A group of concerned residents have begun a petition drive to recall two Lacey Township school board members in the wake of a state report that faulted the way the district's solar project was handled.
"The recall initiative was an absolute
necessity caused by the financial mismanagement of the 2008 Solar Project
Referendum," said Regina Discenza, chairperson of The Committee to Recall Eric Schubiger and Maureen Tirella.
At issue is the Lacey school board's hiring of Wayne-based DiCara
Rubino to design and coordinate the installation of solar panels on six schools, do roof work, windows and
The recall group cites the Office of the State Comptroller's March 14 report “Is your School District paying too much for architectural services?” http://www.nj.gov/comptroller/news/docs/comptroller_alert_31114.pdf"The District’s contract with the architectural firm allowed the firm to set its compensation as a percentage of the estimated construction budget," the report states. "Such an arrangement gave the firm a perverse incentive to inflate the estimated project costs. As it turned out, the firm estimated the project construction costs at $16 million, but the actual costs were only $9.9 million."
The firm was overpaid $455,000, according to the state report.
The state investigation began after a 10-page subpoena was served upon former longtime Lacey School Superintendent Richard Starodub. The subpoena was dated Sept. 23, 2011.
“As residents of Lacey, we need to demand that
our elected officials bid out for professional services, such as an architect.”
said Timothy O’Connor, Sr., who co-chairs the recall committee.
Architectural and design services are exempted from public bidding under state law. But board members had "moral and ethical" obligations trying to get the best price for taxpayers, the group said in a press release.
"Since this did not happen, the taxpayers have a right to recall two Board members that approved this project and never asked for any proof of the pricing," Dicenza said.
Only two board members are eligible for recall. Since one board member is beginning her 8th term, she must serve one year and 50 days into her term for recall. Two other board members are in the last 6 months of their term and are also ineligible for recall at this time. But they can resign, Discenza said.
The board members responsible
for what Discenza dubs "the solar financial fiasco" are: Linda Downing, who was board president at
the time and signed the $19.8 million dollar bond document; Jack Martenak, who was board president when the referendum went to the voters in 2008; Eric Schubiger and Maureen Tirella, who voted for the project without asking any financial questions, she said.
"This is true proof that a long-term trusting board allowed camaraderie to get in the way of reason and common sense,"Discenza said.
Martenak and Bruce Carney can not be recalled because they are in the
final six months of their term, she said.
Lacey Township School District Business Administrator and board secretary James Savage signed a preliminary agreement with Wayne-based school architect Di
Cara Rubino, on March 18, 2008, Discenza said.
Discenza says there is no evidence the board saw the contract/agreement prior to the signing. The OSC alert also notes that the school district attorney was never sent a copy of the review.
Discenza asked Lacey school board attorney Arthur M. Stein at the April 2014 board meeting if he ever reviewed the solar contract. Discenza said she showed Stein the OSC statement after the meeting and he said he did not, because the district had done business with the firm before.
"No one is debating that this was a great
green project and is creating the solar power it was projected to produce, but
it was so poorly financed, the public will now suffer for 20 years- the full
length of the $19.8 million dollar bond,” Discenzasaid.
If the group comes up with enough signatures by Sept. 1, no special election is needed and the recall will not cost taxpayers anything, she said."We are asking the residents of Lacey to support the removal and to eventually vote out the remaining board members for gross mismanagement of school district funds," O'Connor said.
Ocean County Clerk Scott M. Colabella approved the recall effort in a May 28 letter to the group.