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Former BCC president Ryan accuses Bergen Executive Donovan of ‘political coup’

Photo Credit: LCTCS
Photo Credit: LCTCS

As Bergen County was reeling from the worst storm in the area’s modern-day history, the former president of its community college took the opportunity to dump on school trustees and county Executive Kathleen Donovan, claiming he was ousted in “a political coup.”

G. Jeremiah Ryan, now the interim chancellor at Louisiana Delta Community College, made his remarks on Tuesday during a local Chamber of Commerce meeting in Monroe, La., according to The News Star , a Gannett newspaper.

Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan surveys Moonachie with Gov. Christie, other officials Thursday
COURTESY: NJ GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE’S OFFICE (Tim Larsen)

Bergen County officials were only just beginning to assess the damage wrought by Sandy at the time.

“In other words, politics changed and the new county executive convinced my board (of trustees) that I should think about early retirement, so here I am,” Ryan reportedly told the gathering. “My wife and I were really seeking political asylum.”

The News Star said Ryan then gave an interview, in which he said:

“I think [Donovan’s] cutting the college’s budget by $5 million and my vociferous opposition to that with my board was the thing that really was the end of the deal for her.”

Donovan and her staff have been dealing with storm damage and next week’s election.

Ryan was BCC president for four years before he was ousted amid a storm of controversy.

In a story published on its website Thursday night, The News Star reported that Ryan said he was “one of five community college presidents who lost their job that year in New Jersey after the 2010 elections restored Republican control in many of the state’s counties.”

BCC trustees fired Ryan in July 2011 after the faculty union returned a 92-26 “no confidence” vote against Ryan in advance of a June 1 meeting at which the board refused the group’s demands that he resign ( SEE: BCC faculty approves ‘no confidence’ vote against Ryan ).

Among other complaints, faculty members were upset over bonuses Ryan reportedly gave his staff following cuts in wages and hours for those in work-study programs. They also criticized three appointments they said Ryan made without a search committee, as required by the Middle State Commission of Higher Education and the State of New Jersey ( SEE: ‘No confidence’ vote pending )

Ryan then refused the trustees’ offer to leave with a year’s severance. This left the board “no choice” but to schedule a vote, a source close to the decision told the website. ( SEE: BCC trustees voting to fire Ryan ).

Troubles had been mounting for some time at BCC — among them, a low graduation rate and uacceptably high number of dropouts that led to fears that the school would lose its accreditation.

Then came reports that Ryan was running up huge bar tabs on the county dime.

The alleged booze bashes came after faculty members went public about Ryan’s spending practices, including bonuses for his staff following cuts in wages and hours for those in work-study programs.

A budget audit showed actual BCC revenue at roughly $500,000 — a fraction of the targeted goal of $4.8 million. Ryan blamed tuition hikes, faculty pay deferments and county cuts for BCC’s financial troubles.

“The board had a lot of pressure put on them and I could have done things differently. They asked me to resign, and I refused,” Ryan reportedly told The News Star on Tuesday. “I stood on principle, which I thought was important.”

Longtime friend Dr. Joe D. May, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, nominated Ryan for his new post, which was approved by the system’s board. He began working there in January.

“We do extensive background checks on all of our employees, and our committee takes all things into consideration,” May told The News Star. “Everything that was going on (in Bergen) didn’t seem to cross the line.”

One board member reportedly told the newspaper he believes that spending money to schmooze donors and politicos is a necessary part of the job.

However, Donovan previously pointed out that receipts showed Ryan had been taking trustees and others already connected with BCC out to lunch or dinner and spending a large amount of the money on booze.

The BCC trustees made Ryan’s tenure the central point of a retreat at the school in the summer of 2011 after giving him an 18-month extension — half of what he was seeking — onto a contract that expired that June. They set a $192,400 salary, with a 4-percent bump for this year.

Not all were pleased in doing so.

Trustees privately said that they grudgingly brooked a graduation rate of 12.6% and a dropout rate three times that amount. They withstood an uproar after cuts in students’ work hours were made – at a time when Ryan was hiring administrators without following college guidelines.

Then came revelations that he ran his expense account to nearly $100,000 last year.

Ryan, in turn, wrote a scathing letter to The Bergen Record taking Donovan to task for the budget cuts, which he said could “compromise quality” at the school.

Donovan issued a blistering response that was first published on CLIFFVIEW PILOT .

“What ‘quality’ are you concerned about compromising?” the county executive wrote. “The only ‘quality’ you have defended is your choice of high-priced watering holes.”

Ryan insisted he was trying to drum up business for the college. But an examination by Donovan’s office, the results of which were shared with CLIFFVIEW PILOT , showed the president feting trustees, staff and politicians — none of whom are significant contributors.

It is for reasons such as that, Donovan said, that she has pushed for greater oversight of the school.

The trouble began even before Donovan ousted Dennis McNerney as county executive in 2010, however.

As first reported in CLIFFVIEW PILOT , Ryan hire Dennis C. Miller angered students and faculty with a private September symposium attended by vendors who do business with the college — each of whom paid $60 to attend. The fee included the purchase of Miller’s book.

Before landing the Bergen job, Miller was president and CEO of Somerset Medical Center in Somerville — the hospital that employed serial killer Charles Cullen, who admitted snuffing 13 patients and trying to kill two others.

Miller, a former Woodcliff Lake resident who now lives in Denville, quickly left after Cullen was arrested, citing personal reasons. He eventually surfaced at BCC thanks to Ryan, who worked with him at the Alman Group. And although he was a full-time employee at the college the past three years, Miller also has maintained a consulting business: Dennis C. Miller Associates in Morristown.

After CLIFFVIEW PILOT publicized Miller’s special session, Ryan created a position for him as “interim chief development officer.” Miller continued holding symposiums, but he was eventually let go by the trustees.

That’s all history now for Ryan.

Whether he will get the Louisiana job permanently wasn’t addressed in today’s newspaper report — not directly, anyway.

According to May, there are no preferred candidates.

“My goal is to select the best individual for the community and the college,” he reportedly said.

G. Jeremiah Ryan PHOTO courtesy: LCTCS

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