You may sit back and say I guess I heard it all; but after you finish reading this article the only thing you may wonder is, "What are they hiding"?
Galloway Township Mayor Don Purdy attended what was supposed to be a routine Regional School Board Meeting at the Cedar Creek High School on Monday, January 25, 2016 when he was shut down by the Board during public participation.
Purdy, who represents a town with a significant amount of 55 and older communities, single family homes and a high foreclosure rate due to the decline of Atlantic City, requested the Board evaluate their budget for 2016 and propose a flat budget with a zero increase. The Boards response however, was that this years budget was already slated to utilize the full 2 percent cap increase they could possibly use leaving the tax rate to increase for not only Galloway Township but also for Hamilton Township, Mullica Township, Egg Harbor City and Port Republic.
Purdy spoke at the meeting with the support of the other Greater Egg Harbor Regional Mayors excluding Egg Harbor City. Mullica Township Mayor James Brown was also in attendance at the meeting. Brown and Purdy also represent the Atlantic County Mayor's Association as President and Vice-President respectively.
With permission Purdy spoke on behalf of Port Republic Mayor Gary Giberson and Hamilton Township Mayor Roger Silva. All according to Purdy, are requesting the Board to realize the significant impact a tax increase would have on their respective communities.
An additional topic of discussion was the merit bonuses Superintendent John Keenan has received as part of a condition in his employment contract. Bonuses that were above and beyond his entitled salary of $167,500. Purdy questioned the fiscal responsibility of the Board in awarding such merits and utilizing taxpayer money for bonuses. Keenan received a merit bonus of $24,750 in 2015. According to Keenan's contract, he will continue to receive merit bonuses at a substantial increase until the expiration of his contract in 2019. Additionally, if Keenan's contract is renewed, the merit bonuses will continue until at least 2024.
The Board voted in the affirmative in 2015 on Keenan's merit bonuses with two abstentions. One from Garrison and the other from Sartorio with no reasoning listed in the minutes.
At the height of the conversation Purdy was shut down by the Board and not permitted to continue his comments due to a 3-minute rule stated by the Board. As part of the Board agenda, the Board states it welcomes public participation and values the opinions from the residents. That was not the case here. Although the agenda states "each speaker is asked to limit their comments to three minutes", there is no law that the Board can limit or prohibit the freedom of speech of those in attendance. But they did that of Galloway Township Mayor Don Purdy as well as other members of the public that spoke.
After other members of the public spoke at the meeting, the Board requested if anyone else would like to comment. Purdy approached the Board again and requested to continue as all other public concerns were heard. At that time according to Purdy, Superintendent John Keenen stifled Purdy by waiving his hands to the Board President Carol Houck and stating Purdy's time was up. The Board President at that time did not permit Purdy to continue to speak and address the Board.
Keenan has already been placed in the middle of controversy this past year with the Teachers Union by forcing them to vote against him.
The members of the Greater Egg Harbor Regional School District are voted in by the residents of the respective sending districts which includes Galloway, Hamilton, Mullica Township, Egg Harbor City and Port Republic. Galloway Township makes up the majority of the Board Member seats. According to Purdy, he was trying to address the concerns that most affect the majority of the Board, however, the Board's answer was that Purdy should have called ahead in order for his concerns to be heard.
Each Mayor of the respective municipalities have an open unlimited forum in which they can speak to the public on these issues at their Town meetings, yet they were not permitted to speak to the Board directly without limiting their speech in public to 3-minutes.
Purdy stated he was disappointed in the conduct of the Board and although each municipality may limit their public portion, he has never stifled a member of the public that has come forward to address concerns within his town that may go over the limit.
Why? Only the Greater Egg Harbor Regional School Board Members can answer the question of, "What are you trying to hide that Mayor's can not openly speak at your meetings"?