The law firm that represented the Toms River Board of Education for over 20 years was ousted Tuesday night when members voted on a new appointment.
After an executive session that lasted about three and a half hours — about an hour longer than anticipated by the board — the firm of Carluccio, Leone, Dimon, Doyle and Sacks was approved by the board in a 6-2 vote. The board's long-serving representation by Gilmore and Monahan was among those considered, but "Clean Slate" members ultimately made their pick.
Members Tom Baxter and Edward Gearity cast their votes against the year-long appointment. Michael Jedziniak was absent from the meeting and did not vote. Before voting, Gearity said that the firm has a "very prestigious" reputation but does not have recent school board experience.
"Unfortunately they have no experience in the last eight or 10 years as school board attorneys or in special education law," he said.
The board failed to make an appointment during their reorganization meeting last week after some members and residents complained that time set aside for an executive session to interview and consider attorney candidates was removed from the meeting agenda. The attorney appointment, as well as the choices for labor counsel and engineering firm, were tabled until the Tuesday special meeting.
Board president Ben Giovine apologized for keeping the public at the High School North auditorium waiting beyond the expected 8 p.m. public session start time.
"Some of the interviews and discussions went on a little longer than we expected," he said. Gearity indicated that two firms were involved in the interview process.
Giovine also said that he "lost sleep" over the Jan. 3 reorganization meeting during which no attorney was present, but he did not believe the board made any legal missteps. Thomas Monahan did not sit with the board Tuesday, but Giovine said that the attorney advised members that it is standard procedure for a board not to have representation before appointing a new attorney at reorganization.
Linda Garvey, a board member who decided not to seek reelection and left in 2011, spoke during public comment and was critical of what she said was an injection of politics into the school board with the appointment.
"I totally agree with the decision to appoint someone other as Monahan as board attorney," she said. But, "school boards are supposed to be nonpartisan."
According to New Jersey campaign contributions information, members of the firm have made financial contributions to Democratic candidates.
"I have a problem with that for many reasons, not the least of which is that [attorney Stephan Leone is] involved in politics on, shall we say, the other aisle," Garvey said.
Leone's association with Giovine were questioned by Garvey, but Giovine said that he is not close with the attorney.
"My relationship with Mr. Leone has been nothing more than a neighbor," he said.
After winning a majority on the board in November, the "Clean Slate" members had enough votes to oust Monahan, something they tried to accomplish — but fell short of by two votes — when his contract was last up for renewal in 2011. Monahan was among the "Ritacco-era professionals" with which the majority of board members wanted to end ties.
"The last two years they came and voted for new members to be on the board, and part of that is because they didn't trust the professionals," said resident Brian McCaskill.
According to the Carluccio, Leone, Dimon, Doyle and Sacks website, the firm has attorneys "that have served and currently serve on the boards of banks, hospitals, colleges, utility companies and corporations." The firm states that it has received distinguished law firm status from the Martindale Hubbell legal information service.
The board also voted to appoint Cleary, Giacobbe, Alfieri and Jacobs as its labor counsel and Maser Consulting as the district's engineering firm on an as-needed basis. In the past, the board had designated numerous engineering firms for use.