Malverne School Board Hires Firm to Investigate Complaints Against Trustee

Gina Genti asks why taxpayer funds are being used to probe allegations made against her.

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.

Manny Martinez November 14, 2012 at 10:47 PM
As a West Hempstead resident interested in new and progressive school ideas, I have "followed" many Patch articles and comments from Ms. Genti. I have observed that she is a positive and strong supporter of the students of the Malverne school district. I would be very surprised if Ms. Genti knowingly did anything wrong. I anxiously await the board and the law firm's findings.
jc108 November 14, 2012 at 11:03 PM
It is good to see our tax dollars hard at work! This board is a total embarrassment. What a disgrace!
Jan Kasal November 15, 2012 at 12:38 AM
It is so tiresome to read about the Malverne school board in general. Isn't it something every other month? The recent petition should have asked for all board members to resign instead of rescind the salary. It would be an easy replacement. The administrative incubator is already breeding plenty of new candidates.
Lori Hunt-Lang November 15, 2012 at 04:42 AM
nvite Arnold Diaz to the next meeting...that was repulsive to watch. Spineless, lack of transparency and who works at the law firm? Someone's son, daughter or in-law? GROSS...I'm just sorry my tax $ goes to VS school district or I'd be up there showing my support...where is the support or outrage from the audience? What is this based on?
Allison November 15, 2012 at 12:39 PM
Looks like they are just scared of Gina! She is a great supporter of the Malverne SD children and would never do anything to harm them or their education. This is a disgrace. A firm should be hiredmto investigate the other members of the board to see what they are hiding and why they are so scared.
Mickey K November 15, 2012 at 04:44 PM
Allison November 15, 2012 at 06:16 PM
Since you seem to be an insider, what is she guilt of Mickey?
Gerry Henshaw November 15, 2012 at 06:44 PM
What a complete disgrace & waste of taxpayer money ... Ms. Genti has asked simple straight forward questions that this board (if you can call them that) has refused to answer ... Gutless!! You all (including the admistration) should be ashamed of yourselves ... You cut services to the students & lay off teachers but you find dollars to hire a private law firm to investigate what is surely a red herring because a collegue questions & disagrees with you ... Again Gutless ... My 3rd & 4th grader would act more appropriatley!!
Theresa M. November 15, 2012 at 06:47 PM
Secrets, secrets, secretes…always secrets with the Malverne School Board and then they wonder why residents are so turned off by the Board and Malverne schools in general. If the Trustee who is being accused of something (and please let’s remember people innocent until PROVEN guilty) has no issue with bringing the issue to the public then one would have to wonder what the rest of the Board is hiding.
Tara Conry (Editor) November 15, 2012 at 08:11 PM
Malverne BOE Trustee Gina Genti shares more details and concerns about the investigation into complaints made against her: http://patch.com/A-z7b5
S.M. November 15, 2012 at 09:41 PM
I'd move
Anna November 15, 2012 at 10:24 PM
"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?' " Can't help but wonder if this whole thing is in retaliation against Ms. Genti because she courageously voted against the recent back-room salary increases for the superintendent and assistant superintendents. So, dare to stand up for taxpayers' dollars and you become a target. Hang in there, Gina!
Clioscribe November 18, 2012 at 10:54 PM
Best idea I have heard in this town in years!!!
Clioscribe November 18, 2012 at 10:55 PM
She is guilty of questioning the status quo, looking our for the kids, and representing the tax payers!!!
Jan Kasal December 13, 2012 at 03:32 PM
If you follow the Malverne school district news on a regular basis you are aware that the board of education has recently become an agenda of its own, not leaving much room for any other business. Its conduct has been divisive, obscure, and poisonous. The current school board is a burden and embarrassment to the school district residents. If you are ready to dedicate some time to prepare for the upcoming May 2013 school budget and school board member elections and to change the course, please join others by contacting me at vevajanka@hotmail.com


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