[Editorial] The Ties That Bind

[Editorial] The Ties That Bindthumbnail
Published: September 26, 2010 @ 4:00 PM EST

On August 3, 2010, Board Of Education (BOE) President Ken Iachio announced he would be resigning from the Board effective August 31, 2010. Ken Iachio stated his reason for submittal of his resignation was due to the full-time hiring of his niece, Jean Ridente in accordance with the Board Nepotism Policy (4112.8).

The board of education, in order to avoid both the reality and the appearance of conflict of interest in employment, will not appoint a relative of a board member or of the chief school administrator to any employment position in this district. The board also directs that no relative of a board member or chief school administrator shall be placed in nomination for any vacant position. The chief school administrator shall not recommend to the board any relative of a board member or of the chief school administrator, unless the person is subject to the exceptions listed below. Nor shall any person be considered for employment in any position in which he/she would come under the direct or indirect supervision of any relative.

“I am not going to deprive her of an opportunity of employment just so I can do a volunteer job for the town,” he stated. With his resignation, a second Board position became vacant; the first occurred when Nancy Kinloch resigned from the Board since she was moving out of Roselle Park.

During that meeting, Patrick Spagnoletti, the BOE Superintendent, announced that the two (2) vacant positions would be filled through an open application process that had a deadline of August 20, 2010, for those interested to submit their Letter Of Intent. Afterward, those interested would be part of a public interview process that would be held during the September 7th BOE Meeting.

It was during the September 7th meeting where the names of those who submitted their Letters Of Interest were announced: Rick Matarante, Chris Miller, Katherine Panetta, and Barbara Sokol. All applicants were available for questions from the Board with Mr. Matarante participated via telephone. Once the questioning section was complete, the Board Superintendent that a decision would be made later that evening.

During the public portion of the meeting I, as a resident, went before the Board to inquire about the Nepotism Policy and how it would affect any decision made by the Board.

Starting on August 4, 2010, questions were asked to the BOE on their position with regard to having someone who already has a relative employed by the school district be appointed to the BOE or run as a candidate for a seat on the BOE and if that would that be a violation of the Nepotism policy as far as the BOE was concerned. The official response from the BOE on August 27th was that it “depends upon the circumstances at that particular time.”

In the weeks before August 20th, calls were made to the New Jersey School Board Association, the New Jersey Department Of Education, and the Union County Superintendent Of Schools, Dr. Carmen Centuolo to have someone address any potential issue with nepotism and appointing anyone who already has a family member working for the district.

In conversations with Dr. Centuolo, the question was posed relating the same question that was asked to the Roselle Park BOE. After researching the issue, her response on September 2, 2010, was, “Anyone can run for a seat on the Board, even if there is a relative working for the district but family members cannot be appointed (to the BOE).”

During the September 7, 2010 meeting, the BOE Attorney, Anthony Sciarrillo, stated that the BOE responds to issues, such as the one posed on nepotism, through a vote. He continued, “The statutory answer is that everyone’s First Amendment right to run for an elected office is not abridged by any statute in New Jersey. What is abridged by the statute of New Jersey is that if you already are an elected official, then you cannot vote nor can you remain on the Board Of Education when someone from your family, as defined by the statute, gets appointed to a position in the district.”

The position of the Union County Superintendent of Schools was restated by me along with the fact that Rick Matarante’s wife was employed as a teacher by the school district and that Katherine Panetta’s son is a substitute for the district. Based on the policy which addresses ‘the reality and the appearance of a conflict of interest in employment’, those two names should be removed from consideration as appointments for the BOE.

The next day, September 8, 2010, the Roselle Park School District website (www.rpsd.org) made their announcement not through a letter or press release, but by adding the names of the two (2) new appointees to the Board – Chris Miller and Barbara Sokol.

It should be understood that if Rick Matarante or Katherine Panetta or Ken Iachio or anyone else with a relative already employed by the district wishes to run for a seat on the BOE, they can do so. The relation would be known and it would be up to the voters to decide if they someone to represent them on the Board Of Education, regardless of any existing relationship to the school district. The issue was to determine if the Board would vote contrary to a policy which would defeat the intent and purpose of it. In other times when the BOE was criticized for not listening to the concern of residents, in this instance, the Board is to be recognized for acting in a way to help re-establish the connection between themselves and the community.