Groton Town Mayor James Streeter says he has questions about why baseball field improvements at Fitch High School cost $140,000 more than an anonymous donor provided, and yet the Town Council was not informed.
Streeter said he asked for a joint meeting with the Board of Education to discuss the issue, but was rejected. He said he's now asked that the topic be placed on the agenda for the Council Committee of the Whole meeting at 6 p.m. on Nov. 15.
"There are a lot of serious questions that are going to arise," he said.
In addition, Groton resident Kevin Trejo has filed a complaint with the state Freedom of Information Commission against the Board of Education and Superintendent Paul Kadri for their handling of a closed session to discuss the ball field improvements.
"A public body cannot have private meetings," Trejo said.
The because the project cost about and more than the $500,000
The bills are due but have not been paid, because there's disagreement about where the money should come from.
Copies of e-mail correspondence among town and school officials since Sept. 15 show a pattern of escalating tension and deep disagreement about how the project was handled.
Town Councilor Frank O'Beirne wrote in an e-mail on Oct. 19 that the council could demand an investigation if the school board chairman continued to "stonewall" its requests for a joint meeting.
"It would be very embarrassing for the (board of education) if an investigation was neccessary for the council to get the desired information," O'Beirne wrote to Streeter.
Board of Education Chairman Brian Shirvell said he declined the joint meeting because it would have been a political issue. He said a more appropriate forum would have been an informal meeting with the town manger, board chairman, superintendent, donor and other parties.
During a school board meeting Oct. 24, Kadri said he learned after the bids came in that the project would cost more than the donor gave. He said he took the risk because he believed Groton would benefit, and the New England Collegiate Baseball League team, , agreed to borrow to cover the remaining cost.
The team moved to Groton this summer. Its managment has not returned calls seeking comment.
Shirvell said the donor agreed to pay an additional $80,000 over three years to cover the added cost, and the team was supposed to pay $60,000 from proceeds from its games during the next three years.
Shirvell said the team backed out of the deal. "So right now it's kind of like a default," he said.
Kadri has suggested using Department of Defense money the schools receive to cover the cost until the issue is sorted out.
School Board member Beverly Washington said Groton receives the money for education, and it should not be used otherwise.
"We could hire paraprofessionals with that," she said. "I mean, that's not right."
The Freedom of Information complaint filed Nov. 1 deals with the school department’s handling of an executive session.
According to the complaint, school officials called a special meeting at 5 p.m. on Oct. 24 to discuss a pending claim regarding the ball field project.
On the day of the meeting, Shirvell, another board member and Kadri left the main meeting room at about 4:52 p.m. to go elsewhere, the complaint said.
About a half hour later at 5:26 p.m., the complaint said the full board of education walked into the main room and the special meeting was never called to order.
Shirvell said he convened the meeting in one room and realized he should have called it in another first. But other than that, he said he's not going to worry about it.
Tom Hennick, spokesman for the commission, said there’s no rule that a meeting must be called to order. But he said a public body must vote before it starts an executive session.
However, Hennick added that the complaint must show that the board talked about government business.
“He only says that the chairman and one other person went out of the room," Hennick said. "What if they were talking about the weather? What if they were talking about the Yankees and the Red Sox? He’s got to prove they talked about board issues.”
The commission is reviewing complaints received in October, so it will be at least a month before Trejo’s complaint is formally reviewed. After a review, the commission assigns a mediator to see if the issue can be resolved, Hennick said.
The strongest penalty the commission could levy would be to declare the meeting null and void, Hennick said. He said such findings are uncommon, though he did not have figures available.