Well, this is refreshing.
Facing a breach-of-contract lawsuit by Gordon Dahl, the ousted former head of the South Jersey Economic Development District, the SJEDD has filed a countersuit, claiming Dahl fraudulently concealed the financial condition of the agency and gave himself unauthorized raises.
Usually, when a public agency such as the SJEDD is sued, it hands off the case to its insurance carrier and, more often than not, ends up quietly settling rather than fighting back. That's often the less expensive route, and the quickest way to make a suit go away. But the SJEDD is going to the mat with Dahl - as it should.
There's risk involved in the SJEDD strategy. Legal costs will be higher - and anything can always happen in court. But the undeniable truth is that Dahl doesn't deserve to get a dime from the SJEDD or anyone else, and his suit represents the height of chutzpah. It's gratifying to see the SJEDD pushing back.
Dahl headed the SJEDD for 25 years. He was ousted a year ago by a unanimous vote of the district's board members, who are representatives of Atlantic, Cumberland, Cape May and Salem counties.
At that point, the SJEDD was nearly $1 million in debt, two years behind in federally required audits, and had failed to pay contractors who worked on the NextGen Aviation Research and Technology Park in Egg Harbor Township, a project the SJEDD was overseeing.
The board subsequently discovered that more than $390,000 was missing from a revolving-loan fund and that the SJEDD had failed to pay $150,000 for a flight simulator it had agreed to fund at Atlantic Cape Community College. Both pots of money had apparently been used to cover operational expenses.
Furthermore, as a Press of Atlantic City watchdog report by Jennifer Bogdan uncovered, Dahl's salary had grown from $79,000 in 2005 to $112,000 in 2011, as the agency's financial problems grew.
The SJEDD countersuit against Dahl claims he gave himself the raises without board approval and hid the agency's financial problems from the board.
Founded in 1979, the SJEDD is the only economic-development district in the state, although there are hundreds throughout the country. These districts are creations of the U.S. Economic Development Administration and are designed to secure and disburse federal grant money for public projects.
As we have noted before, a poor organizational structure and weak oversight from a revolving board of directors left Dahl to pretty much run the agency by himself - and he ran it into the ground, while making sure his own salary increased regularly.
If anyone ever deserved to be fired, Dahl did. He probably should have been fired years ago. And the thought of him possibly walking away with some kind of settlement at taxpayer expense is appalling.