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Questions continue about contract

Date: 8/8/2011

Aug. 8, 2011

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD — Although Mayor Domenic Sarno described the questions about School Superintendent Dr. Alan Ingram’s contract and side agreements as “distractions,” neither of his opponents in this year’s mayoral race stopped asking them.

In an effort to mute School Committee member Antonette Pepe and reassure the public that the city’s agreement with Ingram is legal, Sarno released the analysis of the documents by City Solicitor Edward Pikula on Aug. 3.

According to the information distributed by the mayor, “City Solicitor Pikula’s review found that the Finance Control Board [FCB] negotiated a contract and benefits with the Springfield Superintendent which included $30,000 for ‘relocation’ on account of higher costs in Massachusetts and that the superintendent received a lump sum payment of $30,000 (less tax and retirement withholdings of $11,990.87) in August 2008. The Law Department opinion also states that the superintendent is under no obligation to re-pay the funds to the city.”

On July 28, members of the School Committee finance subcommittee voted to recommend that the entire body approve a motion asking for the return of the $30,000 based on the fact that Ingram has never bought a home in Springfield.

Sarno said in a written statement, “My concern is that there are not any distractions that interfere with school students and their education as we continue to move our school system forward. Attorney Pikula has reviewed all pertinent information relative to the contract and subsequent agreements negotiated between the FCB and Dr. Ingram, and has determined that they are legally binding.”

School Committee member Antonette Pepe distributed documents last week to the press that showed a $30,000 payment to Ingram made in recognition of the market differences in real estate between Springfield and Oklahoma City, Okla., was part of his payroll on Aug. 1, 2008. She noted the side agreement letter from FCB Executive Director Stephen Lisauskas to Ingram that described the $30,000 benefit was dated June 25, 2008.

At a press conference, Pepe asked, “Why put it on a payroll if it’s a benefit?”

Pepe has not received answers to her questions about how the sum of $30,000 was determined, when it was discussed and who in city government issued it as part of payroll.

She criticized Sarno — who has said he was unaware of the side agreements and $30,000 payment until earlier this year — for signing the warrant authorizing the payment in 2008. She also questioned just how much and when Sarno knew about the $30,000 payment and the other provisions in the side agreements.

She noted that Sarno had made the motion in a FCB meeting for Lisauskas to “negotiate and execute” the contract with Ingram. Pepe questioned the use of the word “execute” as meaning “finalize” and wondered if during that meeting the side agreements for transitional expenses, including the $30,000, were discussed.

After reading Pikula’s analysis, Pepe fired back, “Attorney Pikula works for the mayor, not the taxpayers, and this opinion was issued at the request of Mayor Domenic J. Sarno.”

She added, “It is a shame that the intent of this contract and side letter are being manipulated by legal jargon and that Attorney Pikula is playing legal games with the contract’s wording.”

Pikula also addressed two other concerns that had been brought forward at the School Committee meeting on July 28: Ingram’s reimbursement for alcoholic beverages and the payment of a $90 per month parking space when his contract gives him $650 for auto-related expenses.

“Other issues have arisen as to expenses for which the superintendent may have sought reimbursement. Specifically, it is alleged that the superintendent submitted receipts, which included alcoholic beverages. I have not been provided evidence of any such reimbursements, but would defer to the city’s Office of Internal Auditing to review the history of reimbursement to determine whether any such payments were made. If so, the superintendent should return the payment,” Pikula wrote.

“Another issue has arisen as to reimbursement for parking. According to the superintendent’s contract, $650 per month is paid to the superintendent for motor vehicle expenses and in lieu of all transportation related expenses including mileage, tolls, parking related to the motor vehicle for travel within the Commonwealth. However, the contract also provides for reimbursement of ‘all travel expenses’ when pre-approved out of state travel occurs ... As such, parking costs related to out of state travel (or more than 150 miles) would also be entitled to reimbursement above and beyond the $650 monthly limit. As this issue involves a review of the books and accounts of the city, the Law Department would defer to the Office of the Internal Auditor for review. If the Internal Auditor determines that any such payments were made for parking in violation of the contract, such funds should be reimbursed by the superintendent,” he wrote.

Last week, City Council President and mayoral candidate Jose Tosado had requested from the state Department of Revenue copies of the minutes of FCB executive session meetings as part of his investigation into the issue of Ingram’s contract.

Pepe said again that her motivation to investigate the contract and its origins is not “personal.”

“I think he is a nice man,” she said.

Pepe added, though, if the School Committee had been involved with the approval of this contract it would have “fought it by tooth and nail.”

She wants to see the $30,000 returned to the city and believes Ingram should pay for the $90 parking space he has out of the $650 a month he receives for auto expenses.

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