Edison, NJ – A voicemail from Edison Mayor Thomas Lankey and statements from Edison Board of Education member Richard Brescher suggest that Mr. Lankey, and possibly at least one top official in his administration, inquired whether the Edison School Board could hire Edison Councilman Robert Diehl as Superintendent.
A transcript of a voicemail left by Edison Mayor Thomas Lankey was released at the Edison Township Council’s recent Committee of the Whole meeting. In the voicemail to Councilman Ajay Patil, Mr. Lankey states “Got a call from Bob Diehl earlier today. Didn’t realize that Mr. O’Malley had resigned in 90 days. He actually was calling for consideration in the superintendent’s role. I didn’t know that you guys were thinking, but we should talk about it. Give me a call when you get a chance.No rush, talk to you later.”
In March 2018, then Superintendent Richard O’Malley informed the Board that he would not continue in the position after August. Dr. O’Malley accepted a Superintendent position in South Carolina in May 2018.
At the hearing, Mr. Diehl denied asking the Mayor to intervene on his behalf, but did admit that he had expressed interest in the Superintendent position, a position which reportedly paid $212,344 for the 2016-2017 year, not including bonuses. In July of this year, Governor Murphy eliminated salary caps for school superintendents.
“I may have, because, every single day – that’s not quite accurate - but very often, people will say you’d make a great Mayor, and I say yeah, that’s a good idea, maybe someday I will be, or you’d make a great superintendent here in Edison. Yeah, I believe I may. I’ve never initiated a single conversation. Anybody who ever came to me about being superintendent came to me and said, ‘Mr. Diehl, you’d make a good superintendent.’ What am I going to disagree? But I’ve never asked anybody for anything,” said Mr. Diehl.
In an interview with TAPinto Edison, Mr. Brescher stated that he was approached by Edison DPW Director Anthony Russomanno on the subject of the Edison Board of Education's hiring of a Superintendent.
“One day Anthony came to me and asked me if I could consider Bob Diehl for superintendent because it would help politically in the town,” said Mr. Brescher.
Mr. Russomanno has not returned a request for comment. Mr. Russomanno is currently on administrative leave, although the reasons for his departure, and whether he plans to return, are not known. Mr. Russomanno’s administrative leave began on Aug. 1.
Mr. Patil said that he was not surprised by the Mayor’s voicemail. “There were rumors about trying to push Mr. Diehl for the superintendent position. I told the Mayor that I thought it was not appropriate for us to engage in that process. It's really up to the Board of Education and shouldn’t become political,” he said.
In a statement to TAPinto Edison, Mr. Lankey defended the call he made in support of Mr. Diehl.
“There is absolutely nothing inappropriate about my phone message for Councilman Patil to discuss an educator who has 30-plus years experience; who served as a teacher and principal at schools in our area; who lives in Edison and raised his family here; and who has dedicated two decades of his life to public service,” said Mr. Lankey through a spokesperson for the township.
The Administration did not respond to questions regarding whether other officials in the Administration asked Board of Education members to consider Mr. Diehl for the job or whether Mr. Lankey made any other calls on the subject.
The Edison school district includes 19 schools and nearly 17,000 students.
Under the qualifications set by the current Edison Board of Education members, Mr. Diehl would likely not have qualified for the Superintendent job. The current qualifications include experience as a superintendent or assistant superintendent for a minimum of 3 years. This means that the Board, in order to hire Mr. Diehl, would have had to change the minimum qualifications for the position.
Mr. Diehl is currently employed by the South Plainfield school district where he serves as principal for South Plainfield High School. He was hired for that position in 2019, when the South Plainfield Board of Education voted in support of appointing Mr. Diehl to a one-year contract as interim principal of the high school, effective July 1.
The Board of Education hired an independent firm, Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates, to oversee the Superintendent search process and began interviewing candidates at its October 7 meeting.
“If I were to apply for superintendent Bob Diehl would be overqualified compared to me. But there could be other candidates out there that are more qualified, and that’s the reason for a superintendent search, and then you evaluate who actually is most qualified,” said Mr. Brescher.
Other Board members said they were disappointed with the possible injection of politics into the hiring process.
“Respectfully, in some ways the Superintendent is even more important than the Mayor,” said Board of Education member Dr. Yuna Chen. “This is about our children, our schools, and there is no room for politics,” she said.