Sunday, February 9, 2014

Why was an ethics complaint against Hillside Board of Ed President and member withdrawn?

Update2:  I e-mailed Ms. Watson for information and received the following e-mail response:
          Sun, Feb 9, 2014 at 11:06 PM 
Good Day Mr. Paff,

I am in receipt of this email. I was not aware you even sent an email inquiring about such.
Unfortunately Mr. Cook have provided you with false information in regards to why I actually withdrew the complaint. 

I withdrew the complaint because it is the policy of the board to cover the legal cost of BOE members when such charges are filed. When we attended the hearing, the Administrative Law Judge explained the matter would need to go to trial.  Also based on other items on the docket it will be some time. So I decided it will be best to withdraw the complaint because of the financial drain it was causing the Hillside BOE. I believe the monies that were being paid for attorney fees for Mr. Cook and Mr.Trotte to defend themselves could have been used elsewhere in the district.  Mr. Cook is being untruthful in that my allegations were unsubstantiated.  Actually I was able thru OPRA request, to obtain the campaign donations for Mr.Cook run for several positions in Hillside which showed many donations from Mr. Montero.

I am responding because, the truth needs to be reported.

If you have any questions please feel free to contact me at this email.
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Update1:  I e-mailed Mr. Cook for information and received the following e-mail response:

Sun, Feb 9, 2014 at 2:14 PM

Mrs. Watson's  complaint was withdrawn after a hearing with the Office of Administrative Law. Many of her claims were unsubstantiated as Tony Montiero never served as anyone's campaign manager or donated to anyone's campaign. It is also relevant to note that these were RFP's and not RFQ's. The district does not have to take the lowest bid but can take the vendor that most matches what it was looking for. 
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 In her handwritten, January 16, 2013 letter, Hillside Township (Union County) Board of Education member Rayba Watson stated that she "would like to withdraw" her ethics complaint against Board President George Cook and former Board member Robert Trotte.

Watson filed her complaint on December 6, 2011 with the School Ethics Commission alleging that Cook and Trotte violated the New Jersey School Ethics Act by voting in favor of a $60,000 health insurance brokerage contract award to Fairview Insurance Agency Associates, Inc.  Watson alleged that Fairview's representative, Tony Monteiro, served as campaign manager for Cook's run for Hillside Township Council and may have "financially contributed to" Cook's Council campaign as well as Trotte's run for school board in April 2011.  She alleged that the pair voted to award the contract to Fairview at the Board's October 20, 2011 meeting despite having been previously told by Board attorney Perry Lattiboudere that they should recuse themselves from the meetings at which Fairview was interviewed by the Board.

The October 20, 2011 meeting minutes, attached to Watson's complaint, show that the motion to award Fairview the $60,000 contract was passed by a 5 to 3 vote with both Cook and Trotte voting in the affirmative.  Watson's complaint alleges that Fairview's contract was $12,000 more than those of two other brokers who were previously recommended by the Board's Finance Committee.

Watson's complaint was forwarded to the Office of Administrative Law and an April 24, 2012 Prehearing Order had scheduled the matter for a plenary hearing for September 28, 2012, approximately three months before Watson withdrew her complaint.

I am considering re-filing this ethics complaint myself, but would first like to learn whether the allegations in Watson's complaint are accurate and provable and the reason why she withdrew it.  Readers should feel free to send me material anonymously to John Paff, P.O. Box 5424, Somerset, NJ  08875.