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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, August 20, 2009
“Every penny spent on legal bills,” says Nelligan
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND Now that Matthew Nelligan is running for a seat on the Guilderland Town Board, questions have been raised about funds he solicited for legal action when he was a schoolteacher.
“Every penny of that was spent on legal bills,” Nelligan said this week.
He said that $2,745 was raised, and elaborated in an e-mail, “This account was set up as a legal trust and the money taken in could only be spent on legal bills, which is exactly what happened.”
A letter to the Enterprise editor this week raises the topic, and Nelligan said that political websites with unnamed authors had made insinuations that funds were taken from students and misused.
“No money was taken from kids,” he said.
Although Nelligan said he won’t be suing the school district, he said he still had legal bills to pay from last year’s controversy.
In the summer of 2008, Nelligan was embroiled in a battle with the Guilderland School District as he and another teacher fought their transfer from the high school to the middle school. Nelligan, who had taught at Guilderland for a decade, left his teaching job at the middle school the first week of classes in September 2008 to work for the State Senate Republicans.
Hundreds of students and community members had protested the transfers at packed school board meetings. The social studies department at the high school was being reconfigured, said Superintendent John McGuire, because of a May 16 report by an outside consultant that found a hostile work environment. The department needs a “fresh lease on life,” he told The Enterprise at the time.
“We looked at every certified social studies teacher in the district,” McGuire said in mapping out the changes. Political leanings or being outspoken had no bearing, he said.
The high school teachers Nelligan and Ann Marie McManus said they would fight the move and embraced the help of their students.
“It’s a witch hunt and a punishment,” Nelligan told The Enterprise at the time. He cited his conservative views and his letters to the Enterprise editor, critical of leadership in the teachers’ union.
The investigation had started after a young gay teacher had complained of harassment. Later, teachers said the complainant himself had behaved inappropriately.
During meetings in the summer of 2008, when the school board members left the meeting hall to hear from people in executive session, Mark Grimm, a Republican Guilderland Town Board member, orchestrated the sessions that followed as protesters spoke their minds.
Grimm, who said he was a friend of Nelligan, runs a media consulting business and sent out a press release about the protest. He said there would be a legal battle that would cost money and asked people to sign up.
Ultimately, the school board, in a 7-to-2 vote, decided not to review the transfer decision. After teaching for a year in the middle school, McManus is returning to teach at the high school in September.
Jacqueline Marr writes the Enterprise editor this week, juxtaposing these events now that Nelligan is running on the Republican ticket, and questions “who the candidates really are.”
When asked this week what had happened to the legal fund, Nelligan e-mailed a list he said he had kept of contributors. Fourteen individuals or couples were listed, half of them family members. The bulk of the $2,745 in contributions came from his family, he said, listing family contributions as totaling $2,100.
Nelligan also sent paperwork for a trust agreement for “The Friends of Matt Nelligan” and a spreadsheet of billed items and payments. The payments were to the firm of Gleason, Dunn, Walsh, and O’Shea, he said. They range in amounts from $25.64 to $1,128.26. The first is in January 2008 and the last is in September 2008. In that time, it shows that Nelligan was billed for $3,713.75.
There are three columns for billed items to other individuals whose names are Xed out; Nelligan declined to name them.
Nelligan said the payments started in January 2008 because of the “bogus investigation” being conducted by the school district. “I wanted to have someone that would be my advocate,” he said. The roughly $1,000 that wasn’t covered by the trust he paid out of pocket, Nelligan said.
“Just because I chose not to sue, doesn’t mean I don’t have legal bills,” said Nelligan, noting the law firm charged $225 an hour.
The payments, he said, went things ranging from “research on how viable it would be to file an action” to “having my attorney with me during the so-called culture climate investigation.”
He said the lawyers would charge for “any phone call, any e-mail.”
Nelligan concluded, “It’s important for people to understand, there was no foul play, nothing taken from kids…This has nothing to do with this election. It’s just another in a long line of distractions.”