At a school board meeting on March 18th, Assistant Superintendent for Business & Administration John Quinn told the school board "Now that we have a new purchasing agent we are moving away from time and materials contracts”. He said it twice, for emphasis.
This was another Quinn fabrication, this time in response to a question from board member Deidre Polow.
Let me first address the absurd notion that Mr. Quinn, who has been on the job for about 7 years, has been powerless to “move away from” time and materials contracts until just recently because somehow past Purchasing Agents would not go along with his desire to do so.
Less than a month after telling Polow and the rest of the board "we are moving away from time and materials contracts," Quinn had put out four Time and Materials contracts for bid: Electrical, Plumbing, Carpentry and Painting. The fifth, the previous Masonry contract, which is usually bid each spring along with the other four contracts, was scheduled to run until May 2014 but re-bid last fall, without explanation and remains open.
The low-bidder on 3 of the 4 contracts was GRW Plumbing (George R. Wood), the contractor responsible for the Asbestos Exposure Incident at Davis Elementary School last summer and the infamous flag pole painting at Trinity Elementary School. This despite the fact that George R. Wood was banned as a contractor in the New Rochelle School District for his role, along with John Gallagher of Aramark, in the Davis School Asbestos incident (which remains under investigation, and which has expanded to now include other schools).
After I exposed this end-around by Quinn and Gallagher\, George R. Wood was not awarded any of the three contracts.
On April 29, 2014 Board of Education Resolution 14-201-1 was a $320,000 Time & Materials contract (P.N. #4364) for an Electrical Contractor and Resolution 14-201-1 was a $150,000 contract (P.N. #4363) for a Carpentry Contractor.
Another Time and Materials contract, this time for snow removal, was put out just last Tuesday. Word is that this was not advertised but that somehow certain people knew to put in bids courtesy of John Gallagher.
Setting aside Mr. Quinn's demonstrably false statements regarding Time and Materials contracts, I want to focus on what he claims is the reason that he only now able to "move away" from T&M contracts after 7 years -- that there is a “new” Purchasing Agent working for the Board of Education.
No, there is not.
As I told the board that night, what Mr. Quinn told Deidre Polow was yet another lie to the board, and to the public.
This particular situation, however, should be of the utmost concern to the board and the public given the sensitive nature of the position and the wholesale corruption occurring directly as a result of the failure to follow proper purchasing practices.
Purchasing Agent is a Civil Service Position that requires passing an exam.
The woman currently filling the position has not taken the required Purchasing Agent Civil Service exam and is thus not qualified for the position as a matter of law. More to the point, she does not have the necessary experience to function in the position on her own and is thus highly susceptible to doing what she is told rather than what is right.
On March 19th, I contacted the City of New Rochelle Civl Service Commission and the City Manager's Office. My responses came from City spokesperson Kathy Gilwit on behalf of Jeanett Medina of the CSC and City Manager Chuck Strome.
I asked several questions about the Purchasing Agent position including whether it had been formally filled through civil service, whether a civil service exam had been scheduled and whether an eligibility list for this position had been created. These are simple questions, the answers to which are readily available.
I asked for records related to these questions, if the CSC was prepared to claim that these things had been done (which we now know they had not as we shall see, below).
A review of school district records showed that the New Rochelle Board of Education appointed Ellen Bruzzese to a position called "Deputy Purchasing Agent" and authorized a $20,000 stipend ($761.46 per pay period) in addition to her salary at the September 3, 2013 board meeting. There are no records that support the idea that there is such a civil service position.
RESOLUTION NO. 14-76-3
OUT-OF-TITLE PAY – PURCHASING
STAFF MEMBER AUTHORIZATION
WHEREAS, Lauren Leone, Purchasing Specialist, submitted and was approved for resignation, be it therefore resolved that Ellen Bruzzese, Principal Clerk, shall assume the duties of Purchasing Specialist, be authorized and approved for out-of-title $761.46 per pay period effective July 15, 2013 and
WHEREAS, Sheila Governale, Jr. Purchasing Clerk, shall assume the duties of Principal Clerk, be authorized and approved for out-of-title pay effective July 15, 2013, $162.58 per pay period, be and hereby is approved.
