Threats and scare tactics from Superintendent Cone

On June 15, 2019 Clinton Township School District Superintendent Michele Cone warned parents that teachers might violate the law and go on strike just before 8th grade graduation. Families’ “plans for the summer” might be “interrupted.” Cone also reported that negotiations with the teachers’ union were going along swimmingly.

Except there was no threatened strike and negotiations were in the toilet.

Cone’s missive

The iron fist of the Clinton Township Supreme Soviet… er, school board… was coming down. Cone sent a Memo to the Community that was apparently delivered only to parents of students. Other residents and taxpayers say they did not receive it.

It seems the superintendent runs her very own rumor mill. Cone has developed a tool to influence the ongoing negotiations with teachers: cheap threats and scare tactics.

8th grade graduation “disrupted”

In her memo, Cone threatened that 8th grade graduation could be “disrupted” if the teachers go on strike. Cone said the teachers’ union “refused” to “give us a heads up if there’s going to be a strike.”

But the Clinton Township Education Association — the union — has said nothing about striking. Cone herself allows that “a strike is prohibited by State law.”

Is there a State law prohibiting Cone from promoting rumors and scaring parents — and threatening teachers?

The superintendent’s rumor mill

Cone says that according to “the rumor mill” there is “talk of a strike” by Clinton Township teachers — and that “we have 8th grad graduation scheduled for June 20th and we don’t want to have that special event disrupted.”

Cone wants parents to know that if they “have plans for the summer… we don’t want those interrupted” by teachers striking before and during graduation.

Interference with negotiations through threats

Cone states explicitly that her “note” is intended as an update “on the negotiating process” between CTSD and the CTEA. She would “love to have the negotiating process resolved” because “everyone[‘s]… wonderful summer” depends on it.

The clear threat, of course, is that if the teachers don’t cave in on the lengthy negotiations before graduation, everyone will have a lousy summer.

Threats, scare tactics, selective distribution of information, and the not-so-subtle message to parents that teachers are the problem.

Administrative Promiscuity: Michele Cone, aka #4

Since 2017, when the teachers’ last contract expired (they’ve been working two years without a contract after working three years just before that without a contract), the CTSD has had 4 superintendents under the management of school board president Maria Grant:

  1. Drucilla Clark
  2. Gina Villani
  3. Pamela Fiander
  4. Michele Cone

4 supers in less than 2 years? Such administrative promiscuity is extreme even for the rough-and-tumble CTSD. Since June 2017, Grant has also had 4 school board business administrators:

  1. Anthony Juskiewicz
  2. Edward F. McManus
  3. Richard J. Kilpatrick
  4. Michael Falkowski (acting)

It seems Grant loves to spend money on search firms and to disrupt management of the district. Scrub ’em up and get ’em ready!

Or, perhaps, not. What better way for Grant to control both the school board and the administration of the schools than to show supers and BA’s how soon they, too, could be out the door?

“It’s not fair to ask more than 200 teachers to work without a contract”

The CTSD is notorious for bad faith during teacher negotiations, and it’s easy to see that Cone has learned to apply the tactics her boss uses. (See Maria Grant tells 1.19% of the truth about teachers.) Clinton Township school teachers have worked without a contract for 6 of the past 8 years.

On April 9, 2019 the Hunterdon Review delivered a blistering editorial about the school board’s failure to settle the teachers’ contract:

“During the last round of negotiations the CTEA worked with an expired contract for three years, from 2013 to 2016. Prior to that, the teachers and staff worked under an expired contract for two years… It’s not fair to ask more than 200 teachers to work without a contract”

It seems Michele Cone is trying to speed up negotiations the way she’s been taught: by threatening teachers, parents and students alike.

Oops.

Three days later, after taking a scathing tongue-lashing from parents at the June 17 board meeting, Cone and the school board issued a new statement, pretending they had cleared up the question of whether there might be a strike.

But it appears this notice was as bogus as Cone’s memo.

Class was in session on June 17

At the second public comment section of the June 17 board meeting, two teachers gave a lesson to the superintendent and the school board.

The well-versed representatives of the CTEA — Mary Claire Spadone and Kelly Hill — disclosed that Superintendent Cone had lied about a possible teachers’ strike, and had misrepresented that “the [negotiations] process has moved along very well over the last year…”

“This statement is completely untrue. We are at the exact same place we were last year when the board filed for impasse.”

“Dr. Cone alluded that as pressure to come to an agreement continues, a strike may happen… When speaking to Dr. Cone last week… I qualified that she was confused… She was also reassured on more than one occasion that we would not take any action that would negatively affect our students or their families… To insinuate that we would disrupt a celebration such as graduation is utterly offensive — utterly!”

[All audio excerpts are from the official recording of the June 17, 2019 board meeting.]

Who will call Michele Cone to account for misleading “the community?” How does it feel to be #4?

The Iron Fist is nothing new at CTSD

How does Grant do it?

It’s no mystery how board president Maria Grant controls contract negotiations. Even after 4 new board members were elected last year, Grant refuses to put any of them on negotiation committees. Kevin Maloy, Mary Beth Brooks, Alissa Olawski, and Grant herself control the contracts, with Lana Brennan supplying the 5th vote to ensure it. At the June 17 meeting a power struggle erupted and the public cheered the 4 new members — but Grant locked them out.

