UPDATED: Framingham School Committee Members Battle Over $100 Check; Accuse Each Other of Improprieties

Editor’s Note: Originally published at 9:05 a.m. on October 17. Report was updated at midnight October 18 with additional photos, update on Hugo’s statement and added statement from Chris Connolly.

FRAMINGHAM – A refusal to sign a warrant for a $100 check has turned into a mudslinging battle between not just two candidates running for the same City of Framingham School Committee seat, but one School Committee candidate accusing four of her fellow members of improprieties.

For more than 20 minutes last night, the accusations and bickering between the School Committee members was aired to the public, but the issue has been brewing behind the scenes in emails, memos and meetings for more than a month.

In what the Framingham Public Schools Executive Director of Business Operations Ed Gotgart describes as an “unprecedented” move, long-time Framingham School Committee member Beverly Hugo refused to sign a warrant for a $100 check, tied to the athletic department. That refusal held up not only the one $100 check Hugo was questioning, but a batch of warrants for a week.

Gotgart, according to a letter written to Hugo by him and Scho0l Committee Chair Heather Connolly, wrote that he believes Hugo is not thinking in the best interest of the Schools and instead thinking about her political campaign.

In the Sept. 19 letter to Hugo, Gotgart and Connolly wrote: “the Central Office Staff has lost confidence in your ability to remain objective in signing the warrants. They fear that in your role of signing, you are acting in the interest of your candidacy, rather than the best interest of the School Committee.”

On Sept. 13, Hugo refused to sign that warrant, that included the $100 check.

After that decision, the Framingham Public School district has had correspondence, investigations, had meetings with lawyers, and last night the issue became public when School Committee member Ricky Finlay questioned why Hugo was making accusations about him, and fellow School Committee members Heather Connolly, Scott Wadland, and Jim Kelly over the last month with central office staff.

Finlay said he filed a freedom of information request for all correspondence related to Hugo’s refusal to sign a $100 check issued by the Framingham High Alpine Ski team to the inaugural Framingham Flyers athletic golf tournament. He received the 130+ page document on Tuesday.

He said since the specific warrant item was on last night’s School Committee agenda – the last School Committee meeting before the November 7 election – he wanted to discuss the matter.

Finlay, who is running unopposed for a City of Framingham School Committee seat, said he wanted an explanation from Hugo on why she refused to sign the warrant, and why she leveled several accusations against her fellow School Committee members ( four of the seven members on the Committee.)

Hugo said her refusing to sign the warrant was not on the agenda, and she wanted legal representation before discussion the matter.

Hugo said during last night’s meeting that the discussion was “grandstanding” and “campaigning.”

The longest-serving member of the School Committee, Hugo said the discussion was not appropriate, but chair Heather Connolly said the “warrant is definitely on the agenda.”

School Committee member Michelle Brosnahan tried to table the discussion, and when she was unsuccessful, she walked out of the meeting. (She later posted on the Facebook page to elect Michelle Brosnahan a statement.)

For the next 20 minutes at last night’s School Committee meeting, a discussion among the five School Committee members continued to take place, while the sixth member Cheryl Gordon, just elected in April, sat quietly. Gordon eventually left before a vote was taken to table the matter until a public hearing could be held. She said she left because her babysitter had to leave. She left just after 10 p.m.

Before that vote to table, Kelly, who is battling Hugo for the District 1 School Committee seat on November 7, demanded an apology from Hugo in which she accused him of “campaign fraud.”

The issue began, according to correspondence from the Framingham Public Schools, on September 13, when Hugo refused to sign the warrant over the $100 check.

The check was related to the inaugural Framingham High School Athletics Golf Tournament, which was organized by a committee chaired by Kelly to raise money for the high school athletics department since the budget took a cut when athletic fees were reduced.

Hugo alleges in several emails and memos to School Committee members and Central Office staff that the golf tournament was raising money for Kelly’s campaign to be elected to the School Committee and/or that staff was helping Kelly with his election campaign. Kelly and Hugo are both vying for the same School Committee seat in the new  City of Framingham in District 1. The election is November 7.

See letter below, which was signed by two Framingham Public Schools office staffers.

 

 

Hugo is the only School Committee member authorized to sign warrants. Connolly is the alternate. The School Committee members voted the two of them as authorized signers.

After that letter was received by central office, numerous emails, memos, letters were sent between Hugo, Central Office staff, lawyers, and the district’s HR director.

Hugo had a meeting with the Superintendent of Schools.

 

 

There was an October 2 meeting with Connolly, Hugo and her attorney, the Superintendent and Gotgart, who at last night at the School Committee meeting explained to Hugo how her refusal to sign that warrant has impacted the district.

Gotgart and Connolly wrote a letter to Hugo on September 19, outlining some of those issues. (see the letter below that Framingham Source obtained.)

