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Two Reports, "Investigating The Investigators", and 'The Gill Commission Report' (1990) Dont Improve New York City Public Schools
Editorial: Every person of any age or title who is involved with the NYC public school system is in danger, as long as Richard Condon is Special Commissioner of Investigation for the New York City Public Schools. I have finally copied two books published in March and April 1990 which show the corruption inside New York City's education department: "Investigating the Investigators" and "Findings and Recommendations of the Joint Commission on the Integrity of the Public Schools". Nothing has fact, the corruption is worse than ever. Betsy Combier
   James Gill   
On March 15, 1990, Mr. James F. Gill, the appointed Chairman of the Joint Commission on Integrity in the Public schools, wrote a letter to New York City Mayor David N. Dinkins, the Honorable Robert F. Wagner, Jr., President of the Board of Education, and the Honorable Joseph A. Fernandez, Chancellor, in which he expressed his dismay at the incompetence of the Board of Education’s Inspector General, Michael P. Sofarelli:

“I am sad to report that the Commission found the Inspector General’s operation woefully inadequate. The office wastes scarce resources that should be devoted to investigating serious crime on ineptly-run investigations of internal management matters. The office lacks experienced personnel and meaningful supervision. The office does not keep track of its own work accurately or generate reliable statistics that would enable the public to assess it’s effectiveness.

Not surprisingly, therefore, the office has forfeited the confidence of the system’s employees: 41 percent of the teachers and supervisors who responded to our survey reported that they believed the Inspector General was either minimally effective or completely ineffective. This pervasive distrust of the system’s watchdog is a devastating indictment of the office’s performance and a critical impediment to effective policing.

Because of these findings, the Commission recommends that the Mayor immediately appoint a Special Commissioner to Investigate the Public School System. The new Commissioner should attack crime and corruption with the goal of building solid, prosecutable criminal cases against real criminals. The Commissioner’s staff should be an effective strike force of criminal attorneys, police officers, and investigators. The Commissioner’s office should – at least temporarily until it earns the confidence of parents, employees, and the public at large – be independent of the Board of Education.”

(Yes, Mr. Sofarelli was removed, but he was then hired by Attorney General Eliot Spitzer to investigate Medicaid fraud in NYC, and the work was so bad that Pataki ordered an overhaul in 2005. Mr. Sofarelli 'retired' from investigating Medicaid in 2003. - Ed)

Mr. Gill then published his findings in a book, “Investigating the Investigators”, which I copied and have made available below:

Investigating the Investigators (Introduction – p. 43)
Investigating the Investigators (pp. 44 – 86)

One month later, Mr. Gill wrote to the same people a letter that became the introduction to his final report:

“Dear Sirs,

This is the final report of the Joint Commission on Integrity in the Public schools, and it contains the Commission’s findings and recommendations I regret to report that we found serious corruption or impropriety almost wherever we looked”…

Findings and Recommendations Of The Joint Commission On Integrity In the Public Schools (Introduction – p. viii)
New Tammany Hall pp. ix – xviii
New Tammany Hall pp.1-37
New Tammany Hall pp. 38-77
New Tammany Hall pp. 78-102
New Tammany Hall pp. 103-163
New Tammany Hall pp. 164-193

Executive Order No. 11 was issued on June 28, 1990 by NYC Mayor David Dinkins, creating the office of the new Deputy Commissioner.

The facts of the corruption of New York City public schools were very much in the media in 1989-1990:

Panel Urges Watchdog Agency for N.Y.C. Schools
By Ann Bradley, Education Week, Published: June 13, 1990

A commission charged with investigating corruption in the New York City schools has released a final report calling for the establishment of an independent investigatory agency appointed by the mayor to monitor wrongdoing in the district.

The final report of the Joint Commission on Integrity in the Public Schools, released May 31, summarized findings that had previously been made public.

But it also contained new criticism of the board of education's procedures for disciplining teachers and principals and fresh disclosures of $94,000 worth of missing computer equipment in one community school district. The report revealed, in addition, that the same community district had spent $17,000 to give its employees electronic paging devices.