The key to Grant’s power is Lana Brennan, who ran for school board “to make things better.” When the 4 newest members threatened Grant’s iron fist, according to district insiders Grant cut a deal with the naive Brennan. In exchange for Brennan’s vote to keep Grant in the president position, Grant and her minority would nominate and elect Brennan vice president. Grant is in charge because Brennan is her 5th vote.

Out-of-control school board presidents who rule with iron fists, and their closely held superintendents, are nothing new in Clinton Township.

Board president Jeanine Gorman sold taxpayers a $35 million middle school at a time when student population was predicted to drop precipitously. (Want to buy an empty school building, anyone? You’re paying for it anyway.) Superintendent Elizabeth Nastus was nothing short of notorious. (See Clinton Twp budget rejected: Board has no credibility.)

Board president Jim Dincuff set a standard to rival despots of any stripe when he attacked board members and citizens alike with unfounded accusations. (See Jim Dincuff: The damage continues.) He did his best to give sweetheart contracts and payouts to his favorite superintendents (Superintendent Carroll Declines Contract Renewal) and oversaw brazen violations of the New Jersey Sunshine Law.

Time and time again, Clinton Township voters put the wrong people in charge of their schools, children, teachers — and of the biggest slice of their property taxes.

Another superintendent busted

What credibility does Michele Cone have now that her attempts to mislead the public about the teachers has been exposed? It seems it’s time for board president Maria Grant to strap on the rubber apron and clean house once again.

A 5th superintendent would nicely round out Grant’s tenure as board president. Board members — er, Grant’s #1 and #2 loyals — Kevin Maloy and Lana Brennan seem ready once again to vote with Grant to defend her role as Commandant of Clinton Township’s Supreme Soviet.

Unless someone stops them.

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Mayor Higgins snaps when ExMayor exposes 7X-higher tax rate

Clinton Township raised its municipal property tax rate dramatically compared to a host of other neighboring towns this year, but the Council tried to gloss over it at the May 8, 2019 public hearing on the budget.

And Mayor John Higgins snapped when an ExMayor exposed the stunning increase.

(Source: Clinton Township official recording, May 5, 2019 council meeting.)

New Jersey law guarantees the right of citizens to make comments at public government meetings without interference by a governing body. During a budget hearing, N.J. has a statutory requirement that the public be heard before a public budget is adopted.

13.45% increase in Clinton Township municipal tax rate

The boost in the municipal tax rate Clinton Township residents will be paying is 7 times higher than the increase in Readington Township.

This year, Readington increased its tax rate just 1.78% compared to Clinton Township’s 13.45% increase. Readington is the nearby town most similar to Clinton Township.

The next highest tax rate boost is in Tewksbury: 3.30%. Clinton Township’s increase is 4X higher than that. No town in the list below is even close to Clinton Township’s boost.

(The tax rate is cents per $100 of your property value.)

Because tax rates are based on a town’s population, budget and property values, it is not reasonable to compare tax rates across towns. (As can be seen, tiny High Bridge has an enormous tax rate, while enormous Readington’s is about half that, while tony Tewksbury’s is lower than both.) However, the percentage of change in tax rates is a legitimate comparative metric of how municipal governments manage their finances. (Source of data: Hunterdon Review.)

A massive boost in the budget

Clinton Township’s municipal budget is up 6.99% for 2019, from $12,524,148 to $13,400,000 — almost a million bucks.

Readington’s budget is up 1.99%.

Who funds the budget increase?

Part of a town’s budget is funded by revenue sources including State aid and fees collected by the municipality. Taxpayers pay the rest.

Readington’s taxpayers are paying just $286,949 of its budget increase.

Clinton Township’s taxpayers are paying $1,000,000 of its budget increase.

Readington’s revenue from property taxes will go up just 1.96% in 2019.

Clinton Township’s taxpayers will contribute 13.16% more to the town’s budget than last year.

Where’s all that money in Clinton Township going?

We’ll tell you in the next edition where taxpayers’ money seems to be going.

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Don’t Vote June 4! This Primary smells like…

Here at ExMayor.com we pride ourselves on voting in every election and in exercising our franchise. But we’re not stupid.

We looked at this year’s Primary Ballot. And we realized that if you vote on June 4, 2019, Primary Election Day, in Clinton Township, NJ, you’re a sucker. You’re wasting your time.

Because this Primary makes Clinton Township government smell like ass.

Here’s your Official Primary Election Sample Ballot

That’s your official Clinton Township sample ballot.

Read it carefully. Then fold, dispose and flush twice because it’s a long way from your house to the Clinton Township Council Chamber, to the Sheriff’s Office, and to the Board of Freeholders.

That’s right: You get no choices. There’s just one candidate for each open slot!

The Republican Party gives you no choices

The GOP party bosses have already made your choice for you in every race. The Hunterdon County Republican Committee offers you just one candidate for each vacant seat on the ballot.

The GOP shows you its ass.

Hunterdon GOP boss Patrick Torpey follows in the steps of his predecessor, Henry Kuhl, who used to say, “All we care is that Republicans get elected. We don’t need to give you choices of Republicans.”

(Check out what happened on the GOP Committee just a few years ago: Hunterdon County Republican Committee Members Question Validity of Candidate Endorsements.)

So, why show up to vote?

The Democratic Party gives you no choices

The Democratic party bosses have already made your choice for you in every race. The Hunterdon Democratic Committee offers you just one candidate for each vacant seat on the ballot.

There’s plenty of… what’s it called… ass to go around.

So, why show up to vote?

Why does it matter?

