SCCC chief urged to step down

NEWTON. Employees blame college president Jon Connolly for what they describe as an environment of intimidation, paranoia and manipulation.

Newton /
| 21 Mar 2024 | 09:31

Multiple employees of Sussex County Community College (SCCC) describe a campus environment of intimidation, paranoia and manipulation, all of which stem from the office of college president Jon Connolly, they said.

“I resigned from my position as director of human resources because I was asked to do things both illegal and unethical,” SCCC chief operating officer James Gaddy told the Sussex County Board of County Commissioners at its meeting Feb. 28.

“The stories of tests of loyalty to Dr. Connolly were frightening to me,” said Gaddy, who at one time held both the COO and HR director titles. “This behavior has only increased in the last several months. Faculty, students and staff also spoke up at the college’s Board of Trustees meeting (Feb. 27), outlining the toxicity they suffer.”

Gaddy, who said he has been put on administrative leave since addressing the Board of Commissioners, is openly gay. He said Elaine Stanton, an administrative assistant and president of the support union, refused to work with him because of his sexuality.

As HR director at the time, he approached Connolly about the situation three times before he was given the option to talk to a psychology instructor and try to work it out or “make her life hell so she quits,” he said.

He chose to speak with the instructor until he learned that the instructor was Connolly’s friend and was reporting everything to him.

Connolly once told him that Stanton “reminds me of my mother,” Gaddy added.

No action was taken.

His allegation is backed up by several of his current and former colleagues, including Marianne Sharpe.

Sharpe, who works in the college’s HR department and has been at the school since 2018, joined Gaddy and former SCCC adjunct professor Jason Boehm at the Board of Commissioners meeting.

‘Felt physically unsafe’

“Nothing is done to stop that type of behavior and I personally have felt physically unsafe on multiple occasions,” a visibly shaken Sharpe said in a recent interview. “(Connolly) controls (campus security).

“On one occasion, I had a woman in my office who was quite upset and acting in a threatening manner toward me. She would not leave, and I could not get any security. Thankfully, there was a male veteran present who helped control the situation.”

Gaddy said Connolly, president of the college since 2016, recently bragged that he had a gun in his office and therefore did not need campus security.

When Gaddy alerted a college trustee about Connolly’s mention of a gun, a plan was devised to search his office, he said.

While trustee Gayle Carrick took Connolly out to lunch Feb. 9, Gaddy, along with the school’s director of security and HR director Stacie Caputo, searched Connolly’s office for a firearm.

The search, which did not include opening locked drawers, was authorized by Carrick, Gaddy said.

About an hour after the search, which did not turn up a firearm, Kurt Gewecke, chairman of the college’s board of trustees, instructed school employees to call the Newton police.

No legal action was taken against Connolly in the matter, though Gaddy said Connolly later admitted that he had a firearm in his office but he brought it home.

Things on campus were not always this toxic, Gaddy said.

“The current president did many wonderful things in the beginning. He brought the trades back to the school, got the budget under control and I admired him. His compassion and eagerness to do the right thing really moved me.”

Change in behavior

However, during the past year or so, something about Connolly’s leadership changed, according to Gaddy and others.

“I would say Dr. Connolly exhibited this behavior and such tactics always,” said Boehm, a former student success adviser to veteran, international, student athletes and non-traditional students at SCCC. “He just wasn’t so virulent and flagrant until around the last nine months or so.”

Boehm, who no longer is at the college, outlined his concerns in a Feb. 15 letter to the SCCC trustees, alleging multiple abuses of power by Connolly.

“During my short tenure as a staff member here at SCCC, Dr. Connolly has used his position to blackmail me with offers of a full-time faculty position in exchange for spying and reporting on my fellow co-workers ... . It was made very clear that I was meant to be an informant to ensure the surveillance state stayed strong and under his total control.”

Boehm continued, “In addition, Dr. Connolly once threatened to produce a falsified Title IX report in order to get me fired from my position under false accusations of my failure to follow proper procedure. This was the tactic used to course-correct his withering control over me as I continually attempted to find ways to come forward and do the right thing without losing my job.

“Dr. Connolly’s tactics sadly worked perfectly to his plan. Any member of my direct supervisory chain can corroborate the absolute falsity of this twisted and categorically fabricated charge. I also possess a signed affidavit from the (female) student involved in this imaginary incident stating that I both handled any and all issues in compliance with Title IX protocol and that the charge against me was obviously fabricated and false.”

Boehm also said Connolly demanded weekly reports on what elected officials, politically active community members and others were saying about his performance as SCCC president.

Connolly suggested recording conversations and continuously threatened Boehm with the loss of his job, knowing that his wife needed his employer-provided health care because of her pre-existing health conditions and high medical costs, Boehm said.

When Connolly’s office was contacted for comment via voicemail and email, Kathleen Peterson, SCCC’s director of marketing, provided this statement: “Thank you for reaching out for a response from Sussex County Community College. We cannot comment at this time because the board of trustees has commissioned an outside organization to conduct an Institutional Health and Culture Assessment of the college. Currently, neither the college administration nor the Communications Department are in a position to provide any further statements.”

Gewecke, chairman of the trustees board, said he cannot comment on personnel or litigation issues.

”I can say, however, that the board is concerned about certain matters, which recently came to its attention, and has authorized an independent inquiry to be led by former Commissioner of Education Dave Hespe, who has also served as a county college president.”

Jill Space, director of the Board of County Commissioners, clarified the board’s role in relation to the college.

“We put together a search committee that selects potential members to serve on the Sussex County Community College’s board of trustees and we approve them,” she said. “We also approve the college’s budget each year. Other than that, we have no oversight.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly described who authorized a search of SCCC president Jon Connolly’s office.

I would say Dr. Connolly exhibited this behavior and such tactics always. He just wasn’t so virulent and flagrant until around the last nine months or so.”
- Jason Boehm, former student success adviser,
Sussex County Community College