The new leadership of the Clarkstown Board of Education initiated some changes at Monday night’s reorganization meeting. Board members voted to replace current Deputy District Clerk Maureen Sullivan with Jeff Sobel. They approved issuing a Request For Proposals (RFP) for legal services for the district, which are currently provided by Warren Berbit of Lexow, Berbit & Associates, P.C. of Suffern.
Sullivan handled the deputy district clerk responsibilities for the past year. Sobel will take over for the 2012-2103 school year. Sobel, who is the district’s assistant superintendent for personnel, was appointed at the recommendation of Diane Hoeneveld, the newly elected board vice president.
Hoeneveld said the deputy clerk attends board sessions where confidential matters are discussed and she thought Sobel who already handles personnel issues was more appropriate for the position. Sullivan works as the coordinator of business services for the district.
Board Member Kevin Grogan questioned the switch. The vote to appoint Sobel was four in favor, two against and one abstention.
The suggestion to solicit bids from other law firms for legal counsel came from newly elected board President Joe Malgieri. He said the district paid Berbit $600,000 last year. Board member Robert Carlucci noted that an audit of the district had determined it was paying too much for legal fees.
“It’s our responsibility as a board to watch the money,” said Carlucci.
Berbit’s current three-year contract runs through June 30, 2013. When Malgieri suggested keeping Berbit on a month-to-month basis, new board member Wendy Adolff asked that Berbit be kept through the end of his contract while the board looks at what other legal services are available.
Malgieri said Berbit had a one-person law firm and was providing counsel for a multi-million dollar school district. Grogan countered that Berbit has associates and is not a single-person law firm and said Malgieri’s statement should be retracted. He also brought up the possibility that the RFP was in response to previous events.
In their October petition filed with the State Education Commissioner by board members Malgieri, Hoeneveld and Carlucci seeking the removal of then board members Doug Katz and Philip DeGaetano, they referred to a document viewed in Berbit’s office which Malgieri and Hoeneveld were not permitted to copy or write notes about.
The board voted six in favor of issuing an RFP with just Grogan in opposition.
Berbit is the general counsel and chief legal officer for the Clarkstown Central School District. He has served the district for 30 years and the law firm has represented it since 1949. According to the contract with the district, Berbit’s annual retainer is $263,400 with monthly payments of $21,950. The board can ask him to perform supplemental work for the district at additional cost.