Delaware County Daily Times praises Mark A. Sereni’s “great intelligence, skill, courage and – most importantly – integrity.”
The Delaware County Daily Times (delcotimes.com), Serving Delaware County, PA
The Final Word - Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Three years ago, Penn-Delco School District was mired in a criminal investigation conducted by the county district attorney's office. Its focus was the relationship between the district and a company that provided popular before/after-school programs.
It would eventually result in the shocking felony convictions of the former school board president and district superintendent, in addition to the company itself.
In mid-July, 2007, Penn-Delco's longtime solicitor Mark Sereni asked for a private meeting with Phil Heron, editor of the Delco Times. He agreed. They talked in the Delco Times office for almost four hours.
At the beginning of July 2007, Sereni had sent a confidential e-mail to the school board recommending that it hire a special independent counsel, of its own choosing, to investigate questions about alleged unlawful conduct by certain district officials. These questions had been raised in confidence by a handful of school board members, as well as Sereni himself, after Sereni had helped to conduct a preliminary internal investigation in the district.
The special independent counsel would be responsible for conducting a full investigation and either appropriately charging any officials with misconduct or, on the other hand, clearing them from any suggestion of wrongdoing as warranted by the evidence. If the special independent counsel charged any district employee with misconduct, that employee would be entitled to a fair due process hearing and the right to appeal to a higher court.
Because Sereni had participated in the preliminary investigation and identified issues to be investigated by the special independent counsel, Sereni would properly refrain from further participating in the process. And because an objective of the special independent counsel's investigation would be to appropriately hold district officials accountable in an employment context - while the district attorney's investigation involved the criminal arena - the special independent counsel investigation would complement - not interfere with - the district attorney's. Sereni recommended this special independent counsel investigation confidentially to the school board.
During the meeting, Sereni indicated that he had discovered a disturbing fact: an unidentified school board member had violated the law and betrayed Penn-Delco's trust by revealing - without school board authorization - Sereni's confidential recommendation to outsiders, and then twisting Sereni's recommendation into something else. And at this meeting, Sereni also warned that any district official who was secretly feeding the newspaper any derogatory information about him was actually feeding the newspaper lies and gross distortions, all calculated to discredit him as solicitor and damage his reputation and, worse yet, to maintain a cover-up in Penn-Delco by destroying his recommendation to expose and hold accountable all those who should be held accountable.
When Sereni stood his ground on his recommendation, the attack against him went public, culminating in a petition to oust him as Penn-Delco solicitor after 17 years. This alleged "grass-roots" campaign originated not with any concerned member of the public who eventually fronted it, but, some witnesses say, with an individual closely allied with the very wrongdoers in Penn-Delco who apparently feared that Sereni's recommendation would expose their wrongdoing and trigger their accountability.
Despite Sereni's paying a terrible price for fighting for what's right, his efforts to expose and combat corruption and other improper conduct in Penn-Delco ultimately bore much fruit. In addition to the former school board president and district superintendent, a third Penn-Delco official was convicted of a felony and barred from ever again serving in public office. A fourth Penn-Delco official resigned in the face of an extensive operations review conducted by an independent forensic firm.
In addition, both were found to have committed serious ethics violations by the state Ethics Commission. And the new board leadership of Penn-Delco, comprising the board members who had supported Sereni's push for accountability during his tenure, is continuing to steer the district on the right path.
Three years ago, our newspaper referred to Sereni's then 3-year-old son in one of our pieces. We did this after Sereni had shared with the Penn-Delco public - during a very human moment - that his fervent desire to make his son proud of his dad helped drive his objective to do right by Penn-Delco. Three years later, Sereni is now blessed with three young sons. All share his last name. And all very much deserve to be truly proud of their dad, who lawfully and ethically did right by his client Penn-Delco with great intelligence, skill, courage and - most importantly - integrity.
© 2010 delcotimes.com, a Journal Register Property