In Clinton Township, the Democrats run local candidates who don’t campaign to win. In fact, the local Dem party bosses convince a couple of candidates to run each year by telling them, “Don’t worry! You’re not going to win! We just need two names on the ballot!”

They campaign to call attention to their party in order to attract donations from Democrats for State and Federal election campaigns. The Republicans know the Dems don’t campaign to win in November — so the Republicans know that whatever GOP candidate for Mayor or Council wins in the Primary is a shoe-in in November.

So, that’s right — no matter which party you belong to, your next Council member actually gets elected in the June 4 Primary. And you get no choices because there are only 2 GOP candidates for 2 seats — and both are the incumbents.

You might as well stay home. You have no choices on the Primary ballot.

Why do you belong to a party?

The purpose of America’s two-party system is to cultivate smart, capable new candidates in the Republican and Democratic parties to give Republican and Democratic voters a choice about who will be on the General Election ballot.

But you get no choices. You’d do better on June 4 to go wash your car for all that voting is going to do for you. All the candidates you see on the Clinton Township Primary Ballot for local office are going to win no matter what you do!

And you wonder why Clinton Township government — uhhh — smells so much like ass.

Who decides?

Who decides that you get no choices? Your Republican and Democratic Committees in Clinton Township. You probably don’t know it, but you elect those Committee members in the General Election. Though you probably have no idea what their job is.

Their job is to find, cultivate, educate and deliver good potential candidates for elected office to you — the Republican and Democratic voters of Clinton Township. Or, that’s what the Committee members of each party are supposed to do.

But they hide. They prefer you don’t know who they are.

These Committees meet in secret. They vote in secret to decide “who gets the line on the ballot.” And you get to vote — if you’re dumb enough to show up at the polls on June 4.

If they were doing their jobs, you’d get to see candidates debate so that you could choose the best candidate to vote for in the Primary.

But there are no debates. Because there are no opposing candidates.

Wash my car

If you decide not to waste your time on Primary Day, and don’t need to wash your car, you could wash mine. For all the good it’s going to do you. Because the next 2 Council members in Clinton Township don’t get elected — they get chosen by the GOP bosses way before any election.

Good luck choosing your party’s best candidates in the Primary on June 4.

And you wonder why Clinton Township government smells like ass.

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Did your town pay off Fair Share Housing Center’s lawyers to “settle” affordable housing threats?

Before it agrees to end its affordable housing litigation against a town, the Fair Share Housing Center‘s lawyers demand cash payments — ranging up to $100,000. The question arises as to whether these payments are a kind of “extortion” extracted from towns.

Questionable purpose of payments

Taxpayers in these towns are usually unaware they are paying off FSHC’s lawyers. Although these pay-offs are written into the signed agreements (which are public documents), it seems town officials like to keep the payments quiet.

What raises red flags is that the stated purpose for these payments varies across the agreements. It would seem the purpose would be consistent if the payments were legitimate and above board.

The payments

Scroll down to see what your town paid. Don’t see your town? Scroll down lower to submit it for the list.
This is a partial list of payments New Jersey towns made to Fair Share Housing Center to settle the threat of affordable housing litigation. These payments have nothing to do with the actual construction or delivery of affordable housing.

A limited sampling of just 56 towns reveals payments of $869,250 to Fair Share Housing Center, in exchange for FSHC signing the deals. There are 565 municipalities in New Jersey. With your help, we’d like to include them all.

[List updated June 26, 2019. Updated figures in text appear in red.]

 MUNICOUNTYPAYMENTPurpose of payment
1AllendaleBergen$4,000reasonable attorney's fees
2Atlantic HighlandsMonmouth$5,000[none specified]
3BarnegatOcean$5,000attorney fees
4Berkeley HeightsUnion$15,000[no purpose specified]
5Bernards TownshipSomerset$15,000attorneys fees and costs
6BernardsvilleSomerset$3,500attorneys fees
7ChathamMorris$15,000attorneys fees and costs
8Clinton TownshipHunterdon$30,000donation
9ClosterBergen$5,000[none specified]
10Delran TownshipBurlington$25,000attorney's fees
11East RutherfordBergen$7,500attorneys fees and costs
12EmersonBergen$7,500attorneys fee and costs
13Far HillsSomerset$15,000attorneys fees and costs
14Franklin LakesBergen$25,000[no purpose specified]
15Franklin TownshipSomerset$5,000[none specified]
16GarwoodUnion$4,000[none specified]
17Green BrookSomerset$3,750attorneys fee and costs
18GreenwichWarren$5,000donation
19HaddonfieldCamden$10,000attorneys fees and costs
20HaworthBergen$7,500attorneys fees and costs
21HaworthBergen$7,500attorneys fees and costs
22High BridgeHunterdon$3,000attorneys fees and costs
23HillsdaleBergen$4,500ongoing legal expenses
24HolmdelMonmouth$15,000[no purpose specified]
25Hopewell TownshipMercer$50,000[none specified]
26Howell TownshipMonmouth$15,000attorneys fees and costs
27LambertvilleHunterdon$5,000attorneys fees and costs
28Lawrence TownshipMercer$25,000[none specified]
29Long Hill TownshipMorris$5,000attorneys fee and costs
30MahwahBergen$20,000[no purpose specified]
31MaplewoodEssex$5,000[none specified]
32MarlboroMonmouth$75,000attorneys fees and costs
33Mine HillMorris$5,000attorneys fees and costs
34MontvaleBergen$25,000payment of fees and costs
35Montville TownshipMorris$45,000attorney fees and costs
36MoorestownBurlington$40,000attorneys fees and costs
37Morris TownshipMorris$15,000attorneys fees and costs
38MorristownMorris$4,000attorney fees and costs
39Mountain LakesMorris$3,000attorney fees and costs
40North CaldwellEssex$7,500[none specified]
41Ocean CityCape May$15,000attorneys fees
42OradellBergen$5,000attorneys fees and costs
43RamseyBergen$7,500attorneys fees and costs
44Raritan TownshipHunterdon$15,000attorneys fees and costs
45Raritan TownshipHunterdon$15,000attorneys fees and costs
46Red BankMonmouth$7,500attorneys fees and costs
47RidgewoodBergen$10,000attorneys fees and costs
48Scoth PlainsUnion$15,000attorneys fees and costs
49TeaneckBergen$5,000attorneys fee and costs
50WaldwickBergen$5,000attorney's fees
51Warren TownshipSomerset$50,000attorneys fee and costs
52WatchungSomerset$7,500donation
53West WindsorMercer$100,000attorneys fees and costs
54WestfieldUnion$12,000donation
55WestwoodBergen$5,000attorney fees and costs
56Woodcliff LakeBergen$7,500attorneys fees and costs
TOTAL PAYMENTS$869,250Cash into FSHC war chest

