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Costs Mount As Lawrence Case Heads To Appeal

September 29, 2012 by admin

By Joe Malanaphy 

     On May 16,2011 Frank Lawrence, former athletic director at Brookdale Community College was placed on unpaid leave, and on June 9 tenure charges were filed against him.

     What followed was an investigation that has cost students and taxpayers thouands of dollars, and the costs are continuing to mount. In fact, Lawrence supporters say that number is a minimum of $250,000.

     On May 4, 2012, the Board of Trustees met in closed session and decided to terminate Lawrence.

     Their decision went against a recommendation from Administrative Law Judge Donald Stein to reinstate Lawrence to his position. In doing so, the board stated that Lawrence violated the school's code of ethics as to how money was handled during Shore Conference Basketball Tournament.

     Lawrence had worked tournament on Feb.19,21, 23 of 2011 and was paid $200 in cash by the Shore Conference for his services as site director after working 25 hours on his own time.

     From August to December 2011, an independent audit was conducted by Suplee, Clooney & Company, who as of Dec.15, 2011 the College had paid $60,800. On Dec.13, 2011, the auditor stated: "In our review of various departments and functions (payroll, accounts payable, etc.,) it appears that there are no formal or written policies and procedures, and that the college should consider preparing formal written policy and procedures for all significant departments and functions."

     As for a cash management plan, the results of the Suplee,Clooney & Company audit states: "at June 30, 2011, the College had $36,642,367 of cash and certificates of deposit. However, the College has no formal written cash management plan. A cash management plan would detail policies and procedures for all aspects of handling and investing of the College’s cash. A written formal plan should also require a projection of the College’s cash flow." Lawrence supporters say this means that the former AD is said to have violated a policy that according to the auditor did not exist. Avis McMillon, college spokesperson, did not return phone calls and emails to discuss the issue.

     Jack Ryan, an English professor and former athletic director here, ran the same tournament prior to Lawrence. " I was in the athletic department for 33 years, and I started there as a student worker then. When I got my associates degree, I became a full-timer, but the first year I ran the tournament was in 73’. And that year, we ran the tournament in the exact same way as Frank ran it in 2011, and it was always approved and well run," Ryan said.

     "They've made all these mistakes with former president (Peter Burnham,) and again, think of how much money Burnham spent, somewhere around $30,000 over a period of years…reprehensible. But we’re talking $200 in dispute... and they knew the trade-off with court fees, attorneys,etc., so why not sit down and say ‘Look, this is going in your file.' That’s what someone who demonstrated real leadership would do, but to take this kind of vitriolic vengeance against Frank, for what? What could he have possibly done?"

     "The college hired a marketing firm (CN Communications International Inc.) to spin-doctor the whole Peter Burnham and Frank Lawrence thing. I questioned them and they said ‘Send an email to the president,’ and her response was ‘You know, Jack, the college was without an executive director of marketing and that’s why we did that. The $60,000 was a bargain."

     "That’s not true. We had an acting executive director, and in November of 2011, they hired that person who was acting executive director of marketing to be full time, so why had they paid $60,000 over 10 months for a firm that was supposedly replacing someone that we already had?" Ryan said.

     Records show that between July 2011 and June 2012, Brookdale paid $60,000 to CN Communications International Inc., a marketing consultant.

     "I would love to be able to make a mistake in my life and then use the taxpayers' money to hire a marketing firm to spin it so that it doesn’t look like I made that mistake," complained Ryan, who has been rallying support for Lawrence on campus.

     "Now it's going to go to Superior Court and you look at all these kind of costs that go into it, and who’s paying it, for the lawyers? The students are paying for that. The taxpayers are paying for the Monmouth County Court system, and honestly , if they force him and he has to sue in a civil case, what is someone’s reputation worth? And by then it’ll be three to four years of his salary worth, and it’s going to be astronomical," Ryan said.

     "Freeholder Jim Curley said, "The moral and fiduciary responsibility has been shrugged by the Board of Trustees, and they should have followed Burnham's activities much closer.' And in doing so, they now looked for someone else as a scapegoat, and Frank was that scapegoat, and that in America today is just plain wrong," Ryan said.

     "Frank had such a passion for this place, He loved this place," said Lawrence's wife Liz.

     "When he was renovating the arena and building the fitness center, he saved the college $1 million, and I mean he was all over it. We didn't go on vacations, we didn't do anything," said Liz.

     " They (the trustees) have yet to give a reason why they went against the judges ruling. We don't understand it. They wouldn't return our attorney's phone calls; they wouldn't return emails. They wouldn't return certified mail, saying that we wanted to come and talk about this, and before you start adding up all these court fees, why not bring us in and we'll sit and we'll talk about it," Liz said.

     "Its unfortunate in an educational setting how we're teaching our students to run a public institution," said Frank Lawrence.

     "They've always wanted to be in litigation. We never wanted to be in litigation. We always wanted to come in and resolve this," he said.

     "I think what bothers me most is what this has taught our students. We have all the power and can do what we want to do, and you don't matter," Lawrence said. "I was placed on suspension, had tenure charges filed against me and was never asked a single question. They never once reached out to me."

     "They weren't interested in hearing my side of the story; they didn't talk to my boss or his boss. This was not about a search for the truth. This was about how do we gather a certain amount of charges and make them stick," he said.

     "Everything the board is doing now is to try to avoid the public, but that's their job to answer to the public. They're public employees," Lawrence said.

     "Dr. Murphy has things she needs to get done, and this is a distraction she doesn't need to deal with. I feel badly that she's going to have to spend time answering questions about this," he said.

     "This has diverted money and attention away from things that should be being done for our students instead of paying attorneys, PR firms, and accountants. "That's a lot of money," Lawrence said.

     "I think that the $250,000 spent is probably a pretty low estimate of what the cost really is to the college between productivity and negative publicity, which affects enrollment. The real cost to the college and to the students is much higher than that number really indicates," he said.

     McMillon, director of communications and public relations at Brookdale, could not be reached for comment. 

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