In a news conference held to announce the report's release, James F. Gill, chairman of the commission, blamed Robert F. Wagner Jr., president of the board of education, for many of the system's failings.
Mr. Gill called the board a "sleepy-eyed lumbering brontosaurus primarily interested in grazing."
When asked who was to blame for the situation, Mr. Gill responded: "I'll say it--Bob Wagner. He's the president of the board of education. Bob Wagner. Bob Wagner. Bob Wagner."

However, Mr. Gill said in an interview last week that he had "no intention of attacking Bob Wagner personally."
"I hold him in high regard," he said. "The board of education is the group that has overall responsibility for everything in the system, and it should be accountable."

Inspector General's Powers
Mr. Wagner said last week that he attributes Mr. Gill's comments to the fact that the two disagree over what powers an independent inspector general should be given.
The board president said he favors giving the inspector general special prosecutory powers; Mr. Gill said such powers would conflict with the duties of the regular prosecutors' offices.

Mr. Gill charged that the board of education's current inspector general, Michael Sofarelli, has been lax in conducting investigations. "It's an investigatory failure, not a prosecutorial problem," he said last week.
Mayor David Dinkins is expected to make a recommendation on the issue within a month.
Mr. Wagner also noted that several of the commission's criticisms, including the charge that the board had failed to discipline teachers, were in areas affected by state regulations that were not within the board's control.
The commission was appointed by former Mayor Edward I. Koch and the board of education in 1988. The most dramatic moment of its investigation came last year when the board of Community School District 27 was suspended following allegations of corruption made by Colman Genn, the district's superintendent.
Mr. Genn, who had secretly taped conversations with board members and school employees, testified that board members had made it clear his contract would not be renewed unless he agreed to hire their friends and political associates. (See Education Week, Nov. 1, 1989.)

The report recommended that the New York legislature give district superintendents, rather than community school boards, the power to hire teachers' aides and paraprofessionals. It did not endorse Chancellor Joseph A. Fernandez's proposal to take away local boards' power to appoint school administrators.

June 1, 1990
Wagner Faulted for Schools' Failures by Inquiry Panel Head

LEAD: The chairman of a commission investigating New York City's schools yesterday called the Board of Education a 'sleepy-eyed lumbering brontosaurus primarily interested in grazing' and singled out its president, Robert F. Wagner Jr. for blame.

The chairman of a commission investigating New York City's schools yesterday called the Board of Education a 'sleepy-eyed lumbering brontosaurus primarily interested in grazing' and singled out its president, Robert F. Wagner Jr., for blame.
'I'll say it - Bob Wagner,' said James F. Gill, chairman of the Joint Commission on Integrity in the Public Schools, when asked whom he was held responsible for the school system's continuing failures. 'He's the president of the Board of Education. Bob Wagner. Bob Wagner. Bob Wagner.'

In a telephone interview later, Mr. Gill said: 'I don't mean to single him out, but a lot of these things happened on his watch and he is the chief executive officer. So he along with the entire board has to share responsibility when things go wrong, particularly when we make revelations that they haven't acted upon.'

Mr. Gill made his initial remarks at a news conference at the midtown office of his law firm to release the final report on the commission's 17 months of work. The 193-page document contained fresh disclosures about $94,000 of missing computers in one Bronx district and new criticism of the central board for what it said was an inability to discipline teachers.

'An Excuse for Failure'
Mr. Gill, whose commission was created by former Mayor Edward I. Koch and the Board of Education in the wake of a series of disclosures about school corruption, attacked the central board, its bureaucracy and its leadership for what he said was a desire to use the decentralization of the system 20 years ago into 32 local districts 'as an excuse for failure.'
'They seem to have believed that they could just let those districts stew in their own juices, just send them a memo or directive once in a blue moon and then let them sink or swim on their own,' Mr. Gill said.

