Brick taxpayers are footing the bill for the defense of a former Board of Education president over an ethics complaint filed by a former schools superintendent.
Daniel Woska is fending off a by former interim schools superintendent Melindo A. Persi, officials confirmed. Woska is being represented in the matter by the law firm of Montenegro, Thompson, Montenegro & Genz, the firm that formerly represented the school district. The school board unanimously approved the representation at its March 29 regular meeting, the same night the 2011-12 proposed school budget was introduced.
But the representation of Woska came to light at the board's Sept. 15 meeting, when a resident asked why Montenegro's law firm was still billing the school district, even after the new board, elected April 27, hired new legal counsel – the firm of Berry, Sahradnik, Kotzas and Benson. A board attorney said taxpayers are obligated to fund Woska's representation in the matter.
"The school board was obligated, under the indemnification clause, because this happened when he was part of the school board, to provide him with a defense," said Robert D. Budesa, an attorney with the current firm representing the district. Indemnification laws provide for the defense of school board members when they are the subject of a complaint as part of their official duties.
When questioned about concerns over the cost of Woska's representation, Budesa said to his knowledge, Montenegro's firm is "doing what they feel is professionally appropriate to represent Mr. Woska."
The board paid $3,309 in legal fees to the Montenegro firm at the Sept. 15 meeting, fees which Business Administrator James Edwards said included charges left over from when the firm represented the board.
The crux of Persi's complaints against Woska center around his dismissal as superintendent in April 2008, when a board made up of several new members voted to oust Persi at its reorganization meeting. Persi alleges that Woska, who already sat on the board, instructed the assistant board secretary to issue him a Rice notice, a notification given to a public employee whose employment status will be discussed at a meeting, when he was not authorized to do so. Persi's attorney, Robert Shea, argued in legal documents that Woska, who was not yet the board's president, did not inform currently seated board members about the notice in violation of ethics laws.
Persi also alleges in his complaint that Woska surreptitiously discussed his removal as superintendent with then-Assistant Superintendent Mary Ann Ceres, and intentionally planned to have Ceres take the superintendent position, also in violation of ethics laws. At the reorganization meeting where Persi was relieved of his duties, the new board voted to replace him with Ceres.
The state School Ethics Commission decided on June 29 that Persi can pursue complaints against Woska. Persi said, in an e-mail, that a hearing in the case has been scheduled for Jan. 24, 2012.