Jersey City BOE meeting devolves into chaos as new pres., VP named. Is it legal?


Last night’s Jersey City Board of Education meeting devolved into chaos, with a new president and vice president name as the legalities of the proceedings are called into question.

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

Heading into the session, it was expected that there were be some conversations about Board President Natalia Ioffe filing an ethics complaint against Trustee Dejon Morris for allegedly meeting with members law firm at the League of Municipalities in Atlantic City this past November as the board was prepared to vote on a special counsel contract.

” … Back to 13.04, if you go out do dinner and you’re bragging about that the board got a hotel at Borgata and these people are buying you dinner, well it raises a red flag,” Jersey City Education Association President Ron Greco said about then Trustee-elect Morris meeting with individuals from the law firm Souder, Shabazz and Woolridge Law Group.

“That’s what I was told. No, I wasn’t there, I spoke to Mr. Morris, that’s what he shared,” Greco continued as members of the crowd yelled out.

“Anyway, get in the room and pick a law firm without screaming and yelling in public because you look like fools. You don’t want to invite the state back here and you’ll have no one to thank but yourselves, good night.”

During comment from the board, Morris said the ethics complaint filed by Ioffe on Wednesday was not due to personal issues and he respected her right to file the complaint since that’s what she thought was best.

He continued that while he was accused of impropriety for meeting with members of Souder, Shabazz and Woolridge, he said he did not feel he did anything wrong.

“I thought that because we serve a diverse district, and because we are a diverse board, and because we represent a diverse city, that it would be important for us to have a diverse law firm,” he continued.

“So if I prepare to be overzealous about that, it’s because I was excited to have the opportunity to participate in a process to give the opportunity for such a privilege of having a law firm that would be diverse.”

Morris, a police detective who received a 90-day suspension in November for failing to secure video of a stabbing two years ago, also claimed that board members have texted his superiors asking if they had any incriminating information about him in hopes of ousting him.

He also said he has no problem with Superintendent of Schools Dr. Norma Fernandez, but he said Ioffe is too close with her to be transparent and effective.

He then gave the floor to Trustee Younass Barkouch, who made a motion to remove Trustee Noemi Velazquez as vice president, which Morris seconded as the crowd began to get rowdy, prompting Ioffe to call for order.

Ioffe said that while she appreciated the motion, they were in the middle of board comment, and they should have the courtesy to let their colleagues have a chance to speak first.

She continued that a motion was made to remove an executive member of the board, and according to Robert’s Rules and the board’s bylaws, a vice president can only be removed if she failed in her duties – which largely depends on her filling in as acting president.

“While you can certainly put that motion forth and take a vote, it does not have legal effect unless a case is presented that all of these duties have somehow not been fulfilled by either of the executive officers,” Ioffe contended.

Barkouch said that it was funny that Ioffe was calling for a strict adherence to their bylaws when their reorganization meeting was held after the state required deadline, as well as that it was conducted via a written vote instead of a verbal one – contrary to their bylaws.

“As a board, we can make decisions, and deal with the repercussions afterwards. If we make this decision tonight and that is wrong of us, some entity will notify us, and we will go back,” he stated.

“But what I know for certain is if you cared genuinely about the law and the legality and doing things the right way, you would have respected the public comment of one of our community members – one of our residents, one of our taxpayers – and actually held a legitimate reorganization meeting … This board cannot professionally function with you as a leader.”

Trustee Afaf Muhammed concurred that Ioffe had “lost the confidence of the majority of the board,” as did Trustee Christopher Tisdale, adding that Velazquez was a casualty to Ioffe’s poor performance. He also defended Morris.

“I find it really interesting how he could’ve lobbied for the hiring for a new [law] firm, I just hadn’t thought of this, how did he know out attorney was being fired at the end of December when we didn’t even know?” Tisdale stated.

Despite disagreeing, Ioffe appeared ready to proceed with the vote in question after they voted on the legal services contract, indicating it was not a proper motion without at least a legal opinion being rendered first.

