>Just the other day I posted, Cantalupo’s Resignation From Brookdale Exposes Shady Ties To Lillian Burry and County. The post was about the ties between former Freeholder Director Lillian Burry and Brookdale Community College lawyer John Cantalupo, who finally resigned from the college’s Board of Trustees last Friday in the weak of the Peter Burnham scandal.
It’s been almost one weekly bombshell after another in the aftermath of the Brookdale Community College scandal that forced the school’s president, Peter F. Burnham, to resign in disgrace amid allegations of improper spending habits.
It raised anew serious questions about whether its board of trustees was doing an effective job of oversight or just sleepily rubber-stamping for payment Burnham’s excessive vouchers. The county prosecutor’s office is now investigating how the money was spent. There is no word yet from that office on when the probe will be completed.
So far, under strong pressure to quit, the high-level Brookdale resignation casualties, in separate actions, have been the board of trustees chairman Howard C. Birdsall, a 23-year veteran of the board, and the board’s multi-faceted attorney, John M. Cantalupo, who served for two years. Cantalupo took new heat last week when it was reported in the Asbury Park Press that he had been serving as Republican Freeholder Lillian G. Burry’s campaign treasurer.
But wait. Could that be right? Freeholder Burry’s campaign treasurer, a political position?
Didn’t Cantalupo serve as the attorney representing the Brookdale board of trustees and as general counsel for the college? And didn’t Cantalupo help negotiate the generous contract with Burnham that included lavish pay and perks at the same time the board was weighing an 8.2 percent tuition increase?
And don’t the freeholders, of which Burry is the former board director, appoint most of the Brookdale trustees? Don’t the trustees, in turn, appoint the attorney? Doesn’t Burry sit on the board of school estimate that votes on budgets that include the contracts of the president and the attorney? Wasn’t Burry a strong supporter of Burnham?
Is there anything wrong here? Is this a potential conflict of interest for Burry? Doesn’t it raise ethical concerns for Burry to have the Brookdale attorney as her campaign treasurer, often said to be her spokesman, at political fundraisers?
Cantalupo, in the May 14 issue of the Press, said he resigned as Burry’s campaign treasurer because he didn’t want to serve as a “political distraction for the most outstanding freeholder in Monmouth County.”
Interestingly, I asked Burry before the resignation if Cantalupo was serving as her campaign treasurer. She and her chief administrative assistant never replied to my e-mails. Neither did Cantalupo, who I also queried about the treasurer role and what it entailed. Bill Bucco, who described himself as Burry’s campaign spokesman, asked that any questions relating to her campaign be directed to him. But he did not reply to my questions about the Cantalupo campaign post. So much for transparency.
To their credit, Freeholder Deputy Director John P. Curley, a Republican, and Freeholder Amy A. Mallet, a Democrat, repeatedly called for Cantalupo to resign as Brookdale attorney. Curley said he was “very concerned” that Cantalupo was working for Burry as her campaign treasurer. Mallet questioned whether it was ethical for Burry to sit at the board of school estimate table deciding on the attorney’s fees.
There is no question that the freeholders now will have to grapple with the way Burry handled this matter — especially the fact that she would not disclose the Cantalupo link and kept the other freeholders in the dark on the issue. It was poor judgment on her part.
But now it’s time for another bombshell to drop. This one should come with the resignation of Jacob S. Elkes, the former board vice chairman who is serving as its interim chairman. He is a 16-year veteran of the board.
Elkes, like Birdsall, was part of the institution’s leadership vacuum that permitted the Burnham mess to take place. It’s time for him to go. The rest of this sleepy board should make plans to depart in an orderly fashion.
On his way out, Elkes should take with him the law firm of Wilentz, Goldman and Spitzer that gave Brookdale Cantalupo. It’s time for a complete culture change at the college and a new law firm, without any freeholder connections. There is no shortage of good law firms to choose from in Monmouth County.