CAMBRIDGE SPRINGS — A motion to reimburse legal fees to PENNCREST School Board member Luigi DeFrancesco failed by a 4-2 vote at the board's voting meeting Thursday evening.
DeFrancesco reintroduced a motion requesting the reimbursement of his personal legal fees that were spent during a lawsuit in September 2016 against the school board and former Superintendent Michael Healey over access to PENNCREST attorney Ted Watts' invoices.
The suit alleged the school district was withholding financial information from the board and that board members do not have access to financial invoices before they vote on them.
Crawford County Court of Common Pleas Judge John Spataro ordered DeFrancesco could view past and future school board invoices. The court denied a request to order current invoices be made available.
DeFrancesco revealed the fees totaled about $30,000.
DeFrancesco put forth a motion at last month's school board meeting for those legal fees to be reimbursed, but he withdrew it as the board decided to seek an independent legal opinion since Watts was involved in the lawsuit. PENNCREST Superintendent Timothy Glasspool confirmed the board received an independent legal opinion, but he said it was subject to attorney-client privilege.
Upon issuing Thursday's motion, DeFrancesco gave a statement. He said if he hadn't brought up the legal challenge in 2016, he would "for all practical purpose have killed my position as an elected official by denying me the right to review invoices."
He finished his statement to the board by showing a paper displaying his email address to the Armstrong TV camera broadcasting the meeting. He requested that the public email him if they had any questions regarding the 2016 lawsuit.
Board member Jeff Brooks gave his reasoning on whether to approve the motion, emphasizing that there was no legal reason or obligation to reimburse DeFrancesco. He also said reimbursement would set a "dangerous precedent" whereby others could act in the name of the district, without board approval, and seek reimbursement.
"If Mr. DeFrancesco felt that he was not able to fulfill his duties — would be held accountable for voting for things — he could simply vote no on the legal bills," Brooks said. "It would cost the taxpayers nothing."
Board member Tim Brown questioned DeFrancesco about what he found in the invoices that was "wrong," such as overpaying, that he felt the need to sue the district. Brown asked repeatedly and he and DeFrancesco were cut off by board President Mark Gerow's gavel.
Gerow then called for a vote. DeFrancesco and Robert Johnston voted yes, while Brooks, Brown, Gerow and Robert Gulick voted no. Board members Gerry Deane, Brian Gisewhite and Jason Bakus were absent.
Glasspool had no comment on the proceedings when asked by the Tribune following the meeting.
"Unfortunately, that's going to lead to more expenses," DeFrancesco told the Tribune following the board's decision. "They're willing to spend money on a legal opinion instead of trying to even settle. Nobody ever came up to try to settle the problem.
"I have to talk to my lawyer now. This is only a request for reimbursement for my expenses. I know there is a fine line there."
Brooks commented to the Tribune after the meeting that he hoped this vote "puts an end" to the reimbursement issue.
"Moving forward, we need to move past the obstacle, and I hope that Mr. DeFrancesco doesn't decide to cost taxpayers more money," Brooks said.
Tyler Dague can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.