The 56 towns above agreed to pay FSHC an aggregate $869,250 to settle. This list is incomplete. There are 565 municipalities in New Jersey. Not all towns have settled with FSHC — but there are many more than listed above, so we don’t yet know how much in total FSHC’s lawyers have pulled down in such payments.

Who decides what the pay-off is — and its purpose?

The purpose of these payments is described in each agreement, but it varies without explanation.

Some towns agreed to reimburse FSHC for its “attorneys fees and costs.” Other towns, like Clinton Township in Hunterdon County, agreed to make a “donation” of taxpayer money to FSHC. Many payments were agreed to by municipal officials without stating any purpose.

Why does one town pay FSHC’s “attorneys fees and costs” of $50,000, while another town makes a “donation” of $30,000 — but pays no attorneys fees at all? Why do some towns pay nothing? Are their officials just better negotiators?

What does FSHC do with all that money? We’re reviewing its tax filings to find out.
Perhaps most puzzling, why do the New Jersey Courts that approve these myriad agreements overlook the varying amounts and disparate purposes of these payments — and the fact that FSHC extracts payments of any kind?

Add your town to the list

If your town has settled with FSHC but is not listed, and you would like it added, you can obtain a copy of the “Fair Share Housing Center settlement agreement” from your municipal clerk. The document is public and cannot be legally withheld from you. You may need to submit an OPRA request to obtain it. Your town’s website may have the OPRA form available online. The settlement agreement must be delivered to you within 7 business days.

Please e-mail a link (preferred) to your town’s settlement agreement to admin@exmayor.com or e-mail a copy of the complete agreement. Or send both.

The pay-off is usually listed after the other main terms of the agreement are recited, usually in a paragraph numbered in the 20s. Here’s one example of what the clause agreeing to pay looks like, in West Windsor’s settlement agreement:

How much did your elected officials quietly pay FSHC’s lawyers to make a deal?

Thanks to all who have submitted settlement agreements for inclusion.

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Maria Grant tells 1.19% of the truth about teachers

Clinton Township school teachers have worked without a contract for 6 of the past 8 years.  The last contract expired 2 years ago in June 2017. The school board has failed to negotiate and settle it.

Do we know the truth about why it’s taking so long to work out this contract?

One thing we do know: A school board that hides minutes of its meetings is hard to keep up with when you’re looking for the truth.

Double-talk

At the April 12, 2019 meeting, school board president Maria Grant lectured about her approach to contract negotiations:

“As part of this decision-making, we want everyone in the community to have the same information that we do, so that you can understand how we have arrived at our positions in the negotiations.”

Except Grant has long been giving the community platitudes and re-hashed political double-talk about the negotiations. In other words, she’s not telling the truth.

Of course, loads of towns have no contract!

In the May 2019 edition of the Clinton Township Newsletter, Grant wrote “A Letter from The CTSD Board of Education.” CTSD uses taxpayer money to buy two pages in this newsletter every month.

Grant tried to calm the mounting protests of parents and teachers about her board’s abysmal failure to negotiate and settle the teachers’ contract.

It’s difficult to negotiate these contracts, proclaimed Grant — but loads of other school districts in Hunterdon County and across New Jersey have the same problem!

Except it’s not true.

Only 1.19% of all school districts have no contract

An April 23, 2019 article published by the New Jersey School Boards Association reveals that, out of 590 school districts in the state,

“Fewer than 10 districts have not yet reached an agreement for contracts that expired on June 30, 2017 or earlier.”

The CTSD’s failure to settle its contract with teachers is an outlier, an anomaly, a failure, an oddity, an exception, a freak, a deviation.

Through further research and an interview with a NJSBA spokesperson, ExMayor.com has confirmed that the number of contracts unsettled since June 2017 is actually at most 7 out of 590 — or 1.19% of all school districts.

And Clinton Township School District is the only district in Hunterdon County without a settled teachers’ contract since June 2017.

Maria Grant is telling 1.19% of the truth to the public. Also known as prevaricating, deceiving, misleading, and equivocating — or, in school-board parlance, “information.”

