Recall Petition Of Two Lacey Board Members Cites 'Gross Mismanagement' Of Solar Project

Ocean County Clerk Scott M. Colabella approves recall request

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 boilers.

"The taxpayers were asked to bond for an excess $8.2 million dollars, resulting in an interest payment of an additional $3.5 million," Discenza said. "Not one piece of paper was able to back up the original referendum amount of $19.8 million."

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.

Brandy the Dog June 16, 2014 at 11:15 PM
Why not a Power Purchase Agreement here? James Savage said, "We didn't ant to give the credits to a vendor". Jack Martenak said "It's a no-brainier". Richard Starodud said," that pretty agressive, I think." Pretty stupid when they could have gotten a deal like this with NO risk: [" Burlington County Times, November 27, 2013
 Southampton School District Charged Up About Solar Project By Todd McHale Staff writer SOUTHAMPTON — Soon, clear and sunny days will mean savings for the school district. A solar array under construction on the grounds of School No. 2 and School No. 3 is expected to cut the district’s electricity costs by tens of thousands of dollars every year for more than a decade. The 554-kilowatt system is projected to save the district $1.05 million in energy costs over a 15-year agreement with Marina Energy and solar provider Ray Angelini Inc. Under the terms of the agreement, Marina Energy will own the system and sell the electricity to the school district at a discounted rate. Angelini is responsible for designing, constructing and maintaining the system. School board President Betty Wright called the solar array a “win-win situation for everyone” with the reduction in costs and energy consumption. “When the system is operational, it will generate approximately 98 percent of the electricity used in School No. 2 and School No. 3, all without impacting the environment,” Wright said. Workers began construction of the project last month on a tract adjacent to the schools and administration building and expect to finish by the end of the year. When completed, the array will have more than 2,100 solar panels, according to Joe Joyce, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Ray Angelini. “That will generate almost all the electricity the schools use,” Joyce said. Superintendent Michael Harris said the district will save between $65,000 and $70,000 a year. “That’s significant for a school district this size,” Harris said. “That’s two or three mobile computer labs or a teacher.” Stephen Poniatowicz of Marina Energy said the company looks forward to the system being turned on and saving the district money. “Marina is proud to be a partner with Southampton schools to help drive the cost of energy down,” said Poniatowicz, the company’s vice president and chief operating officer. Angelini crews last week worked to complete the racks that will hold the solar panels. Foreman Mike Stauffer said the weather has cooperated and allowed the workers to get a good jump on completing the project. The system will be the third the company has constructed for a school district in Burlington County. The others are in Medford and Medford Lakes. “We’ve done them all over,” Stauffer said. “Right now, we have huge projects in the Gloucester Township school system, Gloucester County College, Gloucester Institute of Technology. Those are just a few we have going on at the moment.” For nearly two years, the district and its partners worked to get all the approvals needed and space on the grid. They even agreed to shift the solar array out of the Vincentown Village Historic District, which has been entered in the state and national registries of historic places. “Bringing this project to construction has been a long journey,” Joyce said. “It’s a testament to the dedication of the Southampton Board of Education to both save taxpayers money and provide an environmental educational opportunity.” He credited district officials for “continuing to have the patience to see it through. It took a lot of cool heads.” Even though the system is expected to be turned on after the first of the year, the project will not be completed until spring, when crews put in some landscaping to buffer the solar array and provide educational opportunities for students and residents. “The landscaping will include wild grasses, wildflowers and shrubbery,” Harris said. “We are planning on using this area for environmental education classes.”]
Tim - tried to reach you, yesterday - In court on the ballot-bullying suit on Thursday - afterwards?
4Liberty July 16, 2014 at 07:08 PM
Is it amazing that within minutes of the Ocean County Board of Election Office receiving a petition to challenge the “good old boys” in Lacey’s upcoming BOE election that the phone calls went out? This needs to be investigated that State Officials started making calls. Hey, Gov. Christie as the US Attorney to New Jersey, you prosecute 135 corrupted public officials. You forgot the ones in Ocean County. How does a State Senator get a call before the inks is dry. What is in it for him, who gets elected to the LT BOE, maybe a job???
Maybe someone's law firm was banking on picking up the slack in Lacey after losing the Board of Ed contract in Brick. Public figures, so, yeah, I said it.
Tim July 17, 2014 at 08:11 AM
The Lacey School Board Recall Effort has been defeated by procedure. Last Thursday the County Clerk finally certified the Petition format. However, in the same meeting we were told that all 5,000 signatures needed to be obtained prior to August 12th. That is about four weeks. Then the County Clerk had ten days to verify the signatures on the petition. If the County Clerk finds a sufficient number of signatures were obtained, then there is a ten day period for the individuals being Recalled just has to challenge the Petition. If a guaranteed challenge is simply filed, the clock has run out and the Recall effort is over. The only recourse is to start all over again from the beginning and go for the Recall to be placed on a special election.


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