BOLLWAGE CALLS FOR STATE MONITOR OF EXPENDITURES FOR ELIZABETH BOE

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BOLLWAGE CALLS FOR STATE MONITOR OF EXPENDITURES FOR ELIZABETH BOE

ELIZABETH, NJ—February 14, 2012— In a letter sent to Acting Commissioner Chris Cerf, Mayor J. Christian Bollwage requested the New Jersey Department of Education appoint a State Monitor of expenditures to conduct an evaluation of the Elizabeth Board of Education. This call to action is in response to the recent findings issued by former Justice Gary Stein as part of an internal report of the organization.

“Shamefully represented as an independent analysis, the conclusions offered within this document were deduced through flawed reasoning,” said Mayor J. Christian Bollwage. “Professionals who support, encourage and practice the dissemination of selective data and misinformation to the public are providing a grave disservice to citizens throughout our nation.”

In a letter dated today, Mayor Bollwage stated that the omission, manipulation and distortion of facts as represented within this report, mirror Philip Morris’ 1954 sponsored “A Frank Statement to Cigarette Smokers,” which declared “…that there is no proof that cigarette smoking is one of the causes (of lung cancer).”

According to Bollwage, in 2012, Justice Stein issues his own version of a “Frank Statement” to taxpayers, where he touts the benefits and excellence provided by the products and services distributed by the Elizabeth Board of Education, while he and his son collect significant paychecks from their sponsors. The information contained within this report mocks the integrity of New Jersey’s educational system and insults the intelligence of every taxpayer.

Within Justice Stein’s review, he explored the issue of nepotism and indicates, “no employment of a Board members’ relative violates State nepotism regulations or the Board’s nepotism policy.” Justifications offered to this conclusion included that: employees related to a current Board member were hired before the member was appointed or elected to the Board; employees were hired prior to the amendment that would prohibit employment of Board members’ relatives as well as employees that were hired after the Board member was elected or appointed were not prohibited to be hired by the terms of the policy in effect. This poor attempt at rationalization chooses to exclude and reject the impact of perceived and actual preferential treatment in hiring including the coincidental availability of employment opportunities for connected individuals.

Several of these relative employees were all provided with the positions of Child Development Associate. Unfortunately, neither a description nor the duties associated with this title were contained within the report; however, there appears to be an overwhelming coincidence that all of these related individuals were employed within this same position.

With reference to Board member voting abstentions on family hires, a disturbing notation was made pertaining to two Board members in particular. On page sixty-one and sixty-two of the report, it is noted that one member changed his vote three times to reflect “abstain” for the hiring of his sisters and brother-in-law, claiming that “…he had not been aware that his family was listed among the people to be appointed.”

Another member’s vote was changed to “abstain” in reference to the hiring of his sister. The justification provided by these elected public officials for the modification of vote status is troubling because by their own omission, they are claiming that they are unaware of what and whom they are voting for at Elizabeth Board of Education meetings.

With reference to employee interviews and campaign donations to the Elizabeth Board of Education, the report conveys that 131 employees were interviewed and “…only one employee responded affirmatively to the question whether the employee felt pressure to donate to a campaign.”  However “…532 individuals were contacted to be a part of this study…243 did not respond, 139 declined to be interviewed and 19 were not interviewed because of scheduling and similar issues.” 

Drawing conclusions for a whole community of employees based upon only a select sample is not holistically representative of facts and/or experiences.  In actuality, more employees declined to be interviewed and did not reply to requests to share information about their employment with the Board of Education, demonstrating a collective fear of retaliation if Board actions pertaining to fundraising and campaign volunteering were exposed. As seventy percent of the individuals declined to participate in the survey and interview process, it can only be concluded that the responses reported were from supporters of the Board of Education; therefore producing biased results. 

On page 70 of the report, Justice Stein states that “there is not one mandatory Ethics Code or Code of Conduct for journalists.” Mayor Bollwage replied to this declaration by stating “It is often said that the best way to lead is by example and therefore the question I would pose to Justice Stein is what ethical guidelines exist for former Supreme Court Justices?”

Along with his son, payments for services such as Special Counsel and this “independent review” have resulted in excess of one million dollars. The shared employer of Justice and Mr. Stein coincidentally happens to be the Elizabeth Board of Education, the subject of this review.

Other cases of nepotism, including promotions and the raises associated with new or higher level positions are strangely silent in this report. In addition, Justice Stein fails to provide a complete list of past and present Board members, who have also benefitted from nepotism. Therefore as the relative association of only selective Board members were identified,  it can only be concluded that monetary increases stemming from the inclusion of all related hires and promotions of past and present relations, would greatly add to the salaries identified within the report. Final tally of all relative information would result in a combined salary total in excess of one million dollars.  

“Although the Elizabeth Board of Education is a big supporter of Governor Christie, it is difficult to justify the retention and consequent payment of Judge Stein in this capacity as a valid expenditure of public dollars,” concluded Mayor Bollwage. “His selective reporting, conclusions drawn from sample sets as well as the exclusion of details associated with facts and events are far from independent and appear to be self-serving.”