As we shall see, there was no such job as "Purchasing Specialist" created by the CSC either. This is yet another job title fabricated by John Quinn to get the person he wanted into a particular job function.
Records eventually turned over by the CSC show that Lauren Leone was hired as Purchasing Agent not Purchasing Specialist and that Purchasing Agent had specific minimum qualifications which Ellen Bruzzese did not meet and does not meet to this day.
On September 24, 2013 the board cleaned up Bruzzese's previous stipend. Note that her title is described as "Principal Clerk (Acting Purchasing Agent).
Leone was hired as a Purchasing Agent but in the resolution above Quinn has switched the job title to Purchasing Specialist. This is the same trick Quinn tried with Rolf Koehler, repeatedly changing his title so that he could be employed by the district without having to be selected off a civil service eligibility list. This is illegal.
After Talk of the Sound exposed this, and after the New York State Civil Service Commission repeatedly criticized the District for doing this, Koehler left the employment of the District.
This maneuver with the job title appears to have been an attempt by Quinn to circumvent Civil Service requirements for the position and Civil Service law requiring a job posting, an exam, the creation of an eligibility list and so on.
Given the pattern of waste, fraud and abuse occurring within the financial office of the Board of Education it would appear to be especially important that the District’s Purchasing Agent be a person who not only meets the minimum legal requirements for the position but is an exceptional, hard working employee and a person of personal integrity. In this case, Ellen Bruzzese knows she is not qualified to be a Purchasing Agent, knows she does not meet the minimum qualifications, knows she has not taken, let alone passed, the required civil service exam and yet has accepted a $20,000 bump in pay.
If a person is going to willingly participate in a scheme to violate civil service law, and accept $20,000 as part of that scheme, is that someone the board wants in the role of Purchasing Agent, a position highly susceptible to pressure for kickbacks and fraud?
Quinn should be well aware of the temptations dangled in front of Purchasing Agents and the possibility of criminal fraud given his experience in the Mount Vernon School District where he promoted Arthur Rose, who had been previously convicted on a grand larceny charge in 2004, to the position of Purchasing Agent. Rose was indicted by a Westchester grand jury in March 2008 and convicted later that year on six counts related to taking bribes for steering contracts for custodial supplies and photocopies equipment. Rose was sentenced in 2009 to up to seven years in prison for taking a $10,000 bribe in 2006 from Tri-State Supply and a $3,500 bribe in 2005 from Ricoh.
Despite this, Quinn hired a Purchasing Agent for New Rochelle with no experience as a Purchasing Agent, without proper training and without the minimum legal requirements for the job and arranged for her to get an extra $20,000 a year.
This is a person responsible for authorizing the spending of many millions of dollars in taxpayer money each year in a District notorious for handing out rigged-bid contracts.
The District, of course, has been down this road MANY times before — hiring people for administrative positions without their administrative licenses, illegal 211 waivers, employing security guards without licenses, filling positions without posting the position/scheduling exams/creating eligibility lists, hiring convicted drug dealers, and as Talk of the Sound first reported, hiring a convicted felon with a long criminal history for a cabinet level position.
After two weeks without a response I contacted the City again on March 31 asking for a status update for my information request. On April 3rd I was told "seeing what files are available. I will touch base again on Tuesday with an update."
After no reply on Tuesday, I asked for another update on April 9th. On April 10th I was told "I'm told I'll have info tomorrow, will check back again then."
On April 11th, I was sent an email from the City with a note "in response to your request attached is the job posting for Purchasing Agent. There were no applicants for this position. This is the only record we have. I’m told a test is on order." A document was attached that was entirely unresponsive to my request.
Of course there was no applicants for the position, for the same reason there were no applicants for the position in 2011 -- there are no District employees qualified for the position.
