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School Solicitor Resigns Over Board Dysfunction

March 20, 2019
School Solicitor Resigns Over Board Dysfunction

Old Forge School District’s solicitor resigned Monday because of ongoing school board dysfunction including pornography, racism, employee harassment and intimidation.

Attorney Joseph E. Mariotti, a partner with Moosic-based Caputo & Mariotti law firm, said in his resignation letter that he cannot continue to represent the school board because it “can only have a negative impact on my otherwise reputable legal career” and he “cannot allow an ongoing association to negatively affect my business and my family.” He earned $1,200 a month as the board’s solicitor, said Superintendent John Rushefski.

“This is the worst I have ever seen the state of affairs, lack of professionalism and decorum in 23 years at the district,” he wrote.

School board President Jenna Jones Shotwell said the board is thankful for Mariotti’s years of service with the district.

“He wanted to step away from a pretty volatile situation, which is understood,” she said. “Hopefully, we can find a solicitor who meets our needs better.”

Shotwell said the board had “some issues with attorney Mariotti’s unwillingness to attend some meetings.”

Attempts to reach Mariotti were unsuccessful.

Director Frank Scavo said he knew Mariotti was frustrated.

“We’ve served on boards together for the last 12 years. ... If his time is best spent elsewhere then I wish him luck,” he said.

Among Mariotti’s reasons for resigning include Scavo’s years of anti-Islamic Facebook posts where he often portrayed Muslims as terrorists, pedophiles or rapists. Scavo apologized for the posts and removed his Facebook page but directors voted him out as board president and called for his resignation from the board March 7.

The pornography reference is about a Times-Shamrock article in July that revealed school board Director Christopher Thomas was fired as a district employee in 2017 for using a district-issued iPad to download pornography and solicit prostitutes. He was paid a $130,000 secret settlement in 2017. The newspaper used the state’s Right to Know Law to force the disclosure of the settlement in February 2018. Scavo said in February that Thomas now seeks a more than $3 million payout, through the Old Forge Education Association, for a breach of his 2017 settlement.

Scavo said removing Mariotti is part of “Thomas’ continuing agenda of vendetta” because the attorney was involved with Thomas’ issues with the district and his settlement.

Attempts to reach Thomas were unsuccessful.

“My eyes will be open for the next solicitor, someone that will be able to represent the entire board fairly,” said Scavo.

The divisive nine-member board often bickers during board meetings over meeting minutes, procedures and, most recently, appointing a new director after Director Julie Grimes resigned in December.

Grimes also resigned over what she called a divided board that no longer focuses on education but rather gets lost in personal vendettas.

During a Dec. 5 school board meeting, directors revealed at least one school board member is accused of harassing a district employee.

The school code requires school boards to have a solicitor, said Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel with the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association. Since the solicitor is a contracted position, the board must hold discussions over who to hire next during a public meeting, she said.

John Audi, the district’s labor and special education attorney, will represent Old Forge during the board’s regular meeting at 7 p.m. today.

Contact the writer:

kbolus@timesshamrock.com

570-348-9100 x5114

@kbolusTT