Recent New Rochelle School Board President Hired by District’s Law Firm, Critics Site Conflict of Interest

Written By: Robert Cox

SaraRichmondTalk of the Sound has confirmed that shortly after her term ended as New Rochelle Board of Education President, attorney Sara Richmond accepted a potentially lucrative position working for Kehl, Katzive & Simon, the law firm which has represented the school district for over 20 years under a long-standing no-bid contract, written by the law firm, that has been sharply criticized the New York State Comptroller as unfair to taxpayers. The contract was renewed again this summer, days after Richmond’s term expired.

As New Rochelle Board of Education President, Richmond was responsible for making referrals to Kehl, Katzive & Simon and approving invoices from the firm. During her time on the board, Richmond repeatedly voted to approve payments totaling millions of dollars to her new employer.

Kehl, Katzive & Simon is employed by the district at the direction of Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak who was recently given a generous contract extension just days before Richmond’s term on the board ended. Richmond led the charge in urgently pressing to extend Organisciak’s contract before June 30, 2011 even though the contract still had another year to run, sources say.

Shortly after receiving his contract extension from the Richmond-led board, Organisciak extended the contract with Kehl, Katzive & Simon and Richmond went on the payroll at Kehl, Katzive & Simon.

Her former colleagues at the City School District of New Rochelle have expressed outrage over Richmond’s hiring by Kehl, Katzive & Simon and the tawdry appearance of her going to work for the district’s law firm so soon after her term as Board President ended. Concerns raised include that in the final days of her time on the board she extended Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak’s contract, that up until a few weeks ago she was in a position to authorize work given to the firm, that she was responsible for approving invoices from the firm, that she was involved in cases as a Board member that the law firm may handle in the future.

Asked to comment on these concerns, Richmond provided Talk of the Sound with the following statement:

As you know, my reason for not running for a second term was my desire to get back to work. I did not make my arrangements with Kehl, Katzive & Simon until after June 30, 2011. After my term had ended and well after my announcement that I did not intend to run for re-election.

Kehl, Katzive & Simon was not reappointed as counsel to the School District until the summer of 2011, after I had left the Board. I will not be appearing on behalf of the firm in any matters that I was involved in as a Board member.

My vote to renew Richard Organisciak’s contract reflected my view that it was in the School District’s interest to do so. Clearly, the rest of the Board shared the same view.

I trust this clarifies the matter.

Ms. Richmond never informed Talk of the Sound of her reasons for not running for a second term. Her announcement was made less than 6 monts ago in April, just a few weeks prior to her hiring by Kehl, Katzive & Simon. Richmond did not merely vote to extend Organisciak’s contract, she was, by all accounts, the driving force on the board to get a new contract for Organisciak in place before she left office.

The school board votes unanimously on more than 99.9% of all resolutions — the number of “no” votes recorded by board members during her term can be counted on one hand — so a vote for a resolution does not indicate that a board member supports a particular resolution. In fact, a number of current board members have expressed their unhappiness with how the Organisciak contract extension was jammed through in the waning days of Richmond’s term.

One board member told Talk of the Sound the matter raises rather obvious questions about the appearance of significant conflicts of interest and makes the whole board look bad.

This is not the first time that the district’s relationship with Kehl, Katzive & Simon has raised concerns.

Thomas DiNapoli, the New York State Comptroller has criticized the school district in the past for its refusal to put a Request for Proposal (RFP) and solicit competitive bids for the largest professional services vendor contracts offered by the district.

In a 2008 audit to examine the district’s internal controls over selected financial operations between July 1 2006 and September 26, 2007, state auditors reported that the district did not have adequate written policies and procedures related to procurement. Specifically, that “the policies did not contain written guidance on the procurement of professional services, sole source purchases and emergency purchases which led the district to spend $508,883 for contracts for legal services and culinary classes and $28,748 for sole source learning materials without soliciting competitive bids”.

While contracts for architectural and engineering services totaling over $758,000 were awarded through RFPs, District officials did not solicit competitive proposals for two professional service contracts, totaling over $508,000 for the District’s legal counsel and culinary classes for special education students.