 

 

In that letter, Hugo was told a month ago, there were “several consequences of your refusal to sign the warrant for the Framingham High School Athletics Golf Tournament.”

 

They included:

 

  • “The High School was forced to wait another week for approximately $13,400 in Student Athletic Fees, as the entire batch had to be pulled.”
  • “The Business Operations Staff and Town Accounting Staff spent several hours reviewing the warrant, the warrant policies, and how to handle the situation.”
  • “The Athletic Director and staff were notified and also had to spend time reviewing and discussing the situation.”
  • “Because this is an unprecedented situation all of the information was sent to Morgan, Brown and Joy LLP for legal counsel.”

 

Gotgart and Connelly wrote to Hugo that the “Business Operations staff thoroughly reviews the warrants for legality, and they found nothing legally or ethically wrong with the warrant.”

 

Gotart and Connelly wrote that “because of all of these consequences and you reasons for refusing to sign, the Central Office Staff has lost confidence in your ability to remain objective in signing the warrants. They fear that in your role of signing, you are acting in the interest of your candidacy, rather than the best interest of the School Committee.”

 

 

 

After that letter was sent to Hugo there was a meeting with Supt. Tremblay, Gotgart, Connolly, HR Director Inna London, Hugo and her attorney at the Perini Building on October 2.

According to a summary memo of that meeting, obtained by Source, Hugo accused her fellow School Committee members of improper activity and thus why Finlay started the discussion last night. Hugo is on the list of recipients for the memo (see photo below).

 

 

The memo summarized the meeting as follows:

Beverly reviewed her concerns with the warrant batch #9648 as the following:

  • The Framingham Flyers Athletics Golf Tournament was originally advertised as being run by “The Committee to Elect Jim Kelly” and therefore is a political event not a school event.
  • She spoke to several attorneys and the Ethics Commission who all agreed that something is not right about the golf tournament and the donation from the Alpine Ski Club
  • The Framingham Flyers Athletics Golf Tournament is a 501c3 for the school, so why are the donations being mailed to Jim Kelly’s address.
  • There are 3 Framingham employees involved in the golf tournament, and therefore involved in raising money for Jim Kelly’s campaign which is unethical and illegal.
  • The students are not benefiting from the $100 donation
  • The Alpine Ski Team is a winter sport, so how did the students vote on the $100 donation
  • The Alpine Ski Team was turned down by the former principal of the High School and by the School Committee several years ago as a varsity sport because it is white and elitist.
  • The letter from the Chair and Dr. Gotgart should have said that there are questions rather than just asking her to resign as warrant signer.
  • This is not the first time that she has received a letter of reprimand from the Chair of the School Committee. This is the second letter or reprimand that she has received.
  • Chris Connolly, the Chair of the School Committee’s husband has donated $1,000 to the Stefanini campaign.
  • There have been complaints of intimidation tactics by the School Committee Chair to other members of the School Committee.
  • Jim Kelly is placing cards on doors stating that he calls into meetings when traveling for work, which is a violation of Open Meeting Law. Jim Kelly spent $440 to determine if Remote Participation is allowed at meetings.
  • The Committee to Elect Scott Wadland had a BBQ for the Central Office Staff over the summer that the staff helped to manage. And Scott Wadland sent an email to the School Committee dis-inviting them to the That she addressed her concerns on the warrant with the Business Operations staff, but did not get her
    questions answered and was not comfortable signing the warrant.
  • That her position is not political, but about her feeling that the $100 is not a good use of money for the students.
  • Ricky Finlay has been advertising that the Committee to Elect Jim Kelly has raised $14,000 for the schools.
  • Heather is grooming Jim Kelly to be chair of the School Committee.
  • There are members of the Committee trying to remove the Finance Subcommittee, even though by law there needs to be a Finance Subcommittee and it needs to meet monthly.
  • The rules for athletics donations according to MA state law.
  • The staff statement from the Business Operations staff is not accurate.

Dr. Gotgart, according to that district memo, explained the situation with the warrant from the administration perspective:

  • Having a warrant batch (containing multiple warrants) go to the Town of Framingham with one not approved is unprecedented.
  • The Town then had to send the entire batch back holding up $13,402.00 in student activities fees for another week.
  • Because the questions were never asked directly to the Chair of the School Committee, the Assistant Director of the Business Operations Department or himself they requested that Beverly come back and sign the warrant.
  • The duty of signing the warrant is to make sure it is legal and ethical and this warrant is. The proper forms were completed, the proper signatures were collected and the town and Business Operations staff agreed that it was appropriate.
  • The responsibility of signing warrants on behalf of the School Committee is to make sure there is due process. What happens to collect the money and how the money is distributed beyond the details of the warrant are not part of the review process and should be taken up with those parties.
  • The Alpine Ski Team was given a list of things that they needed to do prior to becoming a varsity sport and one of the items was to advertise in order to increase awareness, members and donations. That is why they purchased a sign for a hole at the golf tournament.
  • He is concerned that Beverly is making this political and expressed concerns about her objectivity in signing warrants going forward.