In reply, on April 12th I wrote:
Let’s start with this. can you ask…if a test is "on order", how did it come to be on order?
Are they (CSC) claiming there are no records related to this test? There is no request from the School District? No documents from the NR CSC to NYS CSC? How is that even plausible?
If this job was posted, where was it posted? On a flyer in the CSC office? Was it run in the paper? Was it on a web site?
Are there any email exchanges about any of this?
Please advise with whatever comical response you get to the dearth of records.
Not receiving a reply, I sent a follow up email on April 15th:
I have been waiting almost a month for a fulsome reply to my email of March 19th. Once again, you all have exhausted my patience so now I will expand the circle, bring this matter to the attention of council, raise it the next CBTH meeting and you will get an article THIS WEEK critical of all of you (plus a series of future articles) and then you guys can sit around and complain about my writing “negative” stories. And along the way, the public will have one more reason not to trust the people running our City.
How this benefits anyone on this email I do not know. This story IS coming out unless you think I am in the habit of dropping stories like this. And so this is a “pay me now or pay me later” situation.
I want ALL the records related to this position and as you are acknowledging a test has been ordered and that test would be ordered by Jeanett and she works across from the hall from you, I see no reason why those records cannot be turned over immediately, especially if it is the case that the communications regarding ordering a test for Purchasing Agent are contained in emails.
I am not going to keep waiting and getting jerked around. I am going to move forward with the story with or without a fulsome response to the request.
The difference is that what has been up until now a failure of the school district now also becomes a failure of the City as well.
The story I have right now is that the City of New Rochelle is conspiring with the School District to prevent me from obtaining these records.
Let me take a wild guess why — if a test was ordered it was ordered in the weeks since I raised this issue and that all of you are engaged in another CYA.
Please send me the records TODAY or otherwise make them available TODAY.
If there is some issue with the School District Civil Service department please REPLY ALL so that Interim Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Korostoff is aware.
If I do not have an answer today, I will proceed with the story noting the refusal of the City to turn over records. And, by the way, I will simply FOIL the NYS CSC and get test ordering records ANYWAY. This is something to consider if someone over there imagines they are in a position to block me from getting these records — they exist elsehwere, right?
That email generated a response and two more records:
regarding your followup request for further records on Saturday and this morning, attached are two records:
-email from the Board of Education
-receipt from NYSDCS acknowledging the test being on order
The job was not posted on the City website as it was promotional for existing employees. Promotional jobs are advertised by flyers in in the Civil Service Office and City departments;
I am unfamiliar with the BOE practice.
I regret your sentiment that we are somehow holding back records. The delay was due in part to absence and illness, and the first records response addressed what we had on the position itself which is what I interpreted to be your main concern.
If you need further information let me know.
Sure, no one in New Rochelle ever holds back records. Why would I ever think that? For example, I was not lied to repeatedly by city officials about the Army Corps of Engineers records for Echo Bay! In this case, as we shall see, the City was holding back records. How do we know? Because a week later they provided records going back to 2011 that they had the entire time.
In this case, the records just happened to be an email ordering a civil service exam for Purchasing Agent, dated April 10, 2014 -- four weeks after I requested records. As predicted!
So, now having this record we can go back to the email exchange of April 11th where I was told "This is the only record we have. I’m told a test is on order."
In other words, at the time I made my request for information and records no test was on order and no information or records were provided but the day after the test was ordered I was told a test was on order -- and even then the email is not provided for an additional five days.
I replied that same day:
I am now looking at records that confirm precisely what I suspected was going on here and so regardless of whatever sentiment you may feel is being conveyed in my email today my dismay at your responses strikes me as ENTIRELY JUSTIFIED. I would hope that the sentiment you understand me to be conveying is that I think I am being intentionally lied to and misled because that IS the sentiment that I feel about this month long effort to obtain a handful of documents stored less than 50 feet from your desk.
Here is what I wrote on March 19th.
