Chaos reigns on employment and training program board

Four board members resign, including chairman, amidst 'a disturbing lack of civility'

Sudhan Thomas stepped down as chair of the board overseeing the city's jobs programs.
Sudhan Thomas stepped down as chair of the board overseeing the city's jobs programs.

Total chaos erupted behind closed doors during an executive session of the Jersey City Employment and Training Program Board (JCETP) on June 25, apparently provoked by the selection process for a new director for the program.

As a result, two members of the board resigned, bringing to four the number of resignations from the nine-member board over a two-week period.

Vice Chairman Bob Knapp, the longest-serving board member, described an out-of-control scene in which members shouted and cursed at each other.

As vice chairman, he was named to replace Sudhan Thomas, who stepped down as chairman earlier in the week.

While Knapp could not divulge the details of the discussion that led to the conflict, he resigned 12 hours after being named board chairman.

“I tried to nominate two other people, but they would not accept,” Knapp said.

Thomas was also serving as a temporary executive director of the JCETP at no salary after the board fired Jim McGreevey last January.

As a result of his holding duplicate positions that sometimes allowed him to serve as his own boss, Thomas came under fire from two members of Jersey City’s city council.

Council President Rolando Lavarro and Councilman Jermaine Robinson claimed that Thomas had a number of conflicts of interests. One of these included the fact that as board chair, Thomas named four of the seven members of the search committee to find a permanent replacement for McGreevey, New Jersey’s governor from 2002 to 2004.

This was a position Thomas had applied for at a salary of $74,000 a year. McGreevey was paid $119,000 annually. As a board member, Thomas would have been allowed to vote for himself to replace McGreevey.

Unfair advantage? 

As many as 40 people were interested in taking the job. But critics claim Thomas may have the edge because he’d named so many of the selection committee. Lavarro and Robinson publicly criticized these apparent conflicts, asking Thomas to step aside.

As a result, Thomas resigned as board chair, but retained his position as temporary director at no salary until a permanent replacement could be found.

Mayoral politics may be playing a part in the conflict because Thomas is seen as an ally of Mayor Steven Fulop. Some believe that Fulop and Thomas orchestrated McGreevey’s firing in January as part of a behind-the-scenes political conflict.

Four of the nine-member JCEPT board were replaced by close associates of Fulop’s prior to McGreevey’s firing. The mayor controls appointments to the board.

Thomas resigned from the board in late June.

“When you have a former police officer screaming and cursing at a minister during a meeting, you know it’s gone too far.” – former Vice Chair Bob Knapp

Knapp said JCEPT’s programs were effectively run after McGreevey’s firing, but the board has devolved into political chaos.

“I voted against McGreevey’s firing,” Knapp said. “McGreevey was not perfect, but he ran the program and oversaw the staff.”

Thomas, however, said he had a forensic audit that shows alleged mismanagement by McGreevey. He has yet to make the audit public, claiming that the matter is under investigation.

“The problem with this board is that it has put politics above the people in serves,” Knapp said. “We have seen a deterioration on the board over the last few months. But when it came to screaming and cursing at each other, I decided I could no longer be part of it. I went home, talked to my wife, and then gave my resignation the next day.”

And then there were five 

Mark Rowan and Rudolph Daniels have also resigned from the board, leaving a five-member board to continue the search for someone to replace McGreevey.

While it appears the board can still legally make the selection, Thomas went on record saying that that the board should wait until board replacements have been appointed.

Thomas said if and when the board selects a replacement for McGreevey for a five-year term, he is no longer interested in the post.

McGreevey, who filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against Thomas, the board, and the city in February, has been critical of Thomas and the board’s operations, claiming the board abandoned key elements of prisoner reentry, a critical part of the program, while McGreevey was in charge.

Thomas disputes this claim, producing reports for the board that show advancement in many areas, and alleged lapses in the program’s performance under McGreevey.

Knapp said the current board has shown “a disturbing lack of civility.” He believes there needs to be a change of climate on the board, and members should remember why they are serving.

“This can’t be about politics,” he said. “When you have a former police officer screaming and cursing at a minister during a meeting, you know it’s gone too far.”

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