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Clough says lawyer fees within parameters of his contract

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MASSENA - A Massena resident shared her concerns during Thursday night’s Massena Central School District budget hearing about payment made by the district to the superintendent’s personal attorney.

But Superintendent Roger B. Clough II said that work done by his attorney, D. Jeffrey Gosch, and paid for by the district fell within the parameters of his contract.

Mr. Gosch submitted on Dec. 6, 2011 a statement for professional services rendered and disbursements paid through Dec. 5, 2011. The amount was for $27,091.40.

The payment, which was questioned by Massena resident and former board of education member Toni Fiacco-Price during the budget hearing, was approved by Mr. Clough, board President Leonard A. Matthews, board Vice President Gregory C. Fregoe and Treasurer Penny L. DeLosh.

Board member Michael J. LeBire said that, because the work done by Mr. Gosch involved a personnel issue, they were unable to discuss it Thursday night.

“We’re not allowed to talk about personnel issues. Sorry, we can’t comment,” Mr. LeBire said.

Mr. Clough said Friday that Mr. Gosch had been involved in defending the district last year against allegations of harassment and retaliation levied by Assistant Superintendent Cynthia M. Yager, which he said were later found to be unsubstantiated by Michaela Perrotto of Canandaigua, a full-time attorney for the Cayuga-Onondaga Board of Cooperative Educational Services in Auburn.

The allegations by Ms. Yager had first been brought to the board of education during an Aug. 17, 2011 executive session, and the board appointed Ms. Perrotto as an independent counsel to investigate the charges and allegations.

“The investigation found everything to be false,” Mr. Clough said.

He said, in this case, Mr. Gosch was “acting in my capacity” as school superintendent against the allegations, which was permissible under the terms of his employment contract.

“As part of my contract, I do have an indemnification process if I have to hire an attorney on my behalf if anything is brought forth,” Mr. Clough said.

Mr. Gosch, however, is not on the district’s payroll, according to the superintendent. Frank W. Miller is the attorney of record for the district.

Mr. Clough said he has personally paid Mr. Gosch for his assistance with other legal matters. Mr. Gosch recently sent a letter to Mr. Miller, with copies to three board of education members - William G. Sommerfield, Cristen R. Halladay and Patrick Bronchetti - regarding the possible consequences for violating Mr. Clough’s rights under his employment agreement.

“Massena Central School District is not paying any fees for me for services rendered seeking to ensure compliance with the superintendent’s employment agreement with the Massena Central School District,” Mr. Gosch said in a recent letter to the editor.

“To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Miller, is the only attorney for the school district, except for matters which require a particular expertise, i.e. bond issues, and local matters, i.e., educational neglect PINS. The only other attorney paid by the school district I am aware of, was hired to impartially investigate certain claims made by an employee,” he wrote.

Ms. Fiacco-Price said that, by her estimates from data she received under the Freedom of Information Law, district officials had spent $75,065.75 on legal fees over six months, from July 20, 2011 to Dec. 20, 2011, including $32,973.25 to Mr. Miller and $27,091.4o to Mr. Gosch.

“For the current year you’ve already spent $75,000,” she said.

They had budgeted $102,310 in the final 2011-12 budget, $136,510 in their amended 2011-12 budget, and $111,725 in their 2012-13 budget proposal.

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