SCHOOL PLAN CALLED A “DISASTER” BY NJ: I told you so, Bobby…

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Nicholas Katzban, of NorthJersey.com reported last night, the state monitor overseeing Lyndhurst Schools finances on Thursday, January 17, 2019 called the Lyndhurst’s Plan to rebuild Lyndhurst’s Schools a financial “disaster”:

READ ABOUT BOBBY GIANGERUSO’S MEETING WITH SCHOOL STATE MONITOR ON JANUARY 17, 2019 LINK HERE:

https://www.northjersey.com/story/news/bergen/lyndhurst/2019/01/17/state-tells-lyndhurst-nj-school-plan-botched-underfunded/2605046002/

READ ABOUT DAVID SIVELLA TAKING LYNDHURST OFFICIALS TO COURT ATTEMPTING TO PROTECT LYNDHURST TAXPAYERS FROM THIS DEBACLE IN 2016:

Lawsuit filed by Lyndhurst resident Sivella seeks to nullify junior high school

Zachary Croce, South BergenitePublished 12:00 a.m. ET May 5, 2016

A Lyndhurst resident has filed two lawsuits against the township and the board of education seeking to nullify an agreement to construct a junior high school that was signed at a March meeting. 

Attorney John M. Carbone filed both lawsuits on April 21 on behalf of David Sivella, who last year filed a lawsuit against the mayor and the township over an alleged undocumented police visit to his home. When reached by phone, Carbone said he doesn’t discuss pending litigation and declined to comment further. 

The lawsuits separately name the Township of Lyndhurst and the Lyndhurst Board of Education, and the accusations in both lawsuits are identical, save for one count additional levied against the Board of Commissioners. Sivella alleges that both boards violated the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) at a special joint meeting held March 8 and that a conflict of interest is present and perpetuated due to Rich DiLascio’s representing both boards as an attorney. 

The additional count is in relation to the caucus meetings held by the Board of Commissioners before each of their regular meetings. Recently, the start time of the meetings was changed from 7 p.m. to immediately following the caucus meetings. 

March 8 meeting

Some of the lawsuit allegations stem from a special joint meeting between the Board of Commissioners and Board of Education held on March 8, during which a shared-services agreement to construct a $53 million junior high school was passed. 

The meeting at the Senior Center was attended by roughly 400 people. 

“I took this case to the courts in an effort to protect the Lyndhurst taxpayers’ right to question our elected officials about this government debt and more,” Sivella said. 

Both the Board of Education and the Commissioners unanimously approved the agreement at the meeting, and Mayor Robert Giangeruso and Board of Education President James Vuono signed the agreement before any public comment was taken. 

State law does not stipulate whether the public hearing must come before or after action is taken at a meeting. 

The suits allege that there was a failure by both boards to provide and “allow a meaningful and timely period for the members of the public and those in attendance to speak upon and comment on the ‘public business.'” 

Sivella further alleges that both bodies acted improperly when they “failed to provide adequate notice” of the meeting. 

Two public notices about the special joint meeting were published on Feb. 13 and Feb. 19 and advertised the start times at 6:30 p.m. then 6 p.m., respectively. 

Sivella demands that the agreement be voided, both boards be barred from violating OPMA in the future and that a public monitor be appointed to “instruct, train, supervise, monitor and report” to ensure OPMA compliance. 

Conflict of interest allegation

The lawsuits contend a conflict of interest is present due to DiLascio’s serving as attorney for both boards. 

DiLascio, also the former mayor, has served as the dual-attorney since 2013 after he concluded his term as a commissioner in May of that year. Sivella contends that both boards “created, maintained, and permitted” a conflict of interest through DiLascio’s appointment. 

“It has been alleged that his serving the two boards is a conflict. If the court determines that to be the case, I think anything resulting that places Lyndhurst or its citizens at a disadvantage should be nullified if that offers a remedy,” Sivella said. He did not elaborate on the nature of the conflict. 

As a result, Sivella demands that action taken under DiLascio’s watch as board of education and town attorney be voided along with his contract. Additionally, the lawsuits demand DiLascio be prohibited from providing future legal services to either board. 

DiLascio declined to comment on the lawsuits; however, he did say that the law firm Rogut McCarthy LLC was retained as bond counsel for the Board of Education and the firm McManimon, Scotland & Baumann, LLC for the Board of Commissioners for this project. 

Both firms, DiLascio said, reviewed the shared-services resolution that was passed on March 8, and because DiLascio represents both boards, the firms served as conflict counsel.

Caucus meeting start time

A third count was levied in the lawsuit against the Board of Commissioners in regard to their caucus meetings, which are held before each of their regularly scheduled meetings. 

Sivella contends the Commissioners fail to post notices of these meetings or the agendas, that no minutes or records are kept of these meetings and there is no public comment portion. An issue is also being raised as to the start time of the Commissioners’ regularly-scheduled meeting. 

Earlier this year, the Commissioners began starting their meetings directly after the caucus meeting, which is typically scheduled for 6 p.m. At the top of meeting agendas, it says the regular meeting will begin “immediately following [the] caucus meeting,” whereas the regular meeting previously began at 7 p.m. 

