Superintendent James Froio, of the Jordan-Elbridge Central School District, said the district will not accept a settlement offer from three suspended or fired employees who want their jobs back and $907,800 of compensation in return for ceasing the string of lawsuits they have waged or may wage against the district.
“We are not considering it,” Froio said. “We’re going to stay the course.”
The settlement letter, sent from the law office of O’Hara, O’Connell and Ciotoli, the firm representing suspended business official Bill Hamilton, suspended principal David Zehner and fired treasurer Anthony Scro, is dated June 30 and includes a list of reasons as to why the district should return all three employees to work and pay them $407,800 to cover their combined legal fees and an additional $500,000 to compensate them for “non-economic damages.”
Attorney Dominic D’Imperio said the $500,000 is the minimum calculated by his office that would cover Scro’s back pay and benefits; the damage to the reputations of all three employees, who he said will likely have trouble getting hired anywhere else; and a year’s worth of pain and anguish the employees and their families have gone through.
In return for their jobs back and the money, Hamilton, Zehner and Scro said they would drop all current lawsuits and agree not to sue in the future.
Froio said Tuesday he believes the district’s 3020-a charges against Hamilton and Zehner have merit, as does the board’s decision to appeal a state Supreme Court decision ordering Scro back to work.
“You have to stand up for what you believe is right,” he said. “The school board is unified in its position that the charges hold merit.”
Froio said Wednesday the district will not send a counter-offer back to O’Hara.
“We want to await the decisions that will be issued in the 3020-a hearings,” he said.
Froio said the district is also waiting to hear the outcomes of the FBI and other investigations before making any decisions.
“We’re certainly not going to enter into any settlement talks when all these unanswered questions are still hanging out there in the balance,” he said.
O’Hara stated as fact in the offer that “the pending 3020-a charges (against Hamilton and Zehner) will not result in the discharge of either Hamilton or Zehner.”
He said former district lawyer Danny Mevec, former director of operations Paula VanMinos and auditor Alicia Mattie conducted a “reckless and inadequate investigation” into the accusations against Hamilton.
“In the end, the poorly drafted and truly absurd charges are full of false and silly claims, unwarranted assumptions and fact errors,” O’Hara wrote. “Nevertheless, the district continues to pay its attorney to pursue this fool’s errand.”
O’Hara also said the board will have trouble proving the charges against Hamilton because VanMinos would need to be a witness in 72 of the 125 paragraphs of Hamilton’s charges, and she is “completely discredited.”
O’Hara also wrote that the testimony of former superintendent Marilyn Dominick will not prove any the charges because Dominick gave Hamilton a glowing recommendation even though he had been suspended by the board.
Lawyers at O’Hara’s firm said a typical 3020-a proceeding takes between 12 to 18 months and costs, on average, $216,000, according to a 2009 New York State School Boards Association report.
The firm also totaled up what it believes will be the cost to the district if it continues to keep Hamilton and Zehner suspended and not bring back Scro.
The estimate of the cost of not accepting the settlement offer, D’Imperio said, could be more than $1.6 million. This tally includes legal fees paid to district lawyer Frank Miller, legal fees paid to Mevec, the cost to pay substitutes for Hamilton, Zehner and Scro, back pay to Scro should he prevail in the appellate court and the cost of the 3020-a hearings.
D’Imperio said this estimate does not include the cost to defend the district against any future lawsuits directed at the board or individual board members that may come from the trio of employees/former employees.
“We’re disappointed, not only for our clients, but for the Jordan-Elbridge community,” he said.
Within the letter, one footnote states that a group of community members had already retained the O’Hara firm to evaluate and potentially bring legal action against Mevec and former board member Jeanne Pieklik, who was dating Mevec while he worked for the district. Such a suit would seek to recover money paid to Mevec’s firm by the district.
The letter also states that if the district rejects the offer for settlement, Hamilton, Zehner and Scro will have no choice but to “sue to recover all the damages done from all people responsible for such damage plus attorneys’ fees.”
Staff writer Kelly Voll can be reached at 282-2239 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at CitizenVoll.