A blog about living in Aberdeen, New Jersey.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The King Is Dead. Long Live King Curley

The chain of events that led to Peter Burnham, former President of Brookdale Community College, landing in jail, has been pressed and strained to extract praise for the fiduciary wisdom of the actions of John Curley and the Monmouth County Freeholders. Anyone with a halfway decent grasp of business as usual in New Jersey politics can see that the Freeholders led a politically driven fishing expedition into Burnham's vouchers after the Chosen became annoyed with him over a supercharged budget issue related to Brookdale tuition hikes and county funding of the school. Something had to give, and it was Burnham's career and now even his freedom.

Have you noticed how local news stories always mention Burnham's supposedly outrageous pay and benefits package? Keep in mind that the Freeholders oversaw his pay and benefits during all those years. The whole shock and awe campaign is an apparent effort to justify the Freeholders' probe. Curley and company were lucky they found something to hang their hats on during their witch hunt. I doubt they would have gotten a court order for a search warrant to dig around to see what they could find. Burnham, after all, isn't going to jail for sending his kids to college on the school's nickel, or for his spa membership, or his fancy vehicle. Yet those things always get churned in press articles.

When the Freeholders found that Burnham had been using his office credit card for personal purchases for eight years, the Freeholders were praised in the media for their amazing sleuthing, when in fact they should have been reprimanded for exercising inadequate oversight of the school's auditing procedures. A few of the Freeholders serve on a special board of oversight at Brookdale. Their job is reviewing the budget and assuring proper financial management. They obviously weren't minding the store. And now we're congratulating them for a job well done?

Let's say I used my company credit card to buy sneakers and Costco memberships. It wouldn't be long before my accounting department would be calling me on the carpet. Failing that, auditors would come down on both me and the accounting department - me for the misuse of my company card and the accountants for failing to call me to task and for exercising inadequate financial controls. That's called proper financial management.

So, Peter Burnham used his Brookdale credit card to spend the royal sum of about $10 a day, something that should have been stopped long ago through routine financial controls. And he screwed up in his handling of a transaction involving his kid's college tuition banking. The fraud charges stuck and he's off to jail. But just keep in mind that he gave the County Freeholders a major political headache over school funding and prompted them to dig into something they hadn't bothered to look at for years. And here we are.


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