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Ingram accuses Pepe, but releases no new info on overpayment

Date: 3/22/2011

March 23, 2011

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD — Although there has been an ongoing debate about whether or not the information from an executive session of the School Committee was inappropriately revealed concerning the overpayment of teachers, there has been no forward movement reported in an investigation about how the incorrect payments were made.

School Committee member Antonette Pepe told Reminder Publications that she has not received any updates about the overpayments that totaled more than $1 million.

Pepe said the School Committee was informed during an executive session on Feb. 17 the over-payment had been discovered. Superintendent of Schools Dr. Alan Ingram revealed the situation at a March 2 press conference. Subsequently, the matter was discussed during the speak-out portion of the March 3 School Committee meeting.

Pepe said it was Ingram's duty to discuss the facts of the case and she thought his remarks were appropriate with one exception. The subject of the overpayment was no longer under the restrictions of the open meeting laws after the press conference, she contended.

What Ingram said about the city's and School Committee's chief financial officer, T.J. Plante, sparked a conflict between Pepe and Ingram. Pepe explained that since an investigation on the controversy was not complete, Ingram should not have mentioned Plante's name.

After the March 2 press conference, all of the members received an e-mail from Melinda Phelps, the attorney for the School Committee, about the laws concerning executive session.

In an e-mail over the controversy, Ingram wrote, "Mrs. Pepe's recollection of the facts on this matter are inaccurate, appear to be self serving by attempting to deflect responsibility for her own actions, and which clearly were a violation of the rules for executive session discussions."

In response, Pepe wrote in an e-mail, "Dr. Ingram's recollection of the facts on this matter is very cloudy at best. He did do his duty by informing the public of what had transpired in executive session regarding the overpayment of the $1.2 million to the teachers. Once the matter is discussed in public it is not under the same rules the rules change. Where I felt he was in violation of his obligation was when he, without an investigation said at the March 2, press conference, 'I have complete confidence in TJ Plante as a chief financial officer. Quite frankly without his leadership this error may not have been discovered.' This statement was misleading and I felt he misrepresented the committee by making this statement. So I felt the taxpayers and residents of the city deserved to hear the truth."

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