YOU READ IT HERE FIRST : The fate of Bergen Community College President G. Jeremiah Ryan hangs in the balance amid County Executive Kathleen Donovan’s bid for some form of governmental oversight of the school. Donovan is expected at a Board of Trustees meeting this week that could determine whether Ryan — who narrowly escaped a faculty censure vote — stays or goes.
UPDATE : BCC’s Board of Trustees on Wednesday gave Ryan an 18-month extension — half of what he was seeking — onto a contract that expires this June. He’ll be paid $192,400 this year, with a 4 percent bump next year.
Ryan’s contract is up in June and an 18-month extension remains unsigned by BCC’s governing board, which is scheduled to meet at 5 p.m. Wednesday with Donovan expected in attendance. A vote on whether or not to extend Ryan‘s contract could follow.
“If Donovan’s goal is to stop this nonsense, I and many other faculty members will strongly support her actions,” a professor who spoke on condition of anonymity told CLIFFVIEW PILOT .
Donovan says she needs a certain level of authority over BCC’s affairs to help protect the nearly 20 percent of county taxpayer dollars funneled into the school. Ryan has said he would agree to letting the county executive postpone but not pull agenda items from board meetings. But it runs deeper than that.
The trouble began even before Donovan ousted Dennis McNerney as county executive last November:
As first reported in CLIFFVIEW PILOT , Ryan hire Dennis C. Miller angered students and faculty with a private September symposium attended by vendors who do business with the college — each of whom paid $60 to attend. The fee included the purchase of Miller‘s book.
Before landing the Bergen job, Miller was president and CEO of Somerset Medical Center in Somerville — the hospital that employed serial killer Charles Cullen, who admitted snuffing 13 patients and trying to kill two others.
Miller, a former Woodcliff Lake resident who now lives in Denville, quickly left after Cullen was arrested, citing personal reasons. He eventually surfaced at BCC thanks to Ryan, who worked with him at the Alman Group. And although he has been a full-time employee at the college the past three years, Miller also has maintained a consulting business: Dennis C. Miller Associates in Morristown.
After CLIFFVIEW PILOT publicized Miller’s special session, Ryan created a position for him as “interim chief development officer.” The Board of Trustees could vote as early as Wednesday whether to make the post permanent, at over $100,000 a year.
Miller held another symposium earlier this month that drew roughly 65 chief executives, board of directors members and development officers of nonprofit organizations from Bergen County. It couldn’t be determined whether his book was part of registering. More workshops are scheduled through May.
According to its own bulletin, for instance: “The Nonprofit Institute will host a breakfast at 7:30 a.m. on March 24 followed from 8:00-to-9:30 a.m. by “Unlocking Your Board’s Full Potential: Chief Executive Officers and Board Members ONLY.” The event will take place in the Moses Center, TEC 128, on the main campus in Paramus. Registration is required by March 17. The cost is $50 for a CEO and two board members or $20 each.”
Miller will be the instructor for that workshop, the bulletin says. Another, in April, features Clark LaMendola, a private consultant based in Demarest who did work for the county while McNerney was executive.
Ryan’s loyalty to Miller, among others, nearly cost him a censure vote by the faculty two months ago. The faculty union cited several disagreements with Ryan and his administration, including two other appointments he made, in addition to Miller’s, “without a search committee, as required by Middle State Commission of Higher Education and the State of New Jersey.”
One was Angela Harrington, first hired to fill a new position of Director of Communication and then promoted to Public Relations Director and appointed to BCC’s Executive Council; the other was former Vice President Susan Johnson, who resigned amid controversy.
Instead of censure, the instructors OK’d a memorandum of agreement aimed at resolving the differences on both sides. The official tally was 118-51 in favor of the MOA.
The same day as that vote, BCC officials abruptly pulled the plugged on a contract for online services and information technology — in essence, shutting down key areas of the school’s website.
BCC had to pay an early termination fee for breaking the contract, which was to have run through 2012. In addition, at least a dozen people lost their jobs. Paid consultants are now administering information technology at the school.
Then, just before Donovan took office, McNerney helped clear a path of Democratic appointees straight to the institution of higher learning’s door (Meanwhile, he all but secured himself a position as head of BCC’s Meadowlands campus).
The swelling of staff came scant months after BCC cut hours for students with work-study jobs, citing budgetary concerns.
Until this past summer, students were allowed to work as college employees up to 20 hours a week. It was cut to 15 hours, as was the wage — from close to $12 to the minimum wage of $7.75. Several of those affected are single mothers.
Ryan said BCC was forced into the moves by federal guidelines that limited how much a student could earn per semester. However, students reviewed the federal guidelines and couldn’t find such a requirement. This at first left all of those who‘d reached the threshold out of work, according to letters sent to the students. Fortunately, an undetermined number of those who immediately consulted the school’s Career and Transfer Center were able to keep their jobs.
The unions, meanwhile, found themselves in a tight spot — until Ryan was quoted as saying there was no special treatment for applicants to BCC. Now, “they have no reason to support him at all,” a school source told CLIFFVIEW PILOT .
The background noise amid the turmoil is becoming deafening.
The Bergen County Improvement Authority, which floated bonds against student tuition to buy the building that will become the Meadowlands campus, drew headlines when its former chairman, Ronald O’Malley, was indicted on 68 counts of fraud and conspiracy.
Of $50 million worth of bonds sold by the BCIA during its biggest year, more than half went toward the building purchase — even though Felician College offered facilities in Rutherford.
Although McNerney’s then-Chief of Staff Brian Hague said there was no connection to O‘Malley’s situation, county administrators began shifting control from the BCIA to BCC of the non-profit Bergen County Economic Development Corp.
LaMendola reportedly drew up the plan.
The EDC, which is responsible for retaining and attracting businesses to the county, has spent thousands of dollars for dinners and fund-raisers at restaurants owned by its former chairman, Joseph Sanzari, and his family, as well as more than $1,000 for neckties from Nordstrom, according to a report in The Bergen Record .
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