But even more startling was the attack on Mr. Wagner. The son of a former New York City Mayor, the grandson of a former United States Senator and a confidant of Mr. Koch, Mr. Wagner has been one of the city's most prominent political fixtures for two decades and played a key role in appointing both the commission and Mr. Gill. By picturing himself as a reformer intent on overhauling a shabby school system, he has generally been able to elude the criticism that regularly befalls that system. His term as board president, a part-time position for which he is paid $20,000 a year, expires at the end of this month. In an interview yesterday, Mr. Wagner, board president since January 1986, dismissed much of the criticism as unfair, saying Mr. Gill was attacking failings that he and the other board members can do little about. He spoke of his battle for legislation that would abolish the Board of Examiners, the agency that tests and licenses teachers, and give the chancellor a greater role in choosing district superintendents.

Mr. Gill said Mr. Wagner was 'very dedicated' and his 'heart was in the right place.' But, he said, he and the rest of the board were 'lumbering' along and had not even responded promptly to repeated findings by his commission of corruption and inefficiency within the school system.

Criticism on Sofarelli
Mr. Wagner, he said, did not dismiss his Inspector General, Michael Sofarelli, even though the commission revealed significant inadequacies in how the office conducted its investigations of wrongdoing by employees. 'Why would you want to continue a guy who has run the office in the way he had run it,' Mr. Gill said in an interview. Mr. Wagner, he said, also did not 'exert his influence' to obtain the removal of the chief investigator for the Board of Examiners after the commission exposed serious flaws in the screening process for new teachers. That process, Mr. Gill said, permitted a teacher convicted of sexual abuse to get appointed to a Bronx junior high school.

More than a year ago, he said, his commission revealed that the board was not certifying parents for eligibility to vote in school board elections, thereby exposing the balloting to fraud.
But the officials responsible, Mr. Gill said, were never disciplined. Eight months ago, he said, the commission tape-recorded a Queen's teacher, Richard Lipkowitz, as he boasted of his ability to influence the appointments of the district's administrators. The charges against that teacher, Mr. Gill said, are 'still pending.'
'This kind of inertia, stagnation, and inaction is extremely distressing,' Mr. Gill said. 'The kids deserve better. They deserve leaders who will act on their behalf and act in a timely way.'

Roots of the Problem
In response, Mr. Wagner said the disciplinary process for teachers is controlled by state laws and union contracts that carefully protect teacher rights and salaries until the proceedings have run their course. The response to the election certification, he said, was bedeviled by a faulty legal opinion, and, he said, affected only a few voters in any case. The Board of Examiners, he said, is an independent agency that is not under the control of the Board of Education.

Mr. Wagner speculated that Mr. Gill's harsh words have roots in their disagreement over what kind of office should police corruption within the schools. Mr. Gill would like to see the present Inspector General replaced by a Special Commissioner appointed by the mayor who would have subpoena power and a staff of professional investigators. Mr. Wagner prefers an independent special prosecutor who would also be able to bring cases to trial. Mr. Gill thinks Mr. Wagner's proposal impractical since it would be opposed by the city's district attorneys.

Mr. Wagner has also expressed displeasure with the personal attacks on the Inspector General, Mr. Sofarelli, in an earlier report by the Gill Commission.
'It's a reflection of Jim's impatience about the pace of change within the system and how difficult it to make things happen,' Mr. Wagner said.

New Disclosures
In contrast to the criticism of Mr. Wagner, Mr. Gill used only complimentary language in talking about Schools Chancellor Joseph A. Fernandez. But Mr. Fernandez was said by aides to be unhappy with the Gill Commission's refusal to endorse his effort to strip the 32 community school boards of their power to appoint principals and assistant principals.

These aides, who asked for anonymity, said Mr. Gill had personally indicated to Mr. Fernandez that the boards, many of which have been implicated in patronage, should not be permitted to appoint school administrators. But the aides said Mr. Gill then found himself outweighed by three members of the commission and sought to preserve its unity. The account was confirmed by two officials familiar with the Gill Commission's deliberations.

The report was largely a review of the commission's findings over its 17-month life. But there were several new disclosures. On a single day last September, the commission's investigators visited 17 of the 33 schools in School District 9 in the southwest Bronx and found that 80 computers, or 17 percent of those purchased for the schools, and 37 printers, or 26 percent of those purchased, could not be located. Many of these, the investigators later discovered, were moved to other districts but no records were kept of the transfers.

Others 'were left sitting in storage' and went unused by students. Still others, the report said, 'simply disappeared,' though the investigators could not determine whether they were stolen or misplaced.
The commission also found that District 9 spent $17,000 a year so that 68 officials could have beepers or paging devices. It also found that the district became embroiled in a scheme to allow 40 relatives and friends of district employees to have beepers, but that in many cases the district was not repaid for their use.

The commission also took issue with the school system's unwillingness to discipline teachers. In the 1988-89 school year, it said, 99.7 percent of the system's 65,000 teachers were rated satisfactory, a level of quality that Mr. Gill, a lawyer in private practice, said sardonically could not be matched by any other profession, even his own. Only 12 teachers were dismissed or forced to resign as a result of disciplinary proceedings.

In its recommendations, the commission asked the State Legislature to give district superintendents, rather than local school boards, the power to hire teacher aides and paraprofessionals. It asked the central board to articulate clear policies about discipline 'so that those in charge of discipline are no longer left at sea about what they should consider misconduct and what punishments they should seek.'

March 16, 1990
Investigators For Schools Are Criticized

LEAD: In a stinging report issued yesterday, the commission examining the New York City public school system said the work of the Board of Education's chief investigative arm was 'reminiscent of the Keystone Kops' and deserved blame for much of the corruption and crime within the system.

In a stinging report issued yesterday, the commission examining the New York City public school system said the work of the Board of Education's chief investigative arm was 'reminiscent of the Keystone Kops' and deserved blame for much of the corruption and crime within the system.

The most dramatic example of ineffectiveness by the school system's Office of Inspector General, the Gill Commission charged, came in the case of Matthew Barnwell, a Bronx principal arrested by the New York City police in November 1988 on charges of buying crack. The Inspector General, the commission said, learned that Mr. Barnwell was using drugs a year before the arrest, but bungled its investigation with 'aimless, lethargic and sporadic' work.

'The investigation was so shoddy that it could be a textbook example of how not to conduct a criminal investigation,' said the report by the commission, which is known formally as the Joint Commission on Integrity in the Public Schools.

Unit Established in '80

The arrest of Mr. Barnwell set off a wave of investigations into allegations of corruption in the school system. This week, three former Bronx school officials who were indicted in one of the inquiries were acquitted of charges stemming from the removal of a baby grand piano from a school. [Page B3.] In its report yesterday, the Gill Commission recommended that the office be replaced with a 'special commissioner to investigate the public schools' who would be appointed by the mayor, be in charge of a squad of police officers, and be given the power to issue subpoenas and make arrests, powers the Inspector General's Office now lacks.

The Inspector General's Office was set up in 1980 to serve as the school system's internal watchdog and handle a wide variety of crimes and violations of school regulations, including thefts of property, political hiring, and abuse of students.

In December 1988, after Mr. Barnwell's arrest and several newspaper accounts of corruption, the Gill Commission was created. One of its purposes was to look at how well the school system was policing itself.

The commission's study, titled 'Investigating the Investigator' constituted a 'scathing indictment' of 'bloated, largely ineffective operation whose investigations are often reminiscent of the Keystone Kops,' the panel's chairman, James F. Gill, said at a news conference.

'Significant Illicit Activity'

The Inspector General's 60 investigators, the report said, lack law-enforcement and legal experience, are hamstrung by poor supervision and are not scrupulous about protecting the confidentiality of their sources.

The office's $3.8 million dollar annual budget, Mr. Gill said, 'is squandered on trivial matters instead of focused on significant illicit activity' and more energy seems devoted to 'papering the file than to detecting wrongdoing.'

'I cannot escape the conclusion that some of the responsibility for the corruption that we have uncovered in the school system rests squarely on Inspector General Michael Sofarelli's office,' Mr. Gill said.

In response, Mr. Sofarelli said the report was 'written in a sensational headline-hunting way' and took unnecessary 'cheap shots at him and his staff. He said his office's inquiries had led to 70 arrests since 1987, including the conviction of 26 school building inspectors charged in a kickback scheme and the suspension or indictments of three school district superintendents.