The District’s attorney was paid over $460,000 during our audit period and has served as the District’s legal counsel for more than 15 years without the benefit of competitive proposals…By not establishing policies and procedures that require or encourage obtaining multiple proposals or quotations when competitive bidding is not required and by awarding professional services contracts without the benefit of RFPs or quotations, District officials cannot assure District taxpayers that they are procuring the most economically beneficial and qualified service providers.

Shortly after Richmond left the board, the district increased the budget for legal services by $50,000 from $440,000 to $490,000.

Lawyers for the firm have in the past engaged in unethical conduct including withholding records from parents in impartial hearings, failing to turn over records pursuant to motion requests during legal proceedings and, in at least one case, appearing to have fabricated evidence in a state hearing.

At last night’s Board of Education meeting, the board was presented (by me) with a proposed draft of language to amend the board’s ethics policy on vendor employment.

Ethics Policy – Vendor Employment – DRAFT

1. (a) I agree that during the twelve (12) month period immediately following termination of my service to the New Rochelle Board of Education (BOE), for any reason, I will not directly or indirectly:

(i) provide services of the type performed by Board of Education, whether as an employee, independent contractor, Board Member or otherwise, and whether with or without compensation, to or for any Person who is a direct vendor and/or competitor of the Board of Education anywhere in the world; or

(ii) attempt in any manner to solicit or accept from any Client/Vendor (as of the last date of my service on the BOE) business of the type performed by or for the Board of Education ; or

(iii) attempt in any manner to persuade any Client/Vendor to cease to do business or to reduce the amount of business which any such Client/Vendor has customarily done or is reasonably expected to do with the BOE, whether or not the relationship between the BOE and such Client/Vendor was originally established or approved in whole or in part through my efforts; or

(iv) render to or for any Client/Vendor any services of the type rendered by the BOE; or

(v) employ as an employee or retain as a consultant any person who is then, or at any time during the preceding twelve (12) months was, an employee or affiliated through membership (elected Board members) of or exclusive consultant to the BOE (unless the BOE had terminated the employment or engagement of such employee, member or exclusive consultant prior to the time of the alleged prohibited conduct), or persuade or attempt to persuade any employee of, or exclusive consultant to, or Board member of the BOE to leave the employ of the BOE or to become employed as an employee or retained as a consultant by anyone other than the Company.

(b) Notwithstanding the foregoing, during the twelve (12) month period immediately following termination of my engagement, I may work for any Vendor provided that I have first submitted a letter to the BOE requesting an exemption from the provisions of this paragraph and have received the express written approval of the BOE (which approval shall not be unreasonably withheld).

4 thoughts on “Recent New Rochelle School Board President Hired by District’s Law Firm, Critics Site Conflict of Interest”

  1. That’s about what Home Depot pays in school taxes so I guess it’
    It’s really frightening that this is allowed to happen, but typical for New Rochelle to have absolutely no control over it.

    And does the district really need $500k worth of legal services? That’s about what Home Depot pays in school taxes so I guess it’s a wash but we were supposed to be ahead of the game, not even!

    1. off topic
      Fifth Ave Guy? what sum of sale tax does the depot bring in and what’s New Rochelle’s cut. or if some one else knows? Being I’m not the brightest orange on the apple tree!

      1. Another disgrace for the school district
        I have asked this question multiple times and have not received an answer. NR keeps 2.5% of the 8.375 sales tax collected. Much of Home Depot’s business is from contractors who don’t pay sales tax.

        As far as Ms. Richmond goes it is just another disgrace for the New Rochelle School District.

        I hear there was conflict concerning Mr. Fertel when he was on the school board, does anyone know if this is true and what the conflict was?

      2. Does anyone pay the extra sales tax?
        Above you all, I don’t know the answer to that question, but Tim is correct that the city gets 2.5% of the 8.375% collected.

        While we’re on the sales tax discussion, does anyone with a Scarsdale or Larchmont postal address ever pay the extra percentage due? Sales tax is always computed by the zip code and I’ve often wondered how it could be legal for New Rochelle to have a sales tax that it only selectively collects/enforces. I doubt I’d be rushing to city hall, quarter in hand to feed those meters, to pay it.

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