political, purposes?" Genti asked.
"You have a policy that says you need to do this," responded Frazer, referring to Board Policy 6122.
According to the resolution, this policy "provides for the implementation of regulations for the redress of staff complaints." These regulations include appointing an "impartial investigator where a complaint is lodged against a Board Trustee."
Genti then asked whether the board issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) before deciding to hire Ingerman Smith, LLP, to which, Frazer responded, "It's not necessary to put out an RFP for these kinds of services."
This is not the first time that the district has sought Ingerman Smith's services. In December 2011 that the Malverne school district had been paying the firm since early July 2011 to provide special counsel services, but what these services were and the motives for hiring the additional firm were not disclosed.
Patch had obtained a copy of the retainer agreement between the district and the law firm through a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request fulfilled by the district clerk, but the section detailing the scope of representation was concealed using a black marker. It did, however, reveal what the firm had been charging the district - $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. The agreement was effective until June 30, 2012, but the district had the option to terminate it sooner if it desired.
Knowing all this, Genti asked the board Tuesday night, "Has Ingerman Smith received payment for legal services over this or last fiscal year, and if so, how much and for what services?"
But O'Connor refused to answer, stating, "I'm not going to discuss this litigation in public, because we don't discuss litigation in public, ever."
Genti then asked, "Has Ingerman Smith served as the personal attorney for the superintendent in the past and if so, does this create an appearance of lack of impartiality?"
O'Connor rebuffed the question, adding, "I am not answering any of these questions. It has nothing to do with us. We don't discuss personnel, we don't discuss negotiations and we don't discuss litigation in public."
She then asked Bottitta to read aloud the resolution, which stated:
"Now, Therefore Be It Resolved, that the Board of Education hereby appoints the law firm of Ingerman Smith, LLP as impartial investigator to conduct an in investigation regarding staff complaints against a Board Trustee, which were previously reviewed by the members of the Board of Education."
Watch the video above to view the full exchange, and share your thoughts in the comments section.