Cami Anderson, the hermit superintendent of the Newark schools, exonerated herself of any wrongdoing in the illegal giveaway of thousands of dollars to an old friend and former assistant who managed to draw checks from school districts in two different states. Anderson, Gov. Chris Christie’s agent in the district, did it apparently by blaming the scam on lower-level employees no longer employed by the district.
“So he took the hit for everything?” asked Phil Sellinger, a member of the Newark school board whose members tried unsuccessfully Tuesday night to find out exactly how Anderson arranged to have Tiffany Hardrick, a $175,000-a-year assistant superintendent, obtain more than $12,000 in compensation from Newark while she was working as schools superintendent in Forrest City, Arkansas, after she quit.
The “he” to which Sellinger referred was the director of payroll who left Newark after the double payment to Hardrick was revealed in an audit conducted by the state Department of Education. Despite Sellinger’s suspicions, there was no evidence anyone except high level officials were involved in the payments–and Rodriguez did not directly link the departure of the employees with the payments to Hardrick.
Anderson has not appeared at a school board meeting since January of 2014, blaming that year’s mayoralty campaign–now more than a year old–for not wanting to come to board meetings because they had become too political. Instead, she had another $175,000-a-year assistant, Vanessa Rodriguez, explain–sort of–how Hardrick managed to earn money from two full-time jobs.
Rodriguez’s report was a masterpiece of the passive tense–the “verification” of Hardrick’s right to the $12,000 “was not done.” Exactly who did not do it was not made clear–although Rodriguez herself admitted she signed off on the payment–as, apparently did Anderson.
Anderson’s generosity toward her old friend Hardrick knows few bounds. Anderson hired her despite Hardrick’s less than voluntary departure from running a New Orleans charter school that awarded a $500,000 bus contract to her–Hardrick’s–brother. The school authority in New Orleans awarded the school she ran an “F.” Those were, of course, great credentials to bring to Newark.
Rodriguez said the school system’s lawyers would try to get something more than $5,200 back from Hardrick who already has given back more than $2,200 in illegal sick pay. Although the full amount paid to Hardrick was more than $12,000, the district is only seeking to recoup the net, not the gross, pay from Hardrick. The rest of the money–paid in withholding and pension contributions–just vanishes, apparently.
Board members were unhappy with Rodriguez’s report because the “chief talent officer”–yes, that’s her title–danced around who actually authorized the payment. The board members clearly believed it was Anderson but, with others falling on their swords for the boss, willingly or not, it seems unlikely the always-absent Anderson will ever be blamed.
The most perplexing question was never really raised–except by this site and Rodriguez refused to answer the question. The state audit said investigators from Trenton repeatedly demanded documentation for the payments made to Hardrick and the Newark school administration ignored the demands. “No answers were provided,” the state audit charged.
Now, it seems difficult to believe that a payroll bureaucrat, faced with demands from a state auditor, would repeatedly blow him off without checking with superiors. The payroll guy’s boss was Rodriguez and Rodriguez’s boss, of course, is Cami Anderson.
I asked Rodriguez why the state wasn’t answered. “No,” she said.
Board member Donald Jackson wanted to know why the payroll director was replaced without Anderson informing the board. Marques-Aquil Lewis said he wanted “the folks who were responsible held accountable”–and he clearly did not believe the issue involved the payroll guy.
Just what happened to the payroll guy couldn’t be discussed publicly, according to one of Cami’s lawyers at the meeting. A “personnel matter,” said Arsen Zartarian–and that, of course, would require a closed session.
This site won’t identify the payroll guy because it appears he already has suffered enough.
The important thing–as everyone who works for Cami Anderson has come to realize–is that the most important thing is that she be allowed to continue her job. Everyone else is just, well, peripheral.