UPDATED: SCCC investigation urged

NEWTON. County Republicans and Democrats call for further probes of alleged abuses at Sussex County Community College.

Newton /
| 28 Mar 2024 | 09:32

More people have joined in calls for Sussex County Community College (SCCC) president Jon Connolly to step down or at least undergo a full investigation

Current and former SCCC employees described examples of intimidation and toxic behavior by Connolly at the Feb. 27 meeting of the college board of trustees and at the Feb. 28 meeting of the Sussex County Board of County Commissioners.

At least two commissioners offered their assistance after their meeting, two of the SCCC staff members said.

Officials of the college and its trustees have said they are conducting internal investigations of the claims against the president.

That is not enough, say some who have been following operations of the college for years.

“The Sussex County Democratic Committee is extremely concerned about the alleged misconduct and malfeasance on the SCCC campus,” said the committee’s executive director, James Santonastaso.

“The complaints lodged against the college leadership are troubling. If they are even remotely true, an immediate and transparent investigation should begin to get to the bottom of what is happening to the staff and students at the college.”

Reactions from county Republicans were similar.

“The allegations made by staff (past and present) at the Feb. 28 commissioners meeting concerning the current SCCC president’s behavior and actions toward faculty and staff of the college were of serious concern and disturbingly shocking to all who witnessed their public statements firsthand,” said Sussex County Republican Committee vice chairwoman Barbara Holstein, who was at that meeting.

“Should their comments be found to have any merit, the SCCC board of trustees must take swift decisive action to protect faculty and students of our county’s community college campus.”

The Republican Committee commended trustee Gayle Carrick, who helped lead an investigation to determine if there was a firearm in Connolly’s office after he allegedly mentioned its presence to more than one college employee.

“As detailed in last week’s Straus News article, we commend Dr. Carrick for taking steps to investigate the allegation that the president of the college possessed a firearm in his campus office,” Holstein said.

“Furthermore, the SCRC commends the board of trustees for exercising their due diligence to immediately hire an independent firm to conduct an Institutional Health and Culture Assessment, under the direction of former Commissioner of Education Dave Hespe, as reported in the article.”

The police were eventually called, and no firearm was found.

Holstein continued, “We believe the recent actions of the board of trustees demonstrate their commitment to protecting the college’s students and staff, and we believe that the trustees will continue to exercise their sworn duty to uphold their ethical and legal obligations after the independent investigation has been fully conducted and provided to the board of trustees.”

The trustees were scheduled to meet at 5 p.m. Tuesday, March 26 in the SCCC Performing Arts Center. The agenda listed a presentation by David Hespe, who is of counsel to the law firm of Porzio, Bromberg & Newman, regarding the Institutional Health and Culture Assessment of the college.

‘Millions in account’

Santonastaso, who also was at the Feb. 28 commissioners meeting, said, “If the claims made by Mr. Gaddy, the chief operating officer of Sussex County Community College (at the time of that meeting) regarding the alleged millions of taxpayer dollars sitting in an account not being used for the students’ education is accurate, we hope to see an investigation launched immediately.”

He was referring to remarks made by James Gaddy that the college had many millions of unearmarked funds sitting in a growing account.

Gaddy said that days after making those remarks, he was put on paid administrative leave.

Gaddy, who at one time was COO and director of human resources at SCCC, has said he had little interaction with the college’s chief financial officer, Ketan Gandhi, and believes the amount in question is close to $20 million, about equal to the college’s annual operating budget.

“In one of the very few interactions I had with Mr. Gandhi, who was rarely in the office, I asked him how much money was in that fund and Katen replied, ‘Nearly as much as one year’s operating budget.’ ”

Gandhi, who said he is a CFO consultant at SCCC earning $8,350 a month, recently said the college is searching for a full-time CFO. He confirmed that he also holds the title of CFO at Georgian Court University in Lakewood but declined further comment.

According to Gaddy, keeping $20 million in that account is not an appropriate use of taxpayer money.

“I’m not accusing anyone of breaking the law,” he said. “I am just not sure why that fund, full of taxpayer dollars in the amount of millions, is allowed to sit there and grow while someone, such as I, the COO, have zero access to it. Furthermore, if someone cares to take a look, there has been a tightening of finances and not enough upkeep on the campus, in my opinion.”

Connolly’s response

In an email, Connolly responded to questions about the account.

“Presently, the college has $20 million in reserves or in board-designated funds,” he said.

Of the total, $7 million would allow the college to operate “without concern of financial challenge if revenue falls below predictions.” The rest is to invest in the college’s infrastructure or programs during the next three to six years without increasing the county’s debt service.

Among the projects he mentioned is “considerable work that needs to be completed at the McGuire Technical Education Center.” “There are electrical modifications, renovations for bathrooms and classrooms, roofing, and academic programs to be located in the former autobody building at this location. These programs directly impact the local economy and represent a core need for the college’s mission.”

The college also plans substantial deferred maintenance for roofing and the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system of the L Building on the main campus. “The L Building also has needs for the repurposing of the library into a modern learning commons area.”

In addition, the D building on the main campus “is in desperate need of renovation, re-imagining and possibly expansion,” Connolly said. “This building houses the vast majority of classes on campus, and its appearance has become problematic.

“Finally, there is the matter of renovating and repurposing Building E on campus with the possibility of installing residence halls on campus.

“The number of needs for all these projects far exceeds the resources the college has set aside, and it is the work of the board and administration to identify the top priorities to improve the experience for students and assist enrollment that drives 60 percent of the budget.”

When asked about SCCC’s finances, Kurt Gewecke, chairman of the board of trustees, said they are closely monitored.

“As a public body, the finances are openly discussed at every meeting of the board and are also a matter of public record,” he said. “Additionally, the college’s finances are audited on an annual basis and reported to the county commissioners.”

Jill Space, director of the Board of the County Commissioners, earlier explained that the commissioners appoint members of the college’s board of trustees and approve its budget each year. ”Other than that, we have no oversight.”

She said she is pleased that former Commissioner Herbert Yardley recently was appointed a trustee. “I am fully confident that he will have his ears and eyes open and be fully committed to the college community.”

The number of needs for all these projects far exceeds the resources the college has set aside, and it is the work of the board and administration to identify the top priorities to improve the experience for students and assist enrollment that drives 60 percent of the budget.”
- Jon Connolly, president,
Sussex County Community College