Township probing BOE


Belleville’s municipal government is taking the unusual step of undertaking a very public examination of the township’s Board of Education.

But, at the same time, as happens often these days with the township’s elected officials, there appears to be some uncertainty over how to proceed with the initiative.

At the behest of Mayor Raymond Kimble, the Township Council was ready to vote for a resolution at the Oct. 6 meeting “to appoint an investigating committee and conduct municipal investigations,” as listed on the meeting agenda. But then Kimble suggested that the resolution be amended to specify that “a [Belleville] citizen” be included as part of the investigating committee and that residents should be given an opportunity to apply for a seat on the committee.

To that suggestion, township attorney Tom Murphy suggested that the governing body consider changing the committee’s size, from the proposed number of four to five “to avoid tie votes.”

And, said Murphy, those five could be specified as “three members of the governing body, one member of the Belleville Police Department who lives in Belleville and one citizen.” Incidentally, Murphy added, the committee “would retain counsel to obtain facts.”

But Kimble – a retired township police chief – said he would prefer to see “two citizens” and “not a police officer” – though he didn’t say why – and, he added, township residents could send applications to township interim manager Kevin Esposito for consideration.

The matter of re-drafting the resolution was left hanging and, as of last week , when The Observer requested a copy of the revised resolution, it was still unavailable, according to the Township Clerk’s Office.

After the meeting, The Observer asked Kimble if he had proposed the resolution and, if so, why. He replied, “Yes, I guess you could say I’m the prime mover.” The mayor said that since 2013, there have been allegations of “improprieties” raised by residents involving the Board of Education, including “Clarity and everything else, which have been turned over to the proper [state] authorities.”

Clarity was retained by the school board to oversee some $2 million in school security systems plus IT support which Councilman Joe Longo strongly defended when he was still serving on the Board of Education. The transaction drew criticism by the teachers’ union and citizen groups. Much of that security system has since been dismantled and Clarity and the school board are in arbitration over disputed billings and payments.

Other concerns have been raised about how the school board ran up a $3.7 million deficit for 2013-2014 and why the board, in spring 2013, paid $20,000 for 2,000 USB flash drives from a local company for whom Councilman Joe Longo – who was then sitting on the school board – worked as a salesman and why those devices reportedly sat in a closet in the superintendent’s office for a year and a half.

Longo told Essex Watch, a citizen advocacy website, that he did not handle the transaction for his company nor did he vote on the purchase.

To date, Kimble said, no criminal charges or indictments have been issued. It’s not unusual, he said, for state probers to take an extended time with investigations. “We’ll try to move it along,” he said, by undertaking a municipal investigation. He said the committee could exercise the right to “subpoena” people to testify.

Asked his reaction to the proposed investigating committee, Longo characterized the strategy as “politically motivated to try and go after the Board of Education for some reason. … I have no idea what they’re looking for. … But if they want to investigate, I have no objection. Go knock yourself out.”

At last week’s meeting, citizen activist Jeff Mattingly played a recording of a phone call message – (which he secured via an OPRA request) – that Longo left for Kevin Esposito sometime in June 2013, inquiring about the status of a price quote he had submitted, on behalf of his employer, for printing the Belleville recycling calendar.

The message says, in part: “I was curious, we put in our number for the recycling calendar for the town …. I was just wondering if it was anywhere in the ballpark, or if you’d give me an idea of where it would need to be. ….”

Asked later how he came to know about the call, Mattingly said the phone message “came to my attention from Esposito, that there existed this recording that Mr. Longo had left on his answering machine.”

Longo confirmed he made the call but characterized Mattingly’s initiative as “much ado about nothing.” Elaborating, he said: “In 2013, before I was a member of the council, I was given an opportunity [on behalf of his employer] by Kevin to offer a price for the printing of the town’s recycling calendar so I gave him a price. It was not a bid. He called me and gave me the specifications and, as any salesman would be expected to do, I called to ask if he had a chance to look at my price to see if I was in the ballpark.”

Longo said he never heard back from Esposito and the printing job ended up going to the same firm that did the work the prior year. He said he did nothing improper, adding, “If I had said, ‘if you give me this job, I’ll do something for you in return,’ then that would be unethical. But I didn’t do that.”

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