Saturday, December 18, 2010

Joe Kish Announces Retirement from EASD Administration Amid Questions

Why didn't Joe Kish take the admin building off the market 
after the school board directed him to do so?

Posted by: Noël Jones

The man behind the scenes at the Easton Area School District announced his retirement this week, according to Colin McEvoy of the Express-Times. Assistant to the Superintendent and member of the Building and Grounds Committee, Joe Kish, will be leaving after 35 years in the district. During this time he has served as acting Superintendent twice, including the year that the current teachers' contract was negotiated, which includes guaranteed annual raises of a minimum of 5% each year. The contract has been a bone of contention during the district's ongoing budget crisis, which last year led to the firing of 72 teachers, while the administrators--Joe Kish included--gave themselves a raise.

Kish's retirement announcement comes amid questions from the school board and taxpayers as to a number of things--top of the list being the recent revelations that the despite the school board's vote in August to take the EASD Administration Building at 811 Northampton off the market, to allow for the community to develop the possibility of a community center there, Joe Kish simply ignored the directive and left it on the market, as reported by McEvoy in a separate article. When confronted on this failure to pull the property from the market in violation of the board vote, Kish said that
pulling it off before the contract with the realtor was up would have incurred a fee for the district. But leaving it on the market would have bound the district to a sale, if an unconditional offer had been made at the district's asking price, or above, according the contract.

Another question that has come up repeatedly in board meetings in the last year, and came up again Thursday night, is why and how invoices from D'Huy Engineering, the district's engineer, have continued to be paid without board approval of the services or the invoices. And example brought up Thursday was D'Huy's invoice for $4,000 for 37 hours of work "overseeing" the contractor that was hired to fix a sink hole. This relationship between the EASD admin and D'Huy has been so comfortable, that a D'Huy rep actually got up at the meeting and expressed surprise, confusion, and a sense of righteous indignation that the board felt they had to question the invoices at all before paying them. The school district pays a fee every time a D'Huy rep shows up at a district meeting. Carinne Buzzuto, a resident of the West Ward, spoke up during public comments to ask who had invited the D'Huy rep to the meeting and approved the fee for his attendance. The board did not answer.

Still another question in the minds of taxpaying residents, is why, after a few residents spoke up about the Sodexo scandal in New York and New Jersey, and asked for an investigation to find out if PA taxpayers are being ripped off to the tune of millions as well, Kish jumped to Sodexo's defense and said "there are two sides to every story" and referred to the public comments as "allegations" when they were simply an expression of concern and a request to investigate. In the middle of a recession and an ongoing budget crisis, one would think that an administrator would be looking for any rock to turn over with regard to eliminating fraud and waste, but not Joe Kish. As quoted in my earlier post about Sodexo, when teachers' union president Kevin Deely first alerted Kish to the scandal and asked about the possibility of an investigation, Kish shot back that Sodexo should sue him for "defamation."

I can't say that I'm sorry to see Kish go, I just wish that it could have been in an old-fashioned tar-and-feather fashion, rather getting out while the getting's good, with a cushy pension to look forward to.


Boo-Boo said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
darkesthour said...

Noel did not say anything about Mr. Kish personally. She is questioning his actions as a professional who is paid with tax payer money. She is not the only one asking these questions.

It is the opinion of many that the value of an education is in being able to make distinctions such as the one I just made above. You, Boo-Boo have made a personal attack. That you choose to use such vicious language while remaining anonymous is cowardly and even comical. Noel actually puts her name on what she says. That shows courage. This is another distinction that readers of this blog will notice. You aren't doing your side any good with this kind of contribution. If her and others' understanding of the issues is superficial then explain it to us if you know so much about it. I hope you are not a teacher, or a board member, or part of EASD administration responding in this way to a taxpayer.

Anonymous said...

Joe Kish has announced his retirement before at least twice. I believe he is correct in the decision to not cancekl a realto contract and took the Board's action as a mandate not to renew the contract. Secondly, the building is an embarrassment to the city. It has been poorly maintained, unlike its counterpart now in Forks Township. The administrators didn't want to be in town so they didn't maintain the porperty so the Board would look for new digs. Now the city is left with a white elephant. For the individuals looking to save the building -- stop dreaming. If we want a "community building" there are a lot of buildings that are in better shape and need less money for repairs. And no where did I read that the district was going to give the building away. Historically they have sold theior buildings for peanuts because that's what they were worth. 811 is worth $100,000 --- no more!

noel jones said...

darkesthour, thanks for you comments.

