East Newark BOE referendum won’t be on this year’s ballot, state appellate court rules

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An East Newark school board referendum asking voters if they’d like to switch to an elected BOE won’t be on this year’s ballot, the Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division ruled.

Photo via Google Maps.

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

Back on September 3rd of last year, the East Newark Board of Education voted 3-2 authorizing the superintendent of schools and board secretary to draft a ballot question, interpretative statement, and resolution to reclassify the school district from Type I to Type II.

Type I districts have appointed school boards, while Type II districts have elected board of education trustees.

“The Clerk rejected the question as untimely based on Executive Order 177 … which shortened the deadline to submit public questions to August 31 in order ‘[t]o allow enough
time for the County clerks to print and mail the ballots to voters’ in the November 3, 2020 general election,” Appellate Judges Mitchel Ostrer, Allison Accurso, and Francis Vernoia explained in Thursday’s opinion.

“The Board did not challenge the Clerk’s decision. Instead, on March 9, 2021, Board counsel again submitted the question, statement and resolution to the Borough Clerk and to defendant Maldonado, the Hudson County Clerk, for inclusion on an April 20, 2021 special election ballot in East Newark even though the Borough was not conducting an election on that day.”

Borough Clerk Kevin Harris responded that April school board elections are reserved for Type II school districts and therefore would not be possible in East Newark, but the lower court still eventually ruled that the question could be part of a special election ballot for April 20th (which ultimately didn’t end up happening).

The appellate court said that the proper recourse for the BOE would have been to file a legal challenge, but since they didn’t, their referendum won’t be possible in 2021, either.

“As the Board’s presentation of the ballot question to the Clerk was only three or four days out-of-time, the Board might have been afforded relief had it sought recourse to the courts at the time,” the ruling says.

“Its failure to do so then, however, precludes any consideration of possible error now. If voters in East Newark were deprived of the ability to ‘have their voices heard’ on reclassification of their school district in last November’s general election, it was based on the Board’s failures, no one else’s.”

The state court also dismissed board counsel’s arguments that East Newark Mayor Dina Grilo and the borough council circumvented the process by increasing the BOE from five trustees to seven.

“If voters share the sentiments of the trial judge that this purported ‘boardpacking’ scheme disenfranchised them, they can vent their ire at the mayor and council members who supported the enlargement by voting them out of office. Our courts have no place taking sides in that controversy,” the appellate opinion states.

“Accordingly, we reverse the March 23 order directing a special election to take place in East Newark on April 20, 2021, and enjoining and restraining defendants from placing the Board’s September 3, 2020 Referendum Question …¬†on the ballot for the November 2, 2021 general election, and remand for entry of judgment dismissing the Board’s complaint.”

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