The recommended next steps after that early October meeting is was suggested that:

  • The Business Operations Department will work with the Town to determine the steps for Beverly to indicate that she is unavailable to sign warrant batch #9648.
  • Beverly will sign a letter stating that she is unavailable to sign warrant batch #9648.
  • Heather will sign warrant batch #9648 for processing.
  • Beverly will remain as the School Committee Warrant Signer and will pull any warrants with questions or potential conflicts of interest out, and she will ask Debbie Irving, Assistant Director of Finance or Dr. Gotgart.

 

The district responded to Hugo’s request about the $100 check on Sept. 14.

Hugo eventually signed the warrant, all except for the $100 check, on September 19, said Gotgart.

Connolly signed the $100 check item on October 3, said Gotgart, after Hugo wrote a letter saying she had a conflict of interest to sign the $100 check on October 2.

Source texted Hugo last night for a comment beyond her statements at the public School Committee meeting. She responded this morning, October 17 that she is working on a statement and Source will update this report when it is received. (As of midnight October 18, no statement was ever submitted to Source.)

Source also texted Kelly. His statement – “I strongly support the responsibilities of school committee members to conduct themselves with the utmost amount of respect and honesty. Upon review of public information and  documentation available through multiple emails and meeting minutes, I was saddened to learn that my opponent Beverly Hugo has both written and orally made multiple accusations that I committed campaign fraud by being a member of the Golf Committee to raise funds for the Framingham High School Athletics department through a golf tournament fundraiser that took place in September. I look forward to continuing our discussion of this and other accusations Ms. Hugo has made at a public meeting.”

The golf tournament raised more than $14,000 for the high school athletics department. (In full disclosure, Framingham Source was a sponsor of the tournament.)

In a couple of the correspondence on this warrant issue, it is noted that Tremblay investigated the matter of the Committee to Elect Jim Kelly illegally involved in the golf tournament and he found no evidence.

The check by the Framingham Alpine Ski Team, which is not an official varsity sport, was written to the Framingham High athletics golf tournament. The team raised money via car washes and other fundraisers. The team was donating $100 to the Framingham High athletics department, and sponsoring a hole at the golf tournament, by making a donation.

Hugo complained the students were not benefiting from the $100 check, but the students were donating from their account to the general athletics budget.

Kelly said last night during the public School Committee meeting that the “golf tournament is balanced to the penny.”

Wadland last night took issue with Hugo accusing his campaign of improprieties. He said he never dis-invited School Committee members to a BBQ for central office staff over the summer. He said all School Committee members were invited to sponsor the BBQ as “individuals” and “not as School Committee members.” But, he said all School Committee members were invited to attend the BBQ.

He said the BBQ was not sponsored by the Committee to Elect Scott Wadland but rather him personally, and that Hugo’s accusation was “blatantly false.”

Kelly said the accusation of “campaign fraud” by Hugo was “quite slanderous” and he demanded an apology.

Hugo said it was unfair at 9:30 p.m. to put 130 pages in front of her and expect her to be prepared to respond.

The 130-pages of correspondence Hugo was referring to, Hugo and her lawyer received at the October 2 meeting with Tremblay, London, Connolly and Gotgart a couple of weeks ago, according to those in attendance at that meeting.

Hugo said last night was an “embarrassing setup.”

Kelly said Hugo’s actions are “embarrassing.”

 

 

This is “absolutely a set up,” said Hugo who added she had been hearing that Kelly was going to go after her.

Finlay noted that Hugo made statements against more than Kelly in her meeting with London, Gotgart, Tremblay and Connolly, and that is why he wanted the issued discussed at a public School Committee meeting.

In the end, the five School Committee members left at the meeting, unanimously tabled the matter so that a public hearing could be held.

A date was not set last night.

Chris Connolly, husband of School Committee Chair Connolly, told Source today, October 17, he and his wife did not make a $1,000 donation to the Stefanini for Mayor campaign. “That statement by Beverly is false. She should have checked John’s campaign finance report,” said Connolly.

 

Editor’s Note: Source has been accepting political advertising. Ads were specifically purchased for education reports. Source editorial is NOT endorsing any candidates for City office. The appearance of any ads here is just business.

 

 

 

 

 

Framingham Source Editor Susan Petroni

Susan Petroni Framingham Source Editor Email: editor@FraminghamSource.com Phone: 508-315-7176

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