The person Mr. Quinn was referring to is Ellen Bruzzese. It is further my understanding that Mrs. Bruzzese has not taken the required Purchasing Agent Civil Service exam, that no exam was has been scheduled, that there is no eligibility list for this position for the Board of Education, etc.
Can you confirm my understanding and, if other, provide records to that effect?
You say "the first records response addressed what we had on the position itself which is what I interpreted to be your main concern”.
The "first records response” was the job posting from July 2013.
There is nothing in my request that could be interpreted as you say.
Even now I am still not getting what I asked for. Before I cite chapter and verse on all the baloney going on here let me cut to the chase and, if needed, we can go through the obfuscations line by line.
Your first records response is a job posting for a job classified “PROMOTIONAL/PROVISIONAL APPOINTMENT”.
What is that classification? I guess this means that the person has to come from within the district AND the person can be appointed to the position without meeting all of the requirements and/or having taken the exam.
Here is a question, why would you make a position like Purchasing Agent a PROMOTIONAL position? Why would you do that when there is NOT A SINGLE PERSON working for the BOE that meets the qualifications for the job?
The records you did finally send including Jeanett’s email to the NYS CSC. Did you read it? Had you read it closely you would realize that there WAS an exam given (#69-740) on May 12, 2012 and there was an ELIGIBILITY LIST created on 9/26/1_ where the blank space would likely be 2012. You would also see that there were 3 people eligible on the list, one person taken (based on BOE Resolution 14-76-3 that would be Lauren Leone) and two people remaining on the list.
So, where are the records?
I specifically asked for Eligibility Lists which typically last 2 years which means that the Eligibility List was still active July 15, 2013 when Ellen Bruzzese was given the responsibilities and approved to work out of job title. In fact, it should be still active now and yet a new test is being ordered. Why? There should also be NR CSC documents where this test was ordered, paperwork related to that, and the list from 9/26/12. Where are those records? In fact, unless the list was terminated by the NR CSC, that list should still be in place now. There were 2 people on that eligibility list. What happened to them? Were they contacted? Are there records of that? Who are they? Do they know a job for which they were eligible was given to Ellen Bruzzese, a person not qualified for the position?
I find the classification "PROMOTIONAL/PROVISIONAL APPOINTMENT” interesting because it suggests that the District was looking to promote someone from within AND someone who would need a provisional appointment because they were not qualified. It is “almost” like they knew that Ellen and only Ellen would be available for his job.
I would now want to see the Job Posting from 2012 because that exam is likely NOT a PROMOTIONAL exam but a COMPETITIVE exam (because the 2 people who took the test are not from New Rochelle Schools or I would have heard from them already).
So why would there be a COMPETITIVE job posting in 2012 but a PROMOTIONAL job posting in 2014.
One reason could be that all of this was an effort to simply hand the job to Ellen. All of this is illegal, by the way, including creating a job posting for the benefit of a particular individual. Not that anyone in City Hall much cares.
My request of March 19th should have been simple and quick. The records are kept directly across the hall from your office. Yet a response was pushed back several times until April 11th at which point I am told there is ONE record!!!! ONE! And not even responsive to my request. A job posting, and that you were “told" a test is on order. Told? I am seeking records not hearsay.
What I was specifically asking for on 3/19 is official confirmation that what I was being told is in fact true. That is what I asked for. What I understood to be the case on 3/19 (and what is, in fact, the case) is described in that paragraph above in brackets. I did not ask you to provide job postings. I only asked for records if what I understand to be true was not true but that for me to believe it was not true I would need to see records that proved my understanding was not correct. Nowhere do I mention a job posting.
So know we know for sure that I am told one thing that is not true (there is only document) and another thing that is misleading in the extreme (the test was ordered but no mention that it was ordered the day before after I had been asking for four weeks) and that you avoided answering my questions for about a month until you COULD say a test was ordered. And I am not clear why a test WAS ordered as there appears to be an active eligibility list with 2 people on it.
It would seem obvious to anyone that a reply to my request was INTENTIONALLY DELAYED to allow time for the test to be ordered and that once that happened I was then sent an email on April 11th.
