FOI day in court

The Freedom of Information Commission will hear the complaints of two women, one a former board member, against the Amity Board of Education.

Orange resident Patti Alves, appealed the original findings of the Freedom of Information Commission. The five-member panel voted 3-2. Alves is going to a hearing Jan. 8 before a judge to see if they will reopen her case based on the fact that she was not allowed to call her witnesses at the original hearing.

Bethany resident Lorri Cavaliere, who until last month was a board member, has three complaints that will be heard Jan. 18 against the board.

Alves wants answers on how the committee compiled a multi-page questionnaire, determined to send it to 31 people and never met to discuss it. The meetings that were held barely mentioned the questionnaire, according to Alves.

In addition, Alves wants to know why two of the three-member committee met at the high school two Saturdays, Sept. 15 and 21 of 2003 without posting the meeting times or minutes.

Cavaliere resigned her post because the board refused to take action on many environmental issues. She also believed the board was consistently acting in poor judgment.

Cavaliere requested, and never received, copies of facility committee minutes for the months of September, October, November and December 2002 and January 2003, she said.

She also requested, and did not receive, an agenda or subsequent minutes of a meeting that took place during a timeframe on the questionable purchasing tactics of an administrator's office furniture.

A second complaint filed by Cavaliere deals with a request for backup documentation regarding the legal budget for fiscal year 03-04. She also filed a complaint after being charged $63.50 for documents as a board member.

On the date Cavaliere received notice of the FOI hearing she received a letter from Superintendent of Schools Helene Skrzyniarz, dated the same, offering to return the $63.50. Cavaliere said she might now drop that complaint.

All complaints were executed while she was a sitting board member.

When Cavaliere tendered her letter of resignation she pointed out her belief that policies as well as recommendations by specific agencies and committees were repeatedly disregarded.

"…I have continuously pointed out the recommendations outlined in various 'investigative' reports that were generated to help gain a clearer understanding of what went wrong at Amity," Cavaliere.

"Some old board members were asked to resign because they were accused of violating policy and not making sure policies in place were being followed, while others were accused of not asking questions and, as a result, not being fully knowledgeable on the fiscal affairs of the District," she continue. "Again and again, the reports …point out it is a Board Member's responsibility to ask the necessary questions to be fully knowledgeable about those issues for which they are responsible," Cavaliere said.

She went on to ask why she was repeatedly denied access to documentation.

"Why, then, did I find myself being denied the information that would answer the questions I was asking in order to understand the issues affecting the District," she queried.

Cavaliere said some board members even went so far as to try to form a new policy that would dictate what and when information would be released to whom and who would actually release it.

"Unfortunately, it has become clear to me that these Board members are guilty of the very things they had accused the old Board members of," Cavaliere said.

Board Chairman Ken Downey declined comment saying he was not familiar with the upcoming FOI hearings.

Superintendent of School Helene Skrzyniarz did not return telephone calls.