Low Salaries

He said his office, like the offices of the 26 other inspectors generals at city agencies, was hobbled by low starting salaries for investigators, who are paid about $25,000 to start, which made it difficult to recruit the best investigators or former police officers.

Mr. Sofarelli's deputy, Conrad W. Reitz, said investigators for the Gill Commission had themselves bungled the arrest of a high school teacher who was buying drugs.

The Gill Commission saved its most vitriolic language for a case study of the Inspector General's handling of a complaint against Mr. Barnwell. On November 24, 1987, a year before Mr. Barnwell's arrest, the board received an anonymous telephone call from a teacher at Public School 53 who said Mr. Barnwell was 'discriminating against non-blacks' in hiring, was borrowing money from teachers without repaying them and was 'a drug user.'

One Interview a Month

Mr. Sofarelli, the report said, was informed of the call the following day, but the first interview to try to confirm the allegation was not conducted until March 10, more than three months later. A chronology provided in the commission's report indicates that the investigator on the case conducted interviews at the rate of one a month with parents, teachers, and administrators.

Before any action could be taken by the office, Mr. Barnwell was arrested - without the office's knowledge or participation - by the New York City police as he tried to buy two vials of crack on a Manhattan street. He was convicted of drug possession in January and dismissed.

Mr. Gill said that the Inspector General should have begun prompt surveillance of Mr. Barnwell, rather than concentrating on interviews with his colleagues. The office's investigator, he said, failed to consult the board's own files on Mr. Barnwell, which would have revealed earlier complaints that Mr. Barnwell 'sat in his office all day playing video games.'

In his rebuttal, Mr. Sofarelli said the original allegation of drug use was included almost as an 'afterthought' in the memorandum he received and so failed to trigger the appropriate urgency. Moreover, he said, the office handles 2,900 complaints a year and many of them are efforts to 'get back' at people.

Three Lawyers

His office's investigator was handling many other cases, he said. And his office, he said, did not try to shadow Mr. Barnwell because it was never told where he used drugs and 'we couldn't follow the man around for 24 hours.'

Mr. Gill's concerns about the Inspector General were more sweeping than just the Barnwell case. The office, he said, had only three lawyers, and only one of those - Mr. Sofarelli, a former prosecutor in Brooklyn - has any experience in criminal matters. Only one of the office's 60 investigators, Mr. Gill said, has a background in police work.

'Sofarelli was on the scene for nine years,' Mr. Gill said. 'He should have done something about it.'

'If he was working for me, he'd go,' Mr. Gill added. Mr. Sofarelli serves at the pleasure of the 7-member board of education and was not hired by the chancellor.

Mr. Gill also told of breaches in confidentiality, including one investigator who left his name and title at the school that was being investigated. Such breaches, Mr. Gill said may explain why Colman Genn, the superintendent of District 27 in Brooklyn, went to the commission rather than the Inspector General with his startling allegations of political hiring.

Mr. Gill said that a survey of school employees taken by the commission showed that 44 percent of those interviewed would feel 'uncomfortable bringing a complaint' to the Inspector General.

In response to the commission, both Mayor David N. Dinkins and Robert F. Wagner Jr., indicate interest in or support for supporting the idea of creating an investigative agency totally independent of the Board of Education. Mr. Wagner, however, pointed out that unless salaries were raised, the independent office would also not attract the best law and police school graduates.

October 24, 1989
New York Times
Tapes of School Officials: Ante Becomes 'Little Higher'

