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Upper School Board Releases Previously Redacted Palmieri Docs After Letter from Herald Attorney

Brett Gorman
File Photo/Shay Roddy

Brett Gorman, attorney for the Upper Township Board of Education

By Shay Roddy

PETERSBURG – In response to a letter from an attorney representing the Herald, the Upper Township Board of Education released the unredacted separation agreement it reached with former Superintendent Vincent Palmieri. 

The previously redacted portions of the agreement do not reveal a reason the district felt it necessary to part ways with Palmieri mid-school year. They do, however, prevent Palmieri from bringing any litigation against the school board or the district in the future. 

Enclosed in a Jan. 9 letter, sent in response to a Dec. 20 request made by the Herald under the Open Public Records Act, Laurie Ryan, the records custodian for the district, released a heavily redacted version of the document containing the terms of the arrangement orchestrating Palmieri’s ouster. Multiple pages of the document were completely blacked out. 

This led to a public outcry over the school board’s lack of transparency in handling public documents and determining how to spend taxpayer money. 

The Herald called Ryan, seeking an explanation for the redacted material, but she told the newspaper the redactions were made by the board’s attorney, Brett Gorman.  

In a letter accompanying the redacted agreement, Gorman cited a statute exempting personnel information from being provided in public documents. Ryan said Gorman’s firm drafted the letter, and she signed it. 

Gorman did not return calls from the Herald. After the next regular school board meeting, Jan. 23, a Herald reporter reiterated the newspaper’s objection to the redactions to one of Gorman’s law partners, Frank P. Cavallo Jr. Cavallo told the reporter he would review the agreement and call the following day, but he did not call nor return a message from the reporter. 

On Jan. 26, C.J. Griffin, one of the state’s preeminent media law attorneys, sent a letter to Ryan on behalf of the Herald, citing the newspaper’s legal objections to the inadequate version of the agreement it received.  

In the letter, Griffin stated this would be the Herald’s attempt to resolve the matter before bringing litigation against the board and the district. 

In a Jan. 31 email, from Gorman to Griffin, the board’s attorney released the unredacted agreement to the newspaper voluntarily after getting permission from counsel for Palmieri. 

Gorman wrote to the Herald’s attorney:  

“The Upper Township School District is in receipt of your January 26, 2023 correspondence regarding your client’s OPRA request for the separation agreement of Vincent Palmieri. Although the District maintains that its redactions were consistent with the controlling case law, we reached out to Mr. Palmieri, through his counsel, to request his consent to the release of the document in its entirety. Mr. Palmieri, through his counsel, has consented to the District’s release of his separation agreement in its entirety, which is attached to this email. You will see that the previously redacted provisions do not contain any information regarding the reason for Mr. Palmieri’s resignation and contain terms favorable to the District.” 

In addition to the non-disparagement and confidentiality clauses already disclosed, information, which was newly made available, reveals Palmieri will be on a leave of absence through the end of 2024. He will waive sick and vacation time but maintain health benefits and life insurance contributions paid primarily by the board through the end of 2024. 

Palmieri, in good faith, must seek employment through the end of 2024. If he gets another job in New Jersey, the board will only be responsible for making up the difference between his salary at the new job and his promised compensation – $176,083 in 2023 and $135,000 in 2024. 

In addition, the redacted sections reveal Palmieri will resign in good standing, and any inquiry by a future employer will be met with a response indicating so. Neither Palmieri, nor the board, make admission of any wrongdoing, per the now disclosed terms of their deal. 

In response to this recently provided information, the Herald submitted a follow up records request, identifying and requesting other records which may contain insight into why Palmieri left the district so abruptly. The newspaper also asked the district to provide that explanation, even if it is not clearly explained in the responsive records, since it is an obvious matter of public interest. 

The Herald is releasing the following to its readers in their entirety: 

  • The letter sent from a Herald reporter to the district requesting Palmieri’s separation agreement.

  • A letter in response from the district and the enclosed separation agreement with redactions.

  • A letter from the Herald’s attorney to the district objecting to these redactions.
  • An email from the school board’s attorney to the Herald’s attorney, which included the unredacted agreement as an attachment. (The Herald highlighted the previously redacted portions in yellow.)

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