Mt. Ephraim School Board Members File Ethics Complaint Against President

In August, 2015, Mt.  Ephraim Board of Education members, Deena Noonan, Nicholas Salamone, and Diane Vilardo, filed an Ethics Complaint with the School Ethics Commission against Board President, Joan Greenwood, claiming Greenwood violated the code of ethics for school board members.

At issue is the statement that Greenwood made as BOE president on July 13 concerning the renewal vote for the contract of school Superintendent, Leslie Koller, whose contract runs through June 30, 2016.

The Gloucester City News filed an OPRA (Open Public Records Act) request to obtain copies of the School Ethics Act Complaint and all legal documents that have been filed to date.

The statement that Greenwood read was printed in the July 16 edition of the Gloucester City News and read in part:

A vote was taken in June to see if we could begin the renewal process for the Superintendent since it is a contract that we have to negotiate. While a majority of the board supported the motion for renewal, the law requires five votes in favor of renewal to pass.

Since two of our Board Members are conflicted because they have spouses working in the district, it means that a renewal motion requires five out of the seven votes. As you may know, three board members did not support the motion and so the renewal did not pass at that time.

We can revisit the vote anytime between now and next February and I expect to do so. Regardless of the vote last month, the Superintendent is our Superintendent under contract through the end of next school year.

The schools are improving, test scores are up, but there is more work to be done.

As was previously reported in the August 20 edition of the Gloucester City News, Noonan publicly declared her objection during the August 10 BOE meeting by saying the statement was not given to the entire board prior to Greenwood making it.

Board Member Mario Alibrando had asked for clarification.

Noonan responded by reiterating that she objected to Greenwood reading the statement during July’s meeting.

Board member, Diane Vilardo, stated that she too objected and added: “I have concerns.”

The minutes of the June 15 special meeting were also obtained as a result of the OPRA request and reveal that the four BOE members who voted to approve the renewal of Koller’s contract were Carl Ingram, Robbin Malinowski, Rocco Vespe, and Joan Greenwood.

The three BOE members who voted no were Noonan, Salamone, and Vilardo.

The two BOE members who were excused due to conflict were Mario Alibrando and Pat Blaylock.

Noonan, Salamone, and Vilardo filed the Ethics Complaint on their own behalf.

Their Complaint alleges four counts of ethics violations against Greenwood. Among the allegations are that Greenwood violated the code of ethics when “she made comments to the public and the press about contentious Board matters without first having the whole Board review the statement and approve it for presentation.”

Additionally, the Complaint alleges that Greenwood “does not have the authority as one board member to bind the Board to a public statement without the approval of the entire Board.”

The Complaint also contends that the information provided in Greenwood’s statement was misleading to the public, has the ability to compromise the Board and has the potential to be used against the Board because as it stands, the Superintendent’s contract has not been renewed.

According to the Complaint, if the status of the Superintendent’s contract does not change and the contract is not renewed, the Superintendent may use the statements made by Greenwood to allege that there was agreement with the Board that her contract would be renewed.

Noonan, Salamone and, Vilardo are requesting that the School Ethics Commission find that Greenwood violated the School Ethics Act and that she be subject to penalty as provided by the Act.

They are also seeking to have Greenwood removed from her appointed position of BOE president.

During last month’s meeting, the BOE appointed the Parker McCay law firm as special counsel to represent Joan Greenwood at a cost not to exceed $10,000.

Also obtained pursuant to the OPRA request, was the October 13 response that attorney Cameron Morgan filed on Greenwood’s behalf.

Morgan’s response included a Motion to Dismiss based on the inadequacy of the allegations contained in the Complaint and for failing to sufficiently state a violation of the School Ethics Act.

(Note: At the January, 2015 reorganization meeting, the BOE was deadlocked on voting for its president. The BOE voted three times during the meeting, but could not break the tie to name either Diane Vilardo or Joan Greenwood as BOE president. The matter was turned over to the county superintendent, who ultimately appointed Greenwood as BOE president.)

*Article originally appeared in the October 22, 2015 edition of the Gloucester City News.