Utter disrespect for teachers and taxpayers

In her paid political announcement in the April Clinton Township Newsletter, Grant asserts:

“The Clinton Township Board of Education has the highest level of respect for each and every district staff member and we appreciate all that they do for Clinton Township’s students.”

Claiming Clinton Township is somehow in the same boat as loads of other towns — when it isn’t — doesn’t show respect. It shows a mockery of the responsibility of leadership.

“…we want everyone in the community to have the same information that we do, so that you can understand how we have arrived at our positions in the negotiations…”

A long history of abusing teachers

This isn’t the first time the school board has failed teachers, parents, students and taxpayers. The board took longer than 3 years to negotiate and sign the previous 3-year contract. The teachers worked from 2013 – 2016 without a contract.

Before that, they worked for 2 years without a contract.

Does anyone see a pattern? Board president Maria Grant has led the school district’s recitation of silly mantras that suggest it’s all the teachers’ fault.

In February, Grant said at a board meeting that a mediation process has brought teachers and the school board “closer together.” Everything’s fine, folks! Nothing to see here!

Three months later, the frustrated teachers continue to show up for work every day, but they have cut back on after-school work. At the April 29 board meeting, they marched in protest.

Can you spot the political double-talk?

In a February 2, 2018 letter to parents, Grant said “the definition of impasse is when the two parties engaged in attempting to negotiate a mutually acceptable contract are no longer able to reach an agreement without assistance and; therefore, the negotiations have stalled.”

Who gets paid to resolve employment contracts?

On February 13 the Hunterdon Review said in a biting editorial:

“Clinton Township teachers deserve a contract… We just know that it’s not fair to the teachers who are in charge of teaching the children of the community to have to work for this long without a contract… We think the school administrators get paid well enough to resolve this matter.”

Superintendent Michele Cone is paid $150,000 per year. Interim Business Administrator Michael Falkowski is paid $500 per day, an effective $125,000 annual salary rate.

Long-time board attorney Vito Gagliardi is also getting paid to handle negotiations. So is Phillip Stern, of the law firm DiFrancesco, Bateman, Kurzman, Davis, Leher and Flaum (yes, that DiFrancesco) — hired by Grant and the board to “mediate” with the teachers.

Get the picture why it takes so long to negotiate teachers’ contracts in Clinton Township?

Get the picture why certain members of this school board like to keep the public out of their public meetings? (See Maloy, Grant, Books vs. The Public.)

Talk to the teachers, Stupid

The solution has been offered by the teachers again and again.

Mary Claire Spadone, co-president of the Clinton Township Education Association (the teachers’ union), said at a recent board meeting that the teachers would like to meet with the whole board, a sentiment that was echoed by other teachers and parents who spoke.

The board refuses. At least, Maria Grant — the only authorized spokesperson for the board — refuses.

Pretty stupid — for a bunch of people who control the education of Clinton Township children.

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Maloy, Grant & Brooks vs. The Public

The plan was to get rid of the audience before conducting the public’s business.

The audience was full of teachers, parents and taxpayers who wanted to hear about the school budget, the failure of the school board to resolve the teachers’ contract, and other board business.

Let’s lock out the public for 4 hours

For the April 29, 2019, 7:30 p.m. Clinton Township school board meeting, board president Maria Grant planned to adjourn the meeting prior to conducting board business.

She would take the board into a “two hundred & forty (240) minute” executive session in the back room and lock out the public while the board talked in private.

That’s 4 hours.

Well after 12:00 midnight, the board would reconvene its regular public meeting — after the public was asleep in their beds — and make decisions, spend money, hear reports on facilities and finance, and much, much more.

The public would be welcome to show up at around, oh, 1:00 a.m., to hear the rest of the “public” part of the meeting.

But something went wrong

According to the recording of the meeting and a report published in the Hunterdon Review:

“Board member Alison Grantham suggested having the [4-hour-long] executive session at the end of the meeting so visitors wouldn’t have to wait hours for the public section of the meeting.”

Grantham made a motion and it was seconded.

Grant was left in shock.

A lengthy discussion — argument — ensued, with Grant pounding her gavel. Grant wanted to know, what about “the people who saw how it was advertised and potentially could come later…?” That is, after the 4-hour delay, after midnight?

“I mean, what about that?” intoned Grant.

The crowd erupted in guffaws.

Maloy, Grant & Brooks vs. The Public

Five board members voted to move the 4-hour-long “non-public” executive session later so the public could see and hear and participate in the business part of the meeting.

Board members Alison Grantham, Catherine Emery, Catherine Riihimaki, Regina Figueroa and Lana Brennan didn’t want the public locked out.

Board members Kevin Maloy, Maria Grant and Mary Beth Brooks voted against the public. They insisted on a 4-hour intermission so they could meet in the back room — then let the public back in well after midnight.

They lost to the bright light of public scrutiny.

Print this column and tack it on your calendar around Election Day, 2019. Then you’ll know whom to vote off the Clinton Township school board for 2020.

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School Board: 5 months of missing meeting minutes

What right do you have to know how your school board is spending $23.5 million of your property tax dollars? You have the right to see it all in writing.

Except when a public governing body violates the Sunshine Law — then you have to fight to get the information.

The Clinton Township school board’s interim business administrator Michael Falkowski has refused to deliver 5 months’ worth of meeting minutes covering 7 public meetings and as many “closed” sessions.

