member Anthony Mancuso says accusations regarding board members and alleged conflicts of interest regarding the controversial Fields of Dreams proposal are "silly."
Emails relating to and transcripts of Recreation Advisory Committee meetings reveal that long before the public heard of a plan to use Open Space Trust Fund dollars to finance the installation of artificial turf fields and other improvements at Parsippany and Parsippany Hills high schools, the plan was floated by then-BOE President Mancuso and Superintendent LeRoy Seitz.
Mancuso said those revelations are accurate, but do not tell the entire story.
"It has been pointed out that I met with two members of the town's recreation committee. Yes, I did, along with Dr. Seitz," he said. "It lasted all of 20 minutes."
According to Mancuso, he and Seitz were asked whether the school board would be interested if the township offered artificial turf fields to the district's high schools as "a gift."
"We said, of course we would, but do not come back to the board until you have gotten all the town side of this issue straight," he said. "Well, that did not happen."
Mancuso said the controversy really does not involve the Board of Education.
"The board can not control what happens outside the board by other groups," he insisted. "Until the board has been presented with plans, and the town works out the funding issue and permits and so forth, there is nothing for [us] to consider."
Mancuso said board members are as much "in the dark" about the project and funding plans as residents at this point.
"As for me, I have never said to anyone I was for this project," he said. "I will vote when the time comes, depending on what is presented, [based] on what I feel is best for the board and the students. That is who I am elected to represent."
As far as alleged conflicts of interest, Mancuso said he does not see any.
"[Board Vice President Frank] Neglia has been on the recreation committee ... for many years. He also has been the BOD liaison on the Shared Services Committee for years," he said. "None of this is hidden information and he is in those positions to facilitate issues like this between the town and the board."
Mancuso added that Neglia was appointed to the position, and long before the Fields of Dreams proposal was envisioned.
Neglia is also president of the .
"Should I be conflicted out because pee-wee [football], or [fellow BOE member Michael] Strumolo because his son [plays] in a youth group?" he said. "We all live in this town and if you are active or have children, chances are you have been connected somehow to one of the parties involved.
"There is no conflict of interest. No one here is making money off this or getting business from this," he asserted. "This is elected officials doing the jobs they were assigned to do."
Meanwhile, residents against Mayor James Barberio, the Township Council's respective president and vice president, Brian Stanton and Vincent Ferrara, and member Sharif Shamsudin, who is the chairman of the school board's Sports Committee.
It is rumored that other charges are forthcoming. A charge is merely that, and does not indicate guilt.
On other BOE matters, Mancuso said he sees positive things in terms of how members are getting along.
"I don’t think necessarily did anything to bring the board closer, but I do see some of the newer members being more willing to work and listen with some of the older ones," he said. "Some of us have gotten past trust issues and some have not."
Mancuso is an unabashed cheerleader for the .
"This is a great budget, and don’t let others tell you different," he said. "It keeps all our educational programs, athletic programs and extracurricular programs intact. In addition, we don’t need to make any employee cuts. Plus, we are within the cap limitations.
"That is amazing,"Mancuso continued. "Watch how many other districts struggle to accomplish what we have."
He added that residents have to understand that while the budget does include some financial "wiggle room," he said the board needs to have the ability to handle unforeseen issues that arise. He pointed to employee negotiations and always variable heating costs as examples.
"In the end, if funds are left over, [they are] returned or rolled over, so we get less the next year," he explained. "A board can not run in the red; that is the law."
Mancuso also defended the embattled Seitz.
"Dr. Seitz is doing what the board has asked him to do, concentrating on the positive aspects of our district and getting the good word out and I think he is doing a great job of it," he said. "This was why [current President Frank] Calabria created the [board's] Communications Committee.
"We need to remind people [that] the students are the focus, and they are out there making us proud."