Disturbing signs from Sussex-Wantage board

This editorial concerns an unauthorized purchase that a board of education subsequently voted to pay for after initially voting against the purchase at a prior meeting.  The editorial raises important questions.  For instance, why are public documents that would answer simple questions, such as when a purchase was made, being withheld from the public?  -NJFOG

Dec. 3, 2015
New Jersey Herald
(editorial here and re-posted below)

Let’s vote to pay $13,350 for an electronic sign we have to accept and pay for, but whose purchase we never approved, and then we’ll investigate what happened.

That’s what the Sussex-Wantage Board of Education was asked to do, and did do, this week.

Monday’s 4-2 vote to retroactively approve purchase of the 4-foot by 8-foot sign turned out to be a “revote” on the original motion that failed Oct. 14 on a 3-3 split.

Despite the failed vote in October, the customized sign was created and delivered sometime last month.

Board attorney Yaacov Brisman, after the matter was discussed in closed session Monday, said in open session that he advised the board that it was legally required to accept delivery of the sign and to pay for it.

“I’m not going to get into a powwow about it,” Brisman said. “What I will tell you simply is I have advised the board members not to discuss it until I complete my review. Nevertheless, we’re responsible to take that sign, and therefore the sign is on the agenda for the board to consider for this evening, and that will be the last comment I will be making on that subject.”

Based on the public’s reaction, it appears many are not simply going to accept that, nor should they.

For starters, if the board is legally required to pay for the sign, what was left to “consider”? What was the reason for a revote, other than to make official a purchase that wasn’t?

Though Brisman’s review may not be complete, surely more information is available now, such as when the purchase order was issued and who signed for it — and surely the taxpayers have a right to that information.

The idea that because an investigation is being conducted the public can’t be provided that basic information strikes us as an insult to the public’s intelligence.

For that matter, paying an attorney to investigate records that are public also seems unnecessary.

In the meantime, while the attorney continues his “investigation,” the New Jersey Herald has already initiated the process of obtaining this public information via the Open Public Records Act and will report this information in the near future regardless of whether the attorney has completed his investigation at that point.

While we’re asking reasonable questions …

Why is the board taking a public vote on something that the board and the public were barred from discussing?

Why the rush to take a public vote (actually a “revote”)?

And, finally, if an investigation is warranted, shouldn’t the investigation be completed before the revote is taken?