On May 3, 2019, the editor of this publication submitted an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request to Falkowski, who serves as the official records custodian to the school district.

OPRA REQUEST May 3, 2019

“I would like copies of the following government records… Complete minutes of public and closed school board meetings between the dates August 27, 2018 – May 3, 2019, inclusive.”

Falkowski denied the request for minutes of all meetings of the school board after December 2018, stating that the minutes will not be “loaded online” until the board approves them.

“In regards to your request for minutes, the audio of all our meeting are available online, and the Board Approved written minutes have been loaded up through December 2018.  The remaining written minutes from January 2019 to the present will be loaded online once Board Approved…”

Except that’s not how the Sunshine Law works.

Here’s what’s on the CTSD website:

What the law requires

The New Jersey Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) requires the school board to keep minutes of “all its meetings,” including meetings that are closed to the public, and those minutes “shall be promptly available to the public.”

Audio recordings of meetings do not qualify as legally required minutes.

The law doesn’t mean 5 months later, it doesn’t mean “after the school board has time to approve the minutes,” and it doesn’t make production of minutes optional or discretionary. It says the minutes “shall be promptly available to the public.”

In a 2012 case, John Paff, Chairman of the NJ Open Government Advocacy Project, sued the Camden City Board of Education for access to its meeting minutes. Paff reported that as a result of his litigation:

“…the Camden Board of Education must make the minutes of its closed meetings, redacted only as necessary, publicly available within thirty days of the meeting or three days prior to its next public meeting, whichever comes first.”

Paff further reported that the Camden BOE’s claim that it must first “approve” the minutes has no “basis in law.”

5 months of important issues

Why is the Clinton Township board of education withholding 5 months’ worth of minutes of its meetings from the public?

Falkowski suggests the board has not had time or opportunity during the past 5 months to “approve” the minutes before they can be released to the public. Yet, at its April 29 meeting the board scheduled a 4-hour “executive session” meeting that would be closed to the public.

That’s longer than most public school board meetings.

The board seems to have plenty of time to meet in secret, but no time to “approve” its meeting minutes to fulfill its obligation to be transparent.

In the next year, Clinton Township taxpayers will contribute $23.5 million of property taxes to the operation of the school district — yet the board denies taxpayers minutes of meetings where the board spends those millions.

During the past 5 months the board has met to discuss and work on loads of important, controversial matters: its budget, a 2-year delayed contract for teachers, a lawsuit that it filed against Clinton Township (the municipality), and much more. But records custodian Falkowski refuses to make public records of those meetings available to the public under the Open Public Records Act.

Withholding Information: Par for the course

When the board approved its new budget on April 29, the Hunterdon Review reported that business administrator “Falkowski did not respond with [sic] requests for more tax payment budget details.”

The public has become accustomed to the Clinton Township school board’s withholding of public information. It’s par for the course. Now, get out your checkbooks and pay your $23 .5 million school property tax bill.

This isn’t the first time this school board has violated the public’s legal right to know: Deliberate, Willful & Knowing: School board keeps breaking the law after resolving to end violations. Worth noting is that the same lawyer who advised the board when it last violated the law, Vito Gagliardi, advises the board today.

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Maria Grant gives big F-YOU to voters

On election night, November 6, 2018, Clinton Township school board president Maria Grant’s worst nightmare came true: She lost control of her board.

Four newly elected members plus last year’s election of a staunch board critic  created a new majority that seems prepared to wrest control of the school board away from the divisive Grant. Every January, the board members elect from their ranks a president.

Clearly aware she’s about to lose her leadership role to a new majority elected in a stunning repudiation by voters, Grant is scurrying to retain administrative control by hand-picking Clinton Township’s new superintendent in a move that has angered parents, residents and teachers — before she is ousted as president.

Grant will hire new Super “in the back room”

On Monday evening, November 19, Grant and her loyal majority will give a big F-YOU to voters by hiring the school district’s fourth superintendent in less than two-and-a-half years — just a month before the new majority takes over.

Grant issued a notice on Saturday, November 17 — just two days before the board will make the hire. The notice went out by e-mail only to parents with children in the district and was posted on the school website.

The rest of the community has received no notice.

They will do it “in the back room” away from public view during an “executive session” prior to the public school board meeting.

The new board of education — and voters who have rejected Grant’s “Supreme Soviet” style of autocratic control — will be stuck with whomever Grant anoints Superintendent.

The public will have no chance to even comment on the hire until after the hire is made.

Grant’s board fractured in 2017

In 2017, Lana Brennan was elected to the school board. A fair-minded but outspoken critic of the board, Brennan was the first thorn in Grant’s side. When Grant orchestrated the highly controversial, overnight reorganization of the schools without adequate public input, Brennan cast the only dissenting vote.

According to MyCentralJersey, Brennan explained that she didn’t “feel comfortable on voting tonight” because “people need more time to digest” the plan recommended by Superintendent of Schools Pamela Fiander.

A new board: Brennan + 4

Campaigning to end Grant’s war against teachers and the public, four newbie, highly credentialed candidates ran as a team and were elected November 6, 2018 by enormous margins, signaling voters’ dissatisfaction with the school board status quo.

Catherine Riithimaki, Catherine Emery, Regina Figueroa and Alison Grantham focused their campaign on ending the high turnover of superintendents, business administrators and teachers. The foursome also criticized the existing school board for failing to give teachers a contract for four of the last five years.

