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Upper’s School Board Wants Answers In Wake of OC Athletic Director’s Trial

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By Camille Sailer

PETERSBURG – In a strange and as of yet inexplicable twist to the conclusion of a highly-publicized trial, the Upper Township Board of Education announced Nov. 20 an investigation into allegations made against the municipality’s school Superintendent Vincent Palmieri, and two board members, Fran Newman and Michele Barbieri.
The allegations relate to computer forensics work performed during the jury trial of former Ocean City High School athletic director, Christine Lentz.
She was indicted Feb. 9, 2016, after Ocean City officials accused her of accessing the emails of that municipality’s school Superintendent Kathleen Taylor, to gain private information related to contract negotiations. Lentz was acquitted Nov. 3 of all charges that included theft, criminal computer activity and official misconduct.
At its Nov. 20 meeting, the Upper Township board read a statement that if they do not receive the support of Taylor and the Ocean City Board of Education President Joseph Clark, these latter should resign. 
Upper Township students are eligible to attend Ocean City High School through a send-receive tuition-paying relationship and actually comprise the majority of the school’s population. Because of that relationship, several members of the Upper school board represent the township on Ocean City’s school board.
On Nov. 26, Palmieri provided further details about Upper’s position in the matter. He referred to a statement from its board that, “the Upper Township Board of Education authorizes its administration and professionals to seek a full and independent investigation into shocking revelations that secret investigations referring to Upper Township board members and its superintendent were made at the direction of Kathleen Taylor, superintendent of the Ocean City School District, Joe Clark the president of the Ocean City Board of Education, and/or the Ocean City Board of Education labor negotiator, the Comegno Law Group. 
“This secret investigation came to light in the trial and acquittal of Dr. Christine Lentz, former athletic director of Ocean City High School. During the trial it was revealed that Taylor, Clark and the Comegno Group directed a computer forensic consultant to secretly investigate electronic information, including information specifically referencing named Upper Township board members and the Superintendent of Upper Township. 
“The Upper Township board believes that this testimony confirms that those advising and leading the Ocean City board continue to exclude, undermine, and compromise the Upper Township board members on the Ocean City board and the relationship between Upper Township and Ocean City.”
The background Palmieri provided the Herald continued by noting, “the Upper Township board believes the investigation must explore, among other things:
• “Who authorized any consultant to authorize, direct, or assist in any investigation which included the Upper Township Board members or the Upper Superintendent?
• “What was the purported justification for the investigation and why were Upper Township Board members and the Upper Superintendent a part of any investigation;
• “What Taylor, Clark and the Comegno Group knew, when they knew it, and why they failed to disclose it to the entire Ocean City Board of Education, the Upper Township Board members on the Ocean City Board, or to the Upper Township Board or Superintendent;
• “When the entire Ocean City board, including the Upper Township board members, were informed of the investigation which included the Upper Township board members and Superintendent.
• “When the entire Ocean City Board of Education, including the Upper Township board members, authorized any investigation which included the Upper Township board members and Superintendent; and
• “How much did it cost the Ocean City and Upper Township taxpayers?
“The Upper Township Board of Education demands the immediate termination of any relationship with any professionals who assisted in this secret investigation, and that Superintendent Taylor and President Clark attend the Dec. 18 Upper Township Board of Education meeting and address these and any other questions from the Board or community.  
“The Upper Township Board of Education believes that only with a full, transparent, and independent investigation, can the healing process begin, and the parents, residents, and taxpayers of Upper Township, who send more than half of the students to the Ocean City High School, rebuild confidence that their children will be treated in a fair and equitable manner.  
“If Taylor and Clark refuse to meet with the Upper Township Board of Education, or such relationships are not terminated at the next Ocean City BOE meeting, the board will call for the immediate resignation of Superintendent Taylor and President Clark.”
The Upper Board through its Solicitor Will Donio was also quoted as noting it is seeking “a full and independent investigation into shocking revelations and secret investigations” that came to light during Lentz’s trial targeting board members and Palmieri, and that these investigations are damaging the relationship between the two boards
Upper Township’s next school board meeting is Dec. 18 to which Taylor and Clark have been invited to explain what has transpired to it and the community.
On Nov. 21, reacting to the results of the meeting of the Upper board the previous evening, Ocean City’s school board solicitor, Michael Stanton, emailed a rebuttal to participants which in part stated, “… these statements are false” and “the sworn testimony about the employment investigation … provides no support for these irresponsible claims.”
Palmieri summed up where the situation stands at this point by saying, “unfortunately, after reading the response that was issued by the OCBOE attorney, it doesn’t appear that anyone from the OCBOE has any intention of attending our Dec. 18 BOE meeting and that they consider the issue ‘closed.’ Moving forward, other educational entities and organizations will be asked to weigh in on these issues and hopefully provide assistance in discovering the answers to our many questions. In the interim, the UTBOE remains committed to all of our high school students and families and expects nothing less from those also responsible for their well-being.”
Neither Stanton nor Clark responded to the Herald’s request for their input.  

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