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Side agreements create controversy

Date: 8/3/2011

Aug. 3, 2011

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor


SPRINGFIELD — School Committee member Antonette Pepe has said her efforts to examine the complete contract between the city of Springfield and School Superintendent Dr. Alan Ingram have little to do with her mayoral campaign and reflects her obligation as a member of the School Committee.

Regardless of her intentions, Pepe’s revelation of a side agreement written by former Finance Control Board (FCB) Executive Director Stephen Lisauskas granting Ingram benefits outside of his regular contract will have an impact on the mayor’s race.

At a time of tight budgets, Ingram’s benefits — and his regular contract —have appeared as wildly inappropriate.

On June 20, Mayor Domenic Sarno released the following statement: “The Springfield FCB had authorized former FCB Executive Director Stephen Lisauskas to enter into a relocation agreement to provide for the payment of Superintendent Dr. Alan J. Ingram’s relocation and related expenses. I do not recall receiving copies of the letters signed by Mr. Lisauskas. However, they were presented to me in the last twenty-four (24) hours by the School Department’s attorney and I intend to have a complete review conducted.

“I believe that Dr. Ingram has firmly established roots here in the city. He is actively involved in the community and has demonstrated a commitment to the city’s school children,” Sarno continued.

Tom Walsh, Sarno’s communications director, added the documents have been forwarded to City Solicitor Edward Pikula and Chief Administration and Finance Officer (CAFO) Lee Erdmann for review.

Reminder Publications called and wrote Lisauskas asking for comment on this story. As of press time, he has not communicated with this newspaper. Following the departure of the FCB, Lisauskas served as the city’s acting CAFO until Erdmann was hired.

Lisauskas was found in violation in 2010 of state ethics rules over his selection of the Merrill Lynch brokerage firm that lost the city $13 million in illegal investments. He paid a $3,000 civil fine.

School Committee member Christopher Collins called for an ethics investigation over the role Lisauskas played in the side agreements.

“I find the action quite reprehensible,” Collins said.

Pepe’s investigation yielded documents signed solely by Lisauskas —unlike Ingram’s regular contract —that show the superintendent was given $30,000 “to compensate you for the higher cost of real estate in Springfield,” among other benefits.

She called the $30,000 “unheard of.”

Pepe has been interested in examining Ingram’s contract and asked for it two months ago. At the time she received the regular contract, she was not given the side agreements.

Pepe had been supportive of Ingram’s candidacy for the position, but has had frequent clashes with Ingram and other members of the School Committee over polices and issues surrounding the superintendent’s actions.

She now regrets the support she initially gave him.

She was the only member of the body who did not vote to give Ingram a merit raise in light of troubling statistics on student performance and attendance earlier this year.

Pepe addressed the Finance Subcommittee of the School Committee on July 28, which voted to recommend to the full committee to vote on a motion that would ask Ingram to return the $30,000. The subcommittee will be meeting again on Aug. 23 to address other issues discovered in the side agreements and has asked Ingram to attend that meeting.

Lisauskas wrote Ingram in a letter dated June 30, 2008, “Understanding that this payment may be required to assist you in making a down payment while potentially maintaining your current residence in Oklahoma City [Okla.], this payment shall be made to you no later [than] Aug. 18, 2008.”

Ingram was expected to move within a year to Springfield. He has never moved to the city and Lisauskas then extended the deadline for him to move until June 30 of this year.

In a letter dated June 25, 2009, Lisauskas wrote, “As you know, your side letter agreement with regard to transition-related expenses, dated June 30, 2008, and attached hereto, provided a reimbursement for your moving expenses from Oklahoma City to the city of Springfield. You have been unable to move to Springfield during the first year of your agreement. While this incentive expires shortly, there remains a public benefit to your moving to the city. As such, and based on your request for said extension, and in accordance with the authority granted to me to negotiate terms and conditions for your employment contracts, I hereby offer to extend the reimbursement period until June 30, 2011. This will continue to provide you with an incentive to relocate to Springfield and further deepen your roots in the community.”

This statement doesn’t mention specifically the sum of $30,000, which was described earlier as recognition in the difference of the two real estate markets as noted in the letter of June 30, 2008. The School Department’s attorney, Melinda Phelps, said according to her research the $30,000 was paid to Ingram sometime prior to Aug. 18, 2008.

Ingram did receive reimbursement for $1,000, the cost to transport his car to Springfield and the FCB paid for a moving company to bring Ingram’s belongings to Springfield, according to Phelps.

Because Ingram has never moved to the city, Pepe believes he has violated his contract.

Adding to the controversy was the revelation that Ingram — who has made public statements about moving to the city — had refinanced his home in Oklahoma City in 2009. City Council candidate Joseph Fountain broke that news, which he and others have interpreted as a contradiction to Ingram’s stated intentions to relocate here.

“There is nothing personal about this,” Fountain said in a statement. “It’s about accountability and integrity. Politicians always will tell you what they are going to do and a lot never follow through. This is an example. Great schools make great communities and the perception is that Springfield’s schools are failing. Let’s build capacity for better accountability.”

The current School Committee members — Collins and Pepe — who were on the committee when Ingram was hired, said the committee had no input over the contract and were unaware of its provisions. Among those are a monthly $650 payment to cover auto related-expenses, including parking and tolls, and the payment of Ingram’s rent and electric utility for the first eight months he was in Springfield.

Outside of the $650 for auto related expenses, Ingram’s parking space — at $90 a month — is also paid by the city.

Former School Committee member Michael Rogers attended the meeting on July 28 and told Reminder Publications, Lisauskas and the FCB “kept us in the dark.”

He said the side agreement “surprised me” and he had heard rumors about it. He added he doesn’t blame Ingram for the contract.

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