Along with Brennan — who is not politically connected to the other four — a new majority has been formed in that all five have expressed objections to how Grant controls the school district.

Grant’s superintendents

4 Superintendents under Maria Grant in 29 months

Superintendent Drucilla Clark
Resigned June 2016

Superintendent Gina Villani
July 2016 – July 2017

Superintendent Pamela Fiander
August 2017 – July 2018

Superintendent #4 — TOP SECRET
To be hired November 19, 2018

Maria Grant’s record of hiring superintendents has become the dirty little management secret of the Clinton Township schools.

Grant inherited Drucilla Clark, who resigned in June 2016 amidst speculation that she was unhappy with Grant’s overbearing style of management.

In quick succession, Grant conducted back-room selection processes and hired Superintendent Gilla Villani, who lasted just a year between July 2016 and July 2017.

Then Grant orchestrated the hire of Pamela Fiander, who served just 11 months from August 2017 through last summer.

Fiander replaced Superintendent Drucilla Clark, who was hired in 2012 following a search conducted by Pamela Fiander’s husband, Richard Fiander. According to the Hunterdon County Democrat, the latter was hired for $6,500 while Grant served on the board to recruit candidates for superintendent.

Including the superintendent to be hired November 19, that’s four superintendents during Grant’s board presidency in less than two-and-a-half years.

Grant scurries to hire a loyal administrator

The November 6 school board election was widely regarded as a referendum on board president Maria Grant — and Grant lost.

The new majority that will control the board in January was elected on promises to repudiate the school board’s poor treatment of teachers; its disregard and disrespect of the public; and its domination by a divisive board president.

On Monday night in the Clinton Township Middle School auditorium, Maria Grant will deliver a big F-YOU to the voters who elected a new majority to put a stop to Grant’s divisive mismanagement.

In a classic back-room move with just two days’ notice to only selected members of the public, Grant will hire a Superintendent who — in 2019 — will be beholden to a minority of the board and what will undoubtedly be the former board president who engineered the hire.

Who’s running the joint in 2019?

Clinton Township taxpayers, parents and teachers will be left wondering who is running their $30 million school district:

  • The new school board and new leadership they elected to “bring the focus back to quality education for our kids”?
  • Or a shadow school board controlled by Maria Grant and a hand-picked new superintendent that’s going to continue abusing teachers, disrespecting the public, and operating in the “back room?”

Who will show up at the Monday, November 5 school board meeting to demand answers?

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Clinton Township: Who’s worth voting for?

Who’s worth voting for in Clinton Township for town council, the local school board and the high school board? How about political candidates who show they respect and follow the law before they get elected?

“The essence of Democracy is an informed electorate.”
About ELEC

Among 13 political candidates on the November 6, 2018 General Election Ballot, 6 seem to already be in violation of New Jersey Election Law.

Before we give them a chance to show they will “uphold the law” as elected representatives — public databases suggest they’ve already shown they can’t be bothered to follow the law.

How’s that for blowing the job interview before the job interview?

Scroll down for the list of apparent election law violators.

ELEC

NJ ELEC Compliance Manual for Candidates 2018The New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) monitors the campaign financing of all elections in the State. Its purpose is to ensure transparency in elections by giving the public a look at every political candidate’s finances — during campaigns well before election day.

How else are voters supposed to decide who’s worth voting for?

ELEC also publishes a Compliance Manual for Candidates that explains the law, details requirements of all candidates, provides examples, and includes all forms that must be filed before, during and after political campaigns and elections.

There’s no excuse for violating New Jersey Election Law.

It’s all public and online

Anyone can monitor any political candidate’s filings and reports day-to-day in ELEC’s public database.

  • Want to know who donated money to a candidate? It’s in there.
  • What did a candidate spend money on? It’s in there.
  • Who is a candidate’s treasurer? It’s in there.
  • At what bank is the candidate’s campaign account held? It’s in there.

Well, it’s supposed to be in there if the candidate is following the law.

Anyone can also see which candidates that are on the November 6 ballot have not filed the legally required reports.

All candidates must file fund-raising and spending reports

If a candidate buys campaign signs or advertisements, or mails out campaign literature, using donations or their own money, they must file disclosures prior to the election.

ELEC sets dates when required financial disclosure reports must be filed and made public.

6 candidates on the ballot for Clinton Township Council, Clinton Township School District Board of Education, and North Hunterdon-Voorhees Board of Education have not filed disclosure reports by the dates required — or at the time of this publication — according to ELEC’s public databases.

ELEC requires political candidates to publicly disclose what monies they raised and spent — including their own money.

Which Clinton Township candidates seem to be in violation of New Jersey’s Election Laws?

If a candidate’s campaign buys signs or advertisements, or mails out campaign literature, using donations or their own money, they must file disclosures prior to the election.

Of 13 political candidates on the Clinton Township ballot, 6 have failed to file required ELEC documents and reports, according to ELEC’s public databases.

Listed in order of appearance on the 2018 Clinton Township General Election Ballot:

How can any of these political candidates seriously expect voters to believe they will “uphold the law” once they are elected — if they apparently haven’t bothered to comply with New Jersey’s Election Laws before the election?

NOTE: North Hunterdon-Voorhees School Board candidate Chris W. Kemprowski appears not to have raised or spent any funds on campaign signs or other campaign materials and thus appears to be exempt from disclosure requirements.