LEAD: These are excerpts from conversations taped by Colman Genn, superintendent of School District 27 in Queens, with James C. Sullivan, the school board treasurer, Samuel Granirer, board vice president, and William Sampol, a former Republican state legislative aide seeking a $42,000-a-year district job, and others over a course of seven months.
These are excerpts from conversations taped by Colman Genn, superintendent of School District 27 in Queens, with James C. Sullivan, the school board treasurer, Samuel Granirer, board vice president, and William Sampol, a former Republican state legislative aide seeking a $42,000-a-year district job, and others over a course of seven months. The opening excerpts are from a conversation that generally revolved around Mr. Sullivan's and Mr. Granirer's complaints that Mr. Genn had hired too many black assistant principals and not enough of the people they wanted. Feb. 6, 1989
GENN: Jimmy, you're not going to take all the blacks off the list because . . .
SULLIVAN: Yes. If you're gonna put them in, we're gonna take them out. Yeah. If there was a movement to play, I'd play. You know what I mean? (A few minutes later)
SULLIVAN: And a year from now, your contract is going to be up. And I'm telling you this, as your friend. As board members who'll probably be sitting here.
GENN: I'm sure you will all be sitting here.
SULLIVAN: O.K. Do you understand what the considerations become then? And how the ante becomes, becomes a little higher under those new guidelines?
GENN: I understand, but I can't let that become.
GRANIRER: (Unintelligible)
GENN: How I run my life . . .
SULLIVAN: I understand that. But you understand what our concerns are.
GENN: I understand that I would not get another contract.
SULLIVAN: It's possible. Sept. 13, 1989
SULLIVAN: You know, nobody's looking to fleece anybody. Honestly, we're not, Cole.
GENN: Yeah, I understand.
SULLIVAN: If I thought, if I thought that they were really hurting instruction, wanting a whole (expletive) piece that would make a big, major difference, I wouldn't go for it. Honestly, at the end of the day, I'm a political leader - that's why I'm here.
GENN: Yeah.
SULLIVAN: And I make sure my people get (expletive) jobs. When I came into this district, and it's true, Cole, there were three Irish supervisors out of 157 people. Now, when the blacks come up, they say, 'Well, don't tell us that there aren't enough blacks that are qualified.' That's true.
GENN: Mmm-hmm.
SULLIVAN: But don't expect me to believe that about my own people either.
GENN: Mmm-hmm.
SULLIVAN: Except that the avenues were never there for them to participate, because Marvin (Aaron, former district superintendent) hired out of the synagogue. That's between you and I.' Sept. 18, 1989
GENN: You left a resume with Tony (an unidentified district worker).
SAMPOL: Yes, I did.
GENN: O.K., you brought him the resume. The resume that you brought him is, really doesn't focus on any educational kinds of activities.
GENN: Umm, and it's my understanding that, according to Jimmy (Sullivan), that he wants me to tailor it, the job description, umm, to meet your skills and your background.
SAMPOL: O.K. Or I can change my resume around a little if you like. What, whatever.
GENN: Yeah. I think I'll . . . if you could get me a current resume.
GENN: And focus on the educational things that you've done.
GENN: Umm, and deal with those kinds of issues, umm. I can then either sit with you or, umm, you know, work it out with you.

See also the NY Times' articles on District 27.
Ed Stancik investigated. (I love the last line of his report, in a footnote p. 9:"...Ms. Russell('s)...motivation was political self-preservation, not prejudice.")

Genn died at the age of 68 in July 2004 - Editor

Ed Stancik was appointed as the first Special Commissioner of Investigation of the New York Public Schools in 1992. His independence from the Board of Education and the Mayor bothered both Commissioner Hearn and Mayor Bloomberg, so when he died at the age of 47 on March 12, 2002, there was a lot of talk about how to control this that "favored" administrators, teachers, and parents would not be caught. Mayor Bloomberg issued EXECUTIVE ORDER NO. 15 on June 18, 2002, which changed the Special Commissioner's required background from an Attorney to a person with "at least five years of law enforcement experience". Then, Rose Gill Hearn, the Commissioner of the Department of Investigation, (and James Gill's daughter) appointed her dad's friend, Richard Condon.

Mr. Condon is not an attorney, as required in Executive Order No. 11, he was appointed by his friend Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn after Mayor Bloomberg changed EXECUTIVE ORDER 11 to EXECUTIVE ORDER 15, which opened the door to an individual who was not an attorney to fill the Special Commissioner's job. It is fair to say after speaking with parents, teachers, and administrators of NYC public schools that Mr. Condon has brought the NYC Public School system to a new level of lawlessness and corruption. The case of Teddy Smith is an example of this. By all accounts, he has created a reign of terror that will never be forgotten, nor, sadly for the current education administration, forgiven.

See also "Investigating the Investigators and the Gill Commission Final Report"

Betsy Combier

© 2003 The E-Accountability Foundation