Boo-Boo, i have deleted your comment as i delete anyone who tries to use this forum for personal attacks, rather than disagreeing civilly and using good points that contribute to a meaningful debate. you are welcome to post again and not get deleted if you can simply state how you disagree and back it up, like everyone else who comments in debate on this blog.

in general, people resort to personal insult and vitriol when they have no valid points to make.

Anon 4:21--i understand what you are saying--basically that you disagree with the board's decision--but the point remains that he took it upon himself to ignore a directive from the board. taxpayers elect the board, and there were many taxpayers that spoke up in public comments at the meetings who didn't want to see the building sold before the community had a chance to make a proposal.

our elected board voted, and Joe Kish basically gave the board, and the taxpayers, the finger.

this is not to say that i am necessarily in favor of it turning into a community center--perhaps community offices could operate on one floor, but I would like the see some of the rest of the space developed to attract commerce some how.

do you have details about the condition of the bldg? i had heard that it is structurally sound, but just hadn't been renovated in a long while. is that not the case? i'd like to hear more on this. i believe the asking price was over $400k in the article...

with regard to Kish, my point is that he is part of a croneyistic old guard that has been thumbing its nose at policy and procedure and above all, the will of the taxpayers, for years, while they do whatever they choose with our money.

the continuous D'Huy invoices issued for payment without approval, twice defending Sodexo in the face of proven fraud in NY and an ongoing investigation in NJ, and the refusal to take the 811 building off the market are all evidence that we will be much better off without him in the EASD administration when we desperately need to be cleaning up the budget.

so your point is well-taken--i know that not everyone wants the building to not be sold--but the point still remains that he didn't do his job and follow policy when the board voted to take it off the market, and if someone made an offer at or above asking price, we would have been forced to sell it despite the board vote.

that is just wrong.

Dennis R. Lieb said...

I would add one thing on the Kish/RE contract issue. No one can say for sure whether the information he has given regarding the financial penalty is accurate or not without seeing the listing contract. I am not exclusively a commercial Realtor but we do handle commercial property. I guess it could be possible but I've never seen a cash penalty imposed for withdraw from market. As a public entity, I would think this document should be available for public review. Let's see it. With the building off the market no harm can be done. I know at least one citizen has requested access to it via the state's open records law and been given the run around. For the EASD to arbitrarily claim the state-allowed, 30 day delay period in this case smells fishy to me since no imposition is being made to collect difficult-to-locate or overly large files. This is a real estate contract in a file folder in someone's desk drawer. So let's see it.


Two points.

First, we can't take seriously any presumption of building value on your part since you have neither identified yourself or your credentials to make such a judgement. As a licensed Realtor and member of the original ad hoc committee to deal with the Cottingham building's sale status I can assure you the building is in much better condition than anyone assumes. Exterior maintenance issues may give it a worn look but the building is sound. I also know that a professional appraisal was acquired prior to the property being listed. That appraisal took place amidst a falling market so it should be adjusted downward somewhat for that contingency, but it is not - as you say - a $100,000 building.

I toured the entire complex twice - once as an agent representing a potential buyer and once as part of the committee's due diligence process to get a feel for the facility's potential reuse. There are also numerous agencies and organizations proactively inquiring about the building in relation to their own space needs so there is a market. The district has made mistakes in the past by relieving itself of property assets. I believe a new relationship is developing with the neighborhood that will alleviate that situation in the future. We must leave all options open and everything is on the table. There may be money to rehab the building - no guarantees. There may be a rental option from the district if the building can be otherwise used while banking it for future district needs. Nothing has been set in stone.

Second, this constant negative drum beat I hear from anonymous posters about nothing being worth working for in the West Ward, don't build anything, tear this down, tear that down, it will never work, give up. A defeatist mindset and I say bunk. We are positioned as a city to take advantage of all the calamities that will befall big cities and suburbia in the coming decades. We are properly scaled, advantageously located, possess a tight, grid-form of streets and buildings - all things to be exploited as economic and energy conditions change in America. We should be preserving and rebuilding every neighborhood we can to prepare for that. On just the lame-brained idea alone of demolishing the Cottingham Building I offer this on the issue of embedded energy of existing buildings.

(From the National Institute of Building Sciences website):

"Historic buildings are inherently sustainable. Preservation maximizes the use of existing materials and infrastructure, reduces waste, and preserves the historic character of older towns and cities. The energy embedded in an existing building can be 39% of the (total) energy of maintenance and operations for the entire life of the building. Sustainability begins with preservation."


tachitup said...

Wow, well said, Mr. Lieb. Will you run for city council next year? Please?

Dennis R. Lieb said...

Tachitup...Where were you when I ran the last time? (and to answer your question, no I won't be running. I have other fish to fry in my new role at WWNP and on the Planning Commission).

Thanks though,