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Photo shows why state won’t cure Atlantic City BOE ills, board member alleges

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.
At the most recent Atlantic City Board of Education meeting, one photo told a tale of corruption, a board member alleges.
Al Herbert, who attended Tuesday’s meeting via Zoom, changed his profile picture to a photo of the state’s governor with former board solicitor Joe Jacobs.
“If any of what is going on seems unbelievably corrupt, and the public is wondering why the state authorities or law enforcement are not stepping in, that photo should answer all of those questions,” Herbert told BreakingAC when asked about the Phil Murphy photo.
Jacobs, an Atlantic City native, is a major political powerbroker in the state, and is the brother-in-law of Superintendent Barry Caldwell. His sister, Gabby Caldwell, is a school administrator as well. The Caldwells’ daughter — Jacobs’ niece — is also a teacher in the district.

Al Herbert joined Tuesday’s Zoom meeting with this as his profile photo.

Jacobs is also a longtime associate of the board’s current solicitor, Tracy Riley.
Riley has refused to respond to BreakingAC’s questions about any perceived conflict as a result of these relationships.
But she has publicly backed moves that delayed the superintendent search and kept the retiring Caldwell in his position at a nearly 12½ percent raise.
That included asking the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office to investigate board member Farook Hossain, and then barring his vote from being recorded.
Hossain recently stepped down from his seat without explanation.
The board is now poised to vote on the new superintendent.
The choice by a six-member committee handpicked by board President Shay Steele, despite his wife’s and father’s employment with the district prohibiting him from any involvement in the superintendent selection.
The choice is expected to be Dr. La’Quetta Small, the high school’s current principal and wife of Mayor Marty Small.
Riley also represents the mayor in at least one current court case.
The state Department of Education has refused multiple requests by BreakingAC to comment on any of the current board issues. The Governor’s Office also declined.
Herbert alleges his recent profile picture tells why.
The governor’s press secretary, Alyana Alfaro, said it was the first she heard of it and asked for an email with the information.
“We won’t be commenting,” she responded an hour later.
“I don’t have anything to say to you,” Jacobs told a BreakingAC reporter before the photo could be mentioned.
When told of the photo he replied: “If somebody likes me and the governor, God Bless ’em.”
He did not wait for a question on Herbert’s remark. A follow-up email notifying him of the allegation was not returned.
Jacobs’ own tenure as Atlantic City’s school board solicitor in the 1990s also raised some questions.
A 1995 investigation by then-Press of Atlantic City reporters Michael Diamond and Thomas Peele found Jacobs would bill in excess of 10 hours a day to the public entities he served, charging $95 to $125 an hour.
On July 26, 1994, he billed the Atlantic City Board of Education for 18½ hours and the city’s Housing Authority for 5½ hours, meaning he worked a full 24 hours on that day, the report said.
It wasn’t the first time his hours showed him working literally around the clock. On Nov. 9, 1993, Jacobs billed for 19 hours, and then another five hours spent at public meetings.
A 7½-hour day also was highlighted by Diamond and Peele: It was Feb. 29, 1995, a day that didn’t exist.
“I feel like I’m under attack for working hard,” Jacobs is quoted in that story.
Jacobs was related to the superintendent then too.
His uncle, R. Mark Harris, was in the top spot at the time.
A 1994 story by Diamond and Peele points out that Jacobs was hired before Harris’ tenure began, but that the legal bills “skyrocketed” after Harris took over.
The year before Harris became superintendent the legal bills were about a third of what they were in 1993-94, Diamond and Peele noted.

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