After nearly 10 months, the New Jersey School Ethics Commission has ruled that West New York Board of Education President Steven Rodas exceeded his authority by issuing Rice notices to district employees.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
In their 17-page decision issued on September 23, the commission, which is a part of the state Department of Education, ruled that Rodas “took private action when he unilaterally prepared and had served the Rice notice to the business administrator, a district employee, without the authority of the board or superintendent.”
As only Hudson County View reported back in January, West New York BOE trustee Matthew Cheng – a typically outspoken member of the board who opposes Mayor Felix Roque and his allies – filed the complaint against Rodas on December 17.
He alleged that the board president, who was re-elected in November, did not have the authority to serve then-School Business Administrator Kevin Franchetta, as well as then-Superintendent John Fauta, Rice notices.
Rice notices are provided to an employee prior to discussion of their employment status.
When asked about Cheng’s complaint against Rodas back in January, Fauta acknowledged that he was served a Rice notice by Rodas, but said that he felt it was done in a proper manner.
While Franchetta declined to comment at the time, he submitted his resignation to the board on December 10, 2014, and like Fauta, formally ended his tenure with the school district on June 30, 2015.
Noting that Rodas did not make any statements or call any witnesses during the ethics commission’s hearing, the decision also states that:
” … The board attorney provided no authority in support of permitting the board president to take such steps beyond his authority as a board member, and similarly, the respondent’s brief was also devoid of any.”
In a written certification of oath, the ruling further states that Rodas admitted to serving Franchetta a Rice notice on November 10, 2014, later directing then-board attorney Stephen Edelstein to serve a second one to Franchetta on December 8 of the same year.
On both occasions, he admitted that he did not consult with Fauta or the other board members prior to issuing the notices.
Prior to their ruling, the committee also denied a motion for directed verdict since Rodas “admitted to responsibility for both notices, but argues that board counsel advised him it that he had the authority to do so and publicly stated his legal opinion which was without reference to statute, court ruling or administrative action.”
The committee was also dismissive of Rodas’ argument that legal advice from the board attorney “insulates him from blame of his conduct,” but “it does not … each board member undergoes ethics training and each is responsible for his own ethical conduct.”
Despite debunking Rodas’ entire argument and ruling that he violated N.J.S.A. 18A:12-24.1(e), the penalty issued is just a reprimand – which is essentially just a written warning.
Pablo Fonseca, Rodas’ former campaign manager who is currently in charge of the latest incarnation of the “Children First” team, said he is handling media inquires on the matter since Cheng is one of their opponents on November 3.
“During his time on the board, Matthew Cheng has filed a number of frivolous complaints against board trustees, costing the taxpayers of West New York tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands, of dollars,” he said over the phone.
“In 27 days, Cheng will be decisively voted off the board and will no longer be able to waste the tax dollars of West New York residents,” he added, declining to comment on the particulars of the ruling.
Cheng, who has been essentially silent during his re-election campaign, did not return inquires seeking comment.