We can hear the excuses now:

  • “It’s no big deal — just a formality! I’ll file it later!”
    Translation: The law doesn’t apply to me. Get off my case.
  • “I was too busy!”
    Translation: I really haven’t got time to do the job, but I was asked to run and was told not to worry — just show up for a few meetings.
  • “I didn’t know!”
    Translation: And I won’t bother to learn the law once I’m elected.
  • “You’re kidding, right?? It’s a technicality! It’s not like they’re going to arrest me!”
    Translation: The law doesn’t apply to me. Who cares, once I get into office!

This is where trouble in our government starts. This is why taxpayers complain their elected officials are doing a lousy job.

Who should know better?

Perhaps the worst scofflaws are the political candidates who are already in office. They should know better:

  • Thomas Kochanowski — Clinton Township Council Incumbent
  • Rachel McLaughlin — Clinton Township Board of Education, Vice President
  • Alissa Olawski — Clinton Township Board of Education, Member
  • Robert Holliday — Clinton Township Board of Education, Member

If these people don’t bother to follow Election Law, what does that tell their constituents about whether they’re bothering to follow the law in their elected positions?

  • The Clinton Township Council has already been busted for violating the New Jersey Open Public Meetings Act — while Tom Kochanowski was on the council.
  • The Clinton Township School Board has already been busted for violating the law — while Rachel McLaughlin was on the board.

Illegal campaign signs and advertisements

ELEC also requires all candidates to label campaign signs, mailing pieces and other “political communications” with a statement that identifies the candidate.

At least one candidate, Jean Paul “JP” Vincenti — for Clinton Township Board of Education — is in violation of this requirement. Vincenti’s half-page ad in the Clinton Township Newsletter (November 2018) does not include the required “paid for by” label identifying the source.

Clean up government — expect candidates to follow the law

Who deserves your vote on November 6 in Clinton Township? How about political candidates who show they follow the law before they get elected?

It’s shocking that almost half the candidates running for office in Clinton Township have not filed required ELEC disclosures.

How can citizens expect our State and Federal government to be clean, when they vote for local officials who ignore the law even before they get elected?

Concerned voters may file formal complaints about candidates with NJ ELEC: Request An Investigation.

To view each candidate’s actual ELEC records as of Nov. 1, see Clinton Township: Are 6 of 13 candidates violating election law?

VOTE on November 6!

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Clinton Township: Are 6 of 13 candidates violating election law?

New Jersey election law guarantees voters’ right to see the campaign finances of political candidates before an election. In a state where government corruption is rampant, election law requires political candidates to disclose campaign finances.

“The essence of Democracy is an informed electorate.”
About ELEC

Election violations in Clinton Township

6 political candidates running for office in Clinton Township — out of 13 on the 2018 Clinton Township General Election Ballot — appear to be in violation of New Jersey Election Law. According to New Jersey’s public campaign database, they have not filed the required financial disclosures.

If they don’t bother to follow the law before they get elected, what are they going to do about “upholding the law” after they get elected to run our town and our schools?

Incumbents clearly don’t “know better”

4 of the political candidates who seem to be ignoring the law are incumbents — already in office, already managing over $113 million of public funds.

  • Clinton Township has a budget of about $13 million.
  • Clinton Township School District has a budget of about $30 million.
  • North Hunterdon-Voorhees School District has a budget of about $60 million.

Voters are electing people to manage over $113 million of tax dollars. Do you hope they will bother to follow the law once they’re elected, if they’re not bothering to follow the law to get elected?

Which candidates seem to be in violation of New Jersey Election Law?

According to the ELEC database, which candidates appear to be in violation of New Jersey Election Laws? Listed in order of appearance on the 2018 Clinton Township General Election Ballot:

  1. Thomas Kochanowski (R) — Clinton Township Council (incumbent)
  2. Marc H. Strauss (R) — Clinton Township Council
  3. Rachel McLaughlin — North Hunterdon-Voorhees School Board (currently member of Clinton Township School Board)
  4. Alissa Olawski — Clinton Township School Board (incumbent)
  5. Jean Paul “JP” Vincenti — Clinton Township School Board
  6. Robert Holliday — Clinton Township School Board (incumbent)

All appear to be in violation of New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) requirements to file financial disclosures for the benefit of voters under the New Jersey Campaign Contributions and Expenditures Reporting Act.

Vincenti also appears to be in violation of campaign labeling requirements in an ad he ran in the Clinton Township Newsletter. (Click here for details.)

ELEC

Established in 1973‚ ELEC monitors the campaign financing of all elections in the State. All political candidates who raise or spend money on their campaigns — even their own money — are required to report their finances to the public.

“The essence of Democracy is an informed electorate.”
About ELEC

ELEC publishes candidates’ financial disclosures — and also shows which candidates have not filed the required disclosures.

ELEC Records: Candidates in apparent violation

The following images — showing candidates failed to file required financial disclosures — were captured on November 1, 2018 from the public ELEC database.

ELEC Records: Candidates in compliance

The following images — showing candidates filed required financial disclosures — were captured on November 1, 2018 from the public ELEC database.

NOTE: North Hunterdon-Voorhees School Board candidate Chris W. Kemprowski appears not to have raised or spent any funds on campaign signs or other campaign materials and thus appears to be exempt from disclosure requirements.

The quality of government is up to you

Keep political candidates honest. Expect them to follow the law before they get elected.

For more details about how candidates fail to obey New Jersey Election Laws, see Clinton Township: Who’s worth voting for?

Do your homework before you cast your ballot.

VOTE on November 6!

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