Rehiring Ellison begs a lot of questions

Why just tops the list of explanations needed by CASD board

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

UTMikeColLogoAs you probably know, we do get our share of reader comments. Many are supportive, encouraging and enlightening. Some are nasty and pointless (we tend to remove those without editorial or commentary value) and some are humorous.

Once in a great while, even when clearly wearing a troll hat, a commentator will stumble onto an essential truth — albeit in the literary fashion seen typically on a middle school boys’ bathroom wall.

An example was the other day in the wake of the Coatesville Area School District Board of Education’s decision to retain James Ellison as solicitor, despite Ellison’s separation from Rhoads & Sinon, his former law firm and the fact that the attorney remains under investigation by the Chester County District Attorney’s Office.

The comment went a little something like this:

“Ha, Ha…Mr. Editor who boasts too soon. You WERE WRONG about Ellison. HA HA…HA HA! You spent more time thinking and editing instead of flapping ill-informed gums, this paper would benefit.”

And yes, I was wrong in thinking that when Rhoads & Sinon parted ways with Ellison, so too would the Coatesville Area School District.

Wednesday night, though, the board moved to reappoint Ellison as its solicitor, by a 7-1 to vote, apparently citing pending legal issues and a need for continuity.

Maybe, worse, we don’t know the terms of the hiring, the agreed upon hourly rate, anything. As no one can seem to find the original contract with Rhoads & Sinon, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised.

Undoubtedly, once again, the CASD board and Ellison will go to their usual playbook and claim everything that is going on is some sort of media fabrication being egged on by a politically-ambitious District Attorney — Tom Hogan — and that they will be exonerated in the end.

It’s possible, and I guess it’s possible that my son’s claim that our pet dog ate his homework could be true, too, if you overlook the fact that we don’t have a dog and the blank homework sheet can be seen peeking out of his backpack (and despite being 12, when pressed, at least he will finally own up to the truth and do the assignment).

But consider this: say what you will about Hogan, but the man is not stupid. He wouldn’t have the verbal hammer out — as he has repeatedly — if he didn’t have a pretty good inkling how this is going to turn out, which is to say poorly for Ellison and the district.

Did I get it wrong? Yes. Even I didn’t think this school board would do something so dubious — especially with new board members asking, hopefully, questions about just what the heck is going on.

Disappointingly, Stu Deets appears to have bought the “pending legal issues” argument, although at least he is on the record as wanting the appointment to be an interim one. Deborah Thompson did stand up and vote “no” and seems to be insisting on answers.

Here’s the truth: attorneys get fired (for countless reasons, many of which have nothing to do with their conduct or competency) and invariably, even in the face of looming capital cases, the changes are able to happen with a minimum of disruption. There are dozens, maybe hundreds, of qualified attorneys who could step in and fill the post without carrying Ellison’s baggage.

So, obviously, this begs the question: why go right back to Ellison? And again, what is going on here that we don’t know? We certainly don’t know in advance what Ellison is going to be paid and for how long.

If you have a looming sense that this is going to get a lot worse before it gets better, join the club.

It seems that if you liked the acrimony, drama and, uh, misdirection, of 2013 related to the Coatesville Area School District, it sure looks like 2014 is going to be more of the same.

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  1. Ontheinside says:

    The fact that there are still those with their head in sand on this is infuriating. The rehiring of this attorney and the purchase of the “healthcare” facility show we are just as dysfunctional as ever. The board members have their own agendas and it will come out soon how bad the curruption really is. Please watch carefully how this board votes to replace Paul Johnson. I have a sneaky feeling, somehow they will get Tonya Taylor back even though Beckershoff got more of the vote.

    There must be a grass roots movement in this district if we are to turn this around. Take it from someone who knows how bad the climate in the schools are as a direct result of a void of leadership and total curruption at the top.

    • cville life says:

      I do not know what schools you are in but I will say the climate in the schools is positive and forward thinking now the board and administration may be another story but the teachers and students, that make up the climate of the schools, are enthusiastic and dedicated to making it better

  2. John says:

    Are we supposed to blindly follow the accusations of a DA who lost a major battle with Ellison/Rhoads Sinon in the Graystone case? Hogan was the attorney for Graystone in the early stages before becoming DA. Hogan lost other battles too against them too. This smells terribly of politics and revenge. The closing of Graystone – litigated by Ellison, is now saving Coatesville taxpayers over $3M using the number of pupils that were attending that failed charter school. If something actually comes out of these charges, I will be the first to come back here and say I was wrong. But for now, he hasn’t been convicted and the board is likely basing its decision on his successes (some of which were against Hogan). What happened to innocent until proven guilty?

  3. Rick Stanzill says:

    Dear Mike,

    Thanks for your invaluable insight and for bringing a degree of reasonableness, objectivity, and just plain common sense to this issue!

    It’s completely infuriating to see the CASD school board continue with politics “as is” and continue to pamper a status quo that is NOT in the best interests of parents, teachers, students, or tax payers of CASD! For Neil Campbell (and now the School Board) to continue to prop up this already conflicted Solicitor despite the immense amount of public scrutiny, independent criticism, and lack of support for Ellison, clearly reeks of self-interest, pay-to-play politics, and sympathy to the immense carnage already imposed upon the CASD by the actions of a few. Given the Chester County DAs investigation, objective observations by Attorney Sam Stretton, the fact that Ellison’s own firm Ellison and Rhoads & Sinon, have now bowed out, are ALL substantive justifications for the CASD, to either request expedition of findings by their own independent law firm, so they have non-bias and objective substantive input on the matter, or alternatively, to do the reasonable and appropriate thing and simply find a new solicitor. Campbell’s continued support of Ellison at the expense of the CASD speaks volumes, and hopefully, he is clearly aware that others are watching and willing to dedicate time and resources to move things in a positive direction as opposed to sticking with business as usual. At least with Rhoads & Sinon, Ellison had a support group, know that he will be conducting business likely solo, becomes hugely problematic for the district.

  4. cville life says:

    so snarky is ok for the editor. Name calling and cherry picking responses to ridicule perhaps you could show a little professionalism. But that is why you are here and not at a bigger paper. smart-ass is far from smart journalism. Next time maybe we can try smart first then smart-ass when you are proven right or humility if you are proven wrong. I think if wrong you will not write the apology to the writer and the school board that would take a real professional

  5. Michael says:

    Good job Mike pointing out the truth that CASD elected officials once again make another bad decision. I am not sure when we will come to rock bottom but I hope it is soon.

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