Scranton School Director Quietly Sworn In
A day after a controversial school board vote to appoint him as the newest board member, Gopal Patel was sworn in to office by a county judge without the knowledge of some school board directors.
Board members found out Wednesday via email and text messages that Patel took the oath of office on Dec. 20 in Lackawanna County Judge Tom Munley’s office.
Munley confirmed he swore in Patel on Dec. 20 and said he was unsure who arranged for the new director to visit his chambers. Munley added it’s possible that Patel is the first board member he’s sworn in outside of a public school board meeting.
Directors Katie Gilmartin and Mark McAndrew were shocked and frustrated to find out Wednesday from board secretary Virginia Orr that Patel already took an oath of office.
“I don’t know why this would be handled this way,” said Gilmartin. “I certainly think we are robbing Mr. Patel an opportunity to celebrate his new role, and I don’t have any idea why, when this school board is under such scrutiny, we would be doing anything behind closed doors.”
The last appointed director, Greg Popil, was sworn in by board President Barbara Dixon at the same Nov. 5 board meeting at which he was appointed.
Gilmartin and the other seven members of the board were also sworn in at board meetings. New and reappointed members often take the oath of office in front of family, friends and other audience members at board meetings.
“It’s always been done at a board meeting,” said McAndrew. “It’s just more nonsense ... Here’s the problem: If we followed our own appointment process, we wouldn’t have to be worried about all this chaos now.”
At the end of the board’s Dec. 19 meeting, Patel, owner and operator of Subway restaurants, apartment buildings and a convenience store, was appointed 5-3 to fill Paige Gebhardt Cognetti’s seat. Cognetti resigned to take a position with the state Auditor General.
The vote was not on the board’s agenda for that night and the public was not given an opportunity to comment, a violation of Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Act. The board also suspended its own rules to appoint Patel, who was not present at the Dec. 19 meeting.
McAndrew and Gilmartin believe attorney Larry Moran Jr. advised Patel to visit Munley’s chambers.
The firm Joyce, Carmody & Moran was appointed labor counsel in a 5-3 vote also on Dec. 19 — Directors Gilmartin, McAndrew and Tom Schuster voted against the appointment and raised concerns about Moran’s True Solutions Project, which donated to some sitting school directors. The firm’s appointment is contingent on Moran providing a signed affidavit of his position with the project, which Gilmartin said was not received as of Wednesday at 5 p.m.
Therefore, Moran would not be authorized to advise Patel, she said.
The state school code states that directors, appointed or elected, before “entering upon the duties of their office” must take an oath of office.
District solicitor John Audi, who Wednesday was unsure if and when Patel was sworn in, said the oath of office does not have to be done in public, as long as it is performed by the appropriate person including a magistrate or judge.
Moran and Patel could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Contact the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9100 x5114; @kbolusTT on Twitter