The Montclair Dispatch has waited two weeks for the public records to be returned – we have not received one sentence of the documents requested.
The Montclair Dispatch serves to provide the public with the access to information they have a right to know. The Montclair Board of Education has delayed the release of the public records we are seeking regarding specific items from their June 16 Board meeting. This unwarranted delay, without providing proper reasoning, causes the entire operation to come under further scrutiny from the public and the press.
Between the period of May 17th to May 19th, The Montclair Dispatch requested supporting documentation for 14 of the 50 Montclair Board of Education’s agenda items from their meeting on May 16th. They have since provided no documentation and have twice requested an extension of time to return us these documents. Their first request for an extension was on May 23rd by Diane Bertrand, an assistant to Mr. Steve DiGeronimo, the Board of Education’s Interim Business Administrator to whom the requests were sent. We responded with the following:
“Your request is denied. At a minimum you already have at hand all the supporting documentation that was submitted to the members of the Board of Education. There should be no reason why this information is not readily available today.”
Most recently, Sonya Rold, Executive Assistant to the Business Administrator, sent a second request for an extension from Steve DiGeronimo, Interim Business Administrator. The message reads:
“The Montclair Board of Education (“District”) is in receipt of your Open Public Records Act (“OPRA”) request dated May 17, 2017. Please accept this correspondence as a follow-up to the District’s May 23, 2017 request for an extension of time to complete this request. Due to your numerous simultaneous OPRA requests and the fact that the District has been short-staffed this holiday week, the District seeks a reasonable extension of time to respond. The District anticipates having a response to this request by June 2, 2017.”
It must be assumed that every board member had these documents available when they voted on them. The Board’s unwillingness to disclose this information indicates one of two things – the Board of Education members do not have the proper documentation on hand, and thus would not have been able to properly vote on the resolutions. The other option is that the Montclair Board of Education is knowingly withholding public information for some reason.
The information is public – or should be. The information was requested using the Common Law Right of Access, CLRA, and the New Jersey Open Public Records Act, OPRA, which serves to give the public greater access to records maintained by public agencies in New Jersey. Under OPRA, contracts, bills, vouchers and budgets are required to be made available immediately after requested.
Here is each agenda item requested by The Montclair Dispatch. Under each item are the questions that we as a publication asked ourselves when reading the agenda. It is the Montclair Board of Education’s duty to answer these questions by returning the documents requested.
Agenda Item #3 – Resolution Re: Appointment of Anti-Bullying Coordinator
Who has been appointed? What are the the qualifications required for this appointment? What responsibilities does this appointment entail? Is there money involved with this appointment, and if so, how much?
Agenda Item #6 – Resolution Re: Appointment of Chemical Hygiene Officer and Right To Know Officer for 2017-2018 School Year
Who has been appointed? What are the qualifications required for this appointment? What are responsibilities of these two posts? Are there contracts involved? Are those being appointed being paid? If so, how much?
Agenda Item #9 – Resolution Re: Appointment of Integrated Pest Management Coordinator for 2017-2018 School Year
Who has been appointed? What qualifications regarding pest management are needed to be appointed? What are the responsibilities of this position? Is there a contract for this position? Is there pay for this position? If so, how much?
Agenda Item #18 – Resolution Re: Award of Contracts for Professional Services 2017-2018 Fiscal Year
Who were the contracts given to? Was nepotism involved in the awarding? What did the contracts contain, and how much money are the contracts for? What are these contracts awarded for?
Agenda Item #20 – Resolution Re: Designation of District 504 Compliance Officer for the 2017-2018 School Year
Who was designated for this position? What is a District 504 Compliance Officer? What are the responsibilities of this position? When was the decision made? Is there money involved in this position, and if so, how much?
Agenda Item #21 – Resolution Re: Designation of Newspapers for Legal Advertisement for 2017-2018 School Year
Which newspapers are the newspapers of record? How much is the advertisement rate in these papers?
Agenda Item #30 – Resolution Re: Renewal of Contract/Appointment of Architect of Record for 2017-2018 Fiscal Year
What does this contract contain? Who was appointed or renewed as architect of record? What pay is involved with being architect of record?
Agenda Item #31 – Resolution Re: Renewal of Contracts/Appointments of Legal Counsel for 2017-2018 School Year
Who has received these contracts? What are the responsibilities of the legal counsel? Are members of the legal counsel being paid? If so, how much?
Agenda Item #32 – Resolution Re: Renewal of Contract for Broker of Record – Employee Health Benefits
What does this contract contain? Who is being renewed as broker of record? Why are health benefits listed with this contract renewal but not others?
Agenda Item #34 – Resolution Re: Uniform State Memorandum of Agreement Between Education and Law Enforcement Officials 2017-2018 School year
What is this?
Section P – Business Office Agenda Items
Agenda Item #1 – Resolution Re: Approval of Conference and Travel Report
What is contained within this report?
Agenda Item #3 – Resolution Re: Approval of Submission of Renewal Application for Temporary Instructional Space for Off-Site Use – Salvation Army Community Center, 2017-2018 School Year
What is this? Why is this space designated for use by the Montclair Board of Education? How long have we used this space?
Agenda Item #4 – Resolution Re: Approval of Rental Lease with Salvation Army Community Center, 2017-2018 School Year
How much is being paid for this lease?
Agenda Item #6 – Resolution Re: Award of Contract for Professional Services
Who is this contract being awarded to? For what services?
The Montclair Dispatch strives to provide the public with as much information as practical and possible about how their tax dollars are used, as long as it is clearly in the public’s interest. The Montclair Dispatch only pursues its investigations as a journalistic endeavor and only when the public’s need to know is served.
If any reader has any information that is pertinent to the topics currently being covered, please email it to email@example.com. Watch this space for upcoming stories on the developments of this topic.