Most recently, the April 12, regularly scheduled meeting of the Commissioners began at 6:30 p.m. In February the Commissioners came out in opposition to bills that would expand the provisions of the Open Public Records Act and OPMA, which were sponsored by State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg.As with the other counts, Sivella wants an independent monitor appointed to oversee the Commissioners’ actions and for all action taken after March 8 to be voided.

Other pending litigation

Last August Sivella filed a lawsuit against the mayor and the township over an alleged 2014 visit from two uniformed Lyndhurst officers to his home “without just cause and the intention of intimidating, coercing and suppressing” his rights. 

Sivella believed the officers’ visit was in retaliation for his cooperation in an investigation conducted by the Department of Housing and Urban Development concerning Section 8 payments made to Giangeruso, according to the lawsuit.

The case is still in the courts.

Lyndhurst Junior High in question after court order

Jaimie Julia Winters, NorthJerseyPublished 1:23 p.m. ET June 17, 2017 | Updated 11:39 a.m. ET June 18, 2017

Plans to build a junior high school at Matera Field have been put on hold.

The Lyndhurst Board of Commissioners will have to rescind the shared-services agreement with the board of education to build a $53 million junior high school after a consent order was signed by a judge on Friday, June 16.

In the order, signed by Doug Bern representing the commissioners and Jennifer Herrmann, an attorney for the board of education, the township acknowledges wrongdoing under the Open Public Meetings Act and a conflict of interest due to the dual roles held by former  school board and township attorney Richard DiLascio.

The commissioners will also have to reconsider in a public vote whether to go forward with the junior high, according to the order. 

Since the agreement was contingent on the condemnation and closure of Lincoln School and its transference to the township, improvements to district facilities approved by referendum are in jeopardy, as well.

Members of the Lyndhurst Board of Commissioners and

Members of the Lyndhurst Board of Commissioners and Board of Education broke ground on the $53 million Lyndhurst Junior High School on Tuesday, Oct. 11 at Matera Field. The building of the junior high school is a township construction project but the school district is responsible for the curriculum. (Photo: Kaitlyn Kanzler/NorthJersey.com)

Attorney John M. Carbone filed the complaint on behalf of resident David Sivella against the township and school board in April 2016. In the complaint, he alleged that both boards violated the Open Public Meetings Act and that a conflict of interest was present with DiLascio, who drew up the agreement and represented both boards at the time. 

DiLascio, also the former mayor, was appointed unanimously by the school boardand the commissioners to serve as the dual attorney beginning in 2013.

In November 2014, the board of commissioners condemned Lincoln School and declared it an area in need of redevelopment. The plan was to close the school and hand it over to the township, who in turn would sell off the property to a developer to off-set construction costs of the junior high school at Matera Field. The commissioners bonded $50 million last year for construction of the new school. Townships do not have to go to referendum for capital improvement projects.T

Sivella’s complaint asserts that neither board provided adequate notice of the special meeting. Two public notices about the special joint meeting were published on Feb. 13 and Feb. 19 and advertised the start times at 6:30 p.m. then 6 p.m., respectively. The meeting was held March 8, 2016, but immediately following an earlier caucus meeting which was not advertised.

Additionally, the suit contends the agreement was approved without any public comment prior to the vote. The public comment period was held after the motion passed.

State law does not designate whether the public hearing must come before or after action is taken at a meeting.

“If the point is transparency, you don’t vote first then open it up to discussion. It’s like cowboy justice; hang em’ first, try him later,” said Carbone.

Finally the suit cites a conflict of interest with DiLascio representing both boards in a shared services agreement.

DiLascio was not reappointed by either board in May.

DiLascio previously stated that the law firm Rogut McCarthy LLC was retained as bond counsel for the Board of Education and the firm McManimon, Scotland & Baumann, LLC for the Board of Commissioners for the junior high school project. The firms served as conflict counsel because of DiLascio’s representation of both boards, and reviewed the shared-service resolution passed in March, DiLascio said.

In October of last year, a Superior Court judge denied the Lyndhurst Board of Education’s attempt to dismiss the complaint.

Sivella, who spent $30,000 on the suit, said he did it to protect taxpayers’ rights to question the governing body and the school board about the $50 million debt and the scope of the project.

Former Lyndhurst Township/Board of Education attorney

Former Lyndhurst Township/Board of Education attorney Richard DiLascio (Photo: Michael Karas/northjersey.com)

“The scope [of the project] is going to have an impact on the town for the next century,” Sivella said.

Sivella said he is not against expansion in the district, but believes the boards were not transparent about the agreement. 

“Look at this as an opportunity to do it right, not as a defeat,” Sivella said.

The town bonded $50 million for the junior high construction in 2016, paying $2.5 million toward the down payment, CFO Bob Benecke said. In the commissioners’ newly introduced township budget, of the $475,000 in township capital, none is going to the school’s construction, Benecke added. 

A ground breaking was held in October of last year at Matera Field where the commissioners and school board representatives held shovels and donned hardhats with a bulldozer as a backdrop.

Last November, voters approved a $19.8 million proposal to renovate and expand Lyndhurst High School, along with five elementary buildings. 

In March, the Board of Commissioners selected DiCara Rubino Architects as the lowest bidder at nearly $2.28 million for design services for the junior high and $255,000 for designing the renovations to Lyndhurst High School. 

Lawyers for the township and school board were not available at press time.E


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