KELLY: From Unmoved To Unhinged
Anyone who thought Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh came off as entitled and unhinged before the Senate Judiciary Committee should have seen Alexis Kirijan, Ed.D., testify and drop the mike Monday night.
The superintendent of the Scranton School District angrily accused a factional fraction of the school board of setting an “ambush” meant to “humiliate” her in public.
“If this is a hearing on me, I would insist that I be represented by my attorney in a private session,” Kirijan said. “You’re not going to go on a witch-hunt with me.”
The “hearing” was not about Kirijan. In fact, it was barely a meeting. The board’s regular session was canceled because President Barbara Dixon had a death in the family and a pair of directors called off sick.
Under-the-weather directors were not officially identified. Former two-term president Bob Lesh didn’t show up. His absence was especially curious, considering a defiant Facebook post he made over the weekend. Here it is, spelling and grammar errors intact:
“To all my good friends and family on Facebook I have no plans to resign from the Scranton school board,” Lesh wrote. “I have 15 more months left to serve lots of work between know and then to worry about Semper Fi see you Monday night!”
Also absent Monday was Director Robert Casey, who added a “love” emoji on Lesh’s Facebook post. Word on the street said a large crowd was coming to demand Lesh’s resignation and ask hard questions about the state grand jury investigating the district, program cuts and teachers’ contract negotiations.
I’ve had a nasty cold going on two weeks, but made it to the meeting. Lesh and Casey missed a wild show. An ambush was indeed set, but not for the superintendent. The school board’s four insurgent members — Paige Gebhardt Cognetti, Mark McAndrew, Katie Gilmartin and Tom Schuster — had a target — Chief Operations Officer Jeff Brazil.
The Gang of Four hoped to take action against Brazil and other employees implicated in the grand jury report. The report says Brazil told the grand jury a “special agreement” was in place when he became head of buildings and grounds in 2012.
That agreement allowed then-“fleet manager” Dan Sansky to send repair bills to now-retired business manager Gregg Sunday, whom the grand jury report describes as an “unindicted co-conspirator.” The bills should have gone through Brazil’s office for review before payment.
Sansky is charged with seven felonies, accused of fleecing taxpayers out of hundreds of thousands of dollars through overbilling and phony repair bills. The grand jury concluded that Sunday was Sansky’s accomplice.
Going on Brazil’s own testimony, the insurgents noted that he knew about the “special agreement” in 2012 but failed to report it. Under a district policy adopted in 2015, employees who suspect “fraud, impropriety or irregularity” are required to report to the superintendent.
Directors said Brazil — who was not at the meeting — knew about the arrangement prior to the policy being enacted, but did not come forward when the board adopted the policy. That’s a clear dereliction of duty, but Kirijan and district solicitor John Minora saw it differently.
Minora repeatedly warned the board against airing “personnel issues” in public. He said the matter should be discussed in executive session, for confidentiality.
Cognetti said confidentiality was not a concern because Brazil was named in the grand jury report.
“Well, we don’t know how many people have read the report,” Minora said. Cognetti pointed out that the report has been available at thetimes-tribune.com since it was released.
“The whole town has read it,” Cognetti said.
Minora was unmoved. Kirijan was unhinged. She said the board should hire outside counsel to handle questions about implicated employees and called herself “the 10th member” of a board out to get her.
“You can scream at me silently or I can scream at you loudly,” she said. “I know what’s going on here. I was not born yesterday, for God’s sake.”
Kirijan took her Kavanaugh impression to another level Tuesday with a letter to the board, in which she accused “certain Board members” of turning the meeting into a “shameful public circus” and a “Kangaroo Court.” Kirijan wrote that the actions of these members “demonstrate once again that I am working in a racially prejudice (sic), hostile, sexually harassing, retaliatory environment.”
Kirijan will not be at next Tuesday’s meeting to make up for Monday’s canceled session. I obtained an internal district message in which Kirijan asked board secretary Virginia Orr to arrange for the superintendent to participate via teleconference.
Orr replied that this might not be possible. The board secretary has an appointment that day in Norristown, where the grand jury investigating the Scranton School District just happens to be seated.
CHRIS KELLY, the Times-Tribune columnist, has been to Norristown many times. Contact the writer: kellys
@cjkink on Twitter. Read his award-winning blog at timestri