After getting further pushback from Barkouch, which included asking General Counsel Robert J. Pruchnik for legal advice to no avail, Ioffe began to get visibly annoyed.

“This has been a roundabout of vocalized dislikes, which again, has nothing to do with the law,” she began.

“I cannot abide by the results of the vote, I’m just being honest with you right now, I have consulted with our one reference guide, which is the New Jersey School Board Association, our field representative, that I have the right, as the chair of this board … both executive officers have the rights to abide by these statutes” unless there is proof of dereliction of duty.

Citing Robert’s Rules, Morris asked three times for the vote to take place, to which Ioffe said she would allow them to vote if they insisted, but she would not violate board policy by honoring the motion if it passed, since it was an illegal motion.

Trustee George Blount, who ran on the “Education Matters” ticket with Morris, said the board should not be in the business of taking votes without knowing the legal ramifications.

As Morris continued to push for a vote and the crowd began yelling out again, Ioffe called a recess, prompting her, Velazquez, Fernandez, Blount, Pruchnik, and Trustee Alpa Patel, along with other administrators, to get up and leave.

After a few minutes of confusion, Morris said the meeting was not over since no one made a motion to adjourn, as well as that a recess couldn’t be called in the middle of a motion.

He continued that they would be ejecting the president and vice president, to which Barkouch reminded him that a motion to remove Velazquez as VP remained on the floor.

He also acknowledged that the board secretary had left as well, therefore it was unclear if any votes going forward would be legal.

Morris contended that the video recording of their meeting would act as their minutes and Tisdale encouraged them to move forward.

Trustee Paula Jones-Watson, who had called into the meeting instead of attending in person, questioned if it was legal to continue the meeting to which Morris said they still had a quorum.

The motion passed 5-0 to applause from the audience, with Barkouch being named vice president by the same tally.

The exact same vote tallies were recorded to remove Ioffe and then appoint Morris as president – a position he said earlier this week that he did not wish to hold.

They then went to closed session for about an hour before resuming board business for about another hour. Barkouch said with the absence of legal counsel present, they would be using ChatGPT if a legal issue arose.

Barkouch was also named the acting secretary for the remainder of the meeting.

The contract for Souder, Shabazz & Woolridge as special counsel through the end of this year, at a rate of $175 an hour, was approved unanimously (5-0).

“We will allow the legal process to play out in terms of differentiating what was unjust, unethical and illegal, but one thing that was obvious is that fragile egos disrupted an entire district and the real victims are the 30,000 children of our city,” Greco told HCV this morning.

This afternoon, Ward E Councilman James Solomon and former Gov. Jim McGreevey, a declared candidate for Jersey City mayor in 2025, both denounced what transpired last night.

“Last night’s #JCBOE meeting was a disgrace. As a JCPS parent, I am angry and embarrassed. *All* involved need to look in the mirror – if they keep behaving like this, they risk losing the control of the district the state recently gave us back,” Solomon tweeted.

“Last night’s sad and tragic devolution points to a culture of unaccountability, irresponsibility, and a basic lack of concern for our children, their education, and our teaching professionals and staff, who work tirelessly and diligently every day on their behalf,” McGreevey said in a statement, vowing to work with the BOE if elected.

The Hudson County Superintendent’s Office did not return an email seeking comment, when the New Jersey Department of Education declined to comment.

Watch the full meeting here.


Editor’s note: This story was updated with a comment from Ward E Councilman James Solomon and former Gov. Jim McGreevey, a Jersey City mayoral candidate.

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  1. What a pathetic display. No wonder the kids are not getting a proper education on a $1 billion budget.

    I read the article but did not watch the meeting. I don’t understand how Tisdale defended Morris on the theory he couldn’t have lobbied for a law firm based on the timing. But Morris himself said he had lobbied for a “diverse” law firm. So Morris’ own remarks contract Tisdale?

    Best line of the article: “Barkouch said with the absence of legal counsel present, they would be using ChatGBT if a legal issue arose.”