Further, I still do not have all the records, right?
1) There is a job posting with no date but a deadline of July 16, 2013. I see an email where Stephanie Oliver sent a DRAFT job description document with no before/after discussion about it. So Jeanett just intuits what needs to be done? That is the ONLY communication?
2) Ordering the exam also requires a papertrail, right? I see a an email to the NYS CSC from Jeanette. Again, Jeanett was able to psychically divine the need to order a Purchasing Agent exam for the BOE? She just acted independently, out of the blue, on her own authority, to order the exam? Why is there is no document where the BOE is request an exam be scheduled? Or does Jeanett have the authority to randomly order exams for the BOE?
3) Where is the paperwork for the 2012 exam?
4) Where is the eligibility list from 2012?
Here is what we know about my request on 3/19.
At the time Mr. Quinn told the school board that the District had a “new Purchasing Agent” there was neither a Purchasing Agent or a test on order.
It is my belief that there was no intention whatsoever at the BOE to have such a test. The basis for this is the fact that a job was “advertised" in the summer of 2013, that it was limited to BOE employees when not a single BOE employee met the qualifications and when the last job posting in 2012 was for a COMPETITIVE position so open to people outside the BOE and even outside New Rochelle, and a school board resolution was approved giving the PA’s responsibilities to a Clerk and that no test was ordered until last week, several weeks after I asked about the position and many months after an unqualified person was placed in this key role.
Does that seem plausible?
Because it does to me and I am confident my readers will find it plausible that some people in City Hall are actively seeking to rig a job opening to place an unqualified person (and do not get me wrong, Ellen is a perfectly NICE person) and that the people doing the rigging are the same people involved in all the rigged bids for outside contractors and the kickbacks and bribes related to that. In short, that some people were looking for a patsy — a nice person who did not really know what she was doing who would sign documents and push buttons as told and help them steal money by the boatload.
This is fundamentally a BOE issue. The cover up is about John Quinn placing an unqualified person in a critical role designed to protect the taxpayers and ensure the District gets the best deal possible. Of course, the NRBOE has never shown much interest in protecting the taxpayer and the “best deal” is one with lots of forth built in for kickbacks and bribes. That is on them. It has nothing to do with the City government.
But now you all are MAKING IT about the City government. The Municipal CSC once again attempts to convince the world that they bear no responsibility for the actions of the Board of Education and any of their civil service positions, paperwork and personnel when, in fact, the State of New York only recognizes the Municipal CSC as the local agency not the Board of Ed and so the failure to produce this paperwork, to properly create and fill positions, IS the responsibility of the City of New Rochelle. If you want to rely on the BOE CSC to do your job and they do not then who is to blame?
Why the City of New Rochelle would want to stake its reputation on the Board of Ed Civil Service, widely-known to be a rat’s nest of corruption, is not my concern.
What is my concern is that when I ask for records that are readily available, just a few feet down the hall, it should not take 4 weeks to get an answer and when I do get an answer I should get a COMPLETE answer not “here’s one document, goodbye”. I mean seriously, do you folks even READ Talk of the Sound? Does any on this email actually think I would accept the sort of baloney answer I have been given.
All that is going to happen now is that my dander is up and I now have TWO stories — my original story AND an active coverup by the City on behalf of the BOE.
I guess I should thank you for that at least.
Now, can you please take some time to go get me a COMPLETE FILL of my request.
On April 17, I received an email reply:
I am researching what additional records may be available and will give an update by Tuesday.
Tuesday came and went without any update.
On April 24, I receive another email:
I will get an update on available records tomorrow and will be in touch afterwards.
On April 25, I received another email:
Attached per our conversation are the 2011 job postings and exam notices; as well as the (expired) eligibility list.
So, 44 days after my request I get records (linked above as a PDF file) which show that in 2011 the Purchasing Agent position was offered as a Promotional Opportunity (hire from within the District) but in 2012 offered as a Competitive Opportunity (hire a person residing in New Rochelle for the previous 4 months), that an eligibility list was created containing three names of people who passed the test, one of which includes the woman who took the position and then, based on information in the board resolution above, resigned a year later and was replaced by Ellen Bruzzese.
In plain English, the District was unable to fill the position from among their own employees in 2011 so they opened up to qualified persons living in New Rochelle but working anywhere in the world.
Recall that Quinn claimed that Ellen Bruzzese was promoted to "Purchasing Specialist"? Here are the records that show there was never any such position but only the position of Purchasing Agent not Purchasing Specialist, that the Purchasing Agent position had specific minimum qualifications and that Ellen Bruzzese has never and does not now meet those minimum qualifications.
Now we know why the City and District were not turning over these records.
Quinn has done this before where he creates a new name for the job title from thin air (e.g., Rolf Koehler) or attempted to skirt the requirement for a civil service exam (e.g. Anthony Paganico).
New York State law requires that the Municipal Civil Service create job specifications, that these "job specs" be made public, discussed at a public CSC meeting and voted on at a public CSC meeting. No such records have ever been provided documenting that any of this ever happened (because it did not happen).
The documents confirm that the position that was created, that was advertised, that was filled in 2012 was "PURCHASING AGENT (Grade 16)" and that the position had the following requirements:
In 2011, the position was offered solely to those candidates permanently employed with the City School District of New Rochelle in a Grade 3 or higher position for a period of at least one (1) year. In 2012, unable to fill the position from within, that requirement was loosened so that candidates need only be a legal resident of the City of New Rochelle for not less than four months.
In 2011 and 2012, the job specifications also required the following:
(a) Graduation from a New York State or regionally accredited college or university with a Bachelor's Degree; AND two (2) years of supervisory experience in large-scale purchasing, marketing or buying for a commercial, industrial or governmental agency. Preference will be given for municipal public school experience;
(b) Graduation from a New York State or regionally accredited college or university with an Associate's Degree; AND four (4) years of supervisory experience in large-scale purchasing, marketing or buying for a commercial, industrial or governmental agency. Preference will be given for municipal public school experience;
(c) Graduation from a standard senior high school or possession of a high school equivalency diploma; AND six (6) years of supervisory experience in large-scale purchasing, marketing or buying for a commercial, industrial or governmental agency. Preference will be given for municipal public school experience.
This is a civil service position and there is also a requirement to complete the civil service exam for Purchasing Agent.
Ellen Bruzzese did not meet the requirements in 2011 or 2012. She did not meet them when the position came open again in 2013. She does not meet them now in 2014. While an exam has been ordered as of April 10, 2014, that exam has not been scheduled and that exam is the position of Purchasing Agent not Purchasing Specialist.
This is a lot of background to demonstrate a simple point -- that Quinn lied in his response to Deidre Polow on March 18th and that both District and City employees and officials conspired to cover it up.
This sort of behavior would be bad if it were for the position of Street Sweeper.
That this is going on with regards to the position of Purchasing Agent means that the board cannot assure the public that taxpayer money is protected.
In fact, we know from previous reporting by Talk of the Sound, that there are all manner of waste, fraud, and abuse involving purchases authorized by Ellen Bruzzese, John Gallagher and John Quinn -- rigged bids, kickbacks, and more.
If the goal is to lie, cheat and steal what more could you ask for than to have Purchasing Agents and Internal Claims Auditors who do not know their job and will do what they are told?
And now you know why the board is being asked to approve Resolution 15-4-14, a provisional appointment of Ellen Bruzzese to the position of Purchasing Agent, Grade 15 with a salary of $85,552), effective July 1, 2014.
Why is it provisional?
Based on the records provided, it would appear to be provisional because Ellen Bruzzese is not qualified for the position. The board should not approve this resolution.
The current set up benefits a small handful of corrupt district employees and their "partners" who kick back cash, services and supplies -- it is a set up that Mr. Quinn lied about that to the Board. Something they might want to consider as his contract comes up for renewal on June 30th.
Time to go, Mr. Quinn.