UPDATED: Did the Windham School Board violate municipal law?

windhamschooldistrictthepatchYesterday the vice chairman of the Windham School Board, Dennis Senibaldi, was on Girard At Large to discuss the Cenergistic debacle that was first reported here on Monday. Senibaldi made the claim that as a board member he not only reviewed the proposal and did his research but that he also put his full trust into Adam Steel. Steel is Windham’s business administrator who recommended the board approve the proposal.

However the actual contract wasn’t given to the board before they approved it. Other sources claim that the contract wasn’t received until after they were asked to approve. Last week the only information available was the proposal as added to the school board’s meeting agenda. Senibaldi also made the claim on Girard’s show that the legal team in Windham had reviewed the contract. Other sources claim the legal team, like the school board, did not get the contract until after the proposal was approved.

Either wires are getting crossed or someone isn’t telling the truth. Which is it? Further research into the contract shows there are some things that may have not been fully understood the night the school board decided to ramrod this almost $600,000 contract through. Windham will be on the hook for a yearly software fee of $6,650 that is required to be used; there is a monthly fee to be paid to Cenergistic in the sum of $9,200; no third party is allowed to interfere with the implementation of the program (this implies that PSNH wouldn’t be able to help with any energy savings) and all proprietary information is owned by Cenergistic, including any database information collected about Windham schools.

Another interesting addition was an addendum to the contract that was added regarding “appropriations”:

14. Nonappropriation. In the event that no funds or insufficient funds are appropriated and budgeted for the services described in this Contract, and funds are otherwise unavailable by any means whatsoever for any fiscal period in which payments for the services are due under this Contract, the District shall, not less than sixty (60) calendar days prior to the end of the fiscal period for which funds have been appropriated, notify Cenergistic, in writing, of such occurrence. This Contract shall terminate and be rendered null and void on the last day of the fiscal period for which appropriations were made without penalty, liability, or expense to the District of any kind, except as to the portions of this Contract for which funds have been appropriated and budgeted or are otherwise available, and except for any of the District’s other obligations under this Contract accruing or arising prior to such termination.

This begs the question – did the Windham School Board violate municipal law by voting on a contract that will indeed cause funds to be appropriated without the voters’ approval? There are municipal laws in New Hampshire that actually protect taxpayers from rogue municipalities that would spend them into bankruptcy if there was no transparency and accountability. Below are a couple of RSAs regarding the municipal budget laws in New Hampshire that indeed apply to Windham:

32:6 Appropriations Only at Annual or Special Meeting. – All appropriations in municipalities subject to this chapter shall be made by vote of the legislative body of the municipality at an annual or special meeting. No such meeting shall appropriate any money for any purpose unless that purpose appears in the budget or in a special warrant article, provided, however, that the legislative body may vote to appropriate more than, or less than, the amount recommended for such purpose in the budget or warrant, except as provided in RSA 32:18, unless the municipality has voted to override the 10 percent limitation as provided in RSA 32:18-a.

32:8 Limitation on Expenditures. – No board of selectmen, school board, village district commissioners or any other officer, employee, or agency of the municipality acting as such shall pay or agree to pay any money, or incur any liability involving the expenditure of any money, for any purpose in excess of the amount appropriated by the legislative body for that purpose, or for any purpose for which no appropriation has been made, except as provided in RSA 32:9-11.

Once again questions arise about the validity and now legality of the Windham School Board voting to pass a proposal with little time for review. The contract is not only questionable as to its actual usefulness but may indeed violate municipal law. If this contract didn’t require appropriations, addendum 14 would not have been added. It’s not clear if this addendum was added by Windham or at the request of Cenergistic. Either way this contract deserves to be thoroughly scrutinized by Windham residents. While they are at it they should also find out if the board indeed violated municipal law.

UPDATE: The following email was sent to the Windham School Board from Adam Steel on January 7th, the day AFTER the school board voted in the Cenergistic proposal.

From: Adam Steel <asteel@windhamsd.org>
To: wsb@windhamsd.org <wsb@windhamsd.org>

Subject: Contract
Date: Wed, 7 Jan 2015 09:47:17 -0500
From: Adam Steel <asteel@windhamsd.org>
To: wsb@windhamsd.org <wsb@windhamsd.org>

Board:

I failed to provide you with a copy of the Cenergistic contract. Attached is the contract I will be sending to counsel and Primex for review. After their review, I will sign and finalize with Cenergistic.

Adam

This proves that the board didn’t have the contract before voting on it and that Senibaldi was not truthful when claiming the legal team had already reviewed.

Cross posted from Examiner

Kimberly Morin is a political activist in the Granite State. She is a lifelong Independent who calls out both sides of the aisle when they screw up.