The New Jersey School Ethics Commission voted to censure Jersey City Board of Education Vice President Lorenzo Richardson last week, upping the ante on what a judge recommended as a penalty for improperly filing actions against school board colleagues.
“Although ALJ Kirk found persuasive that Respondent ‘was convinced’ his opinion on
the contract issue was correct, that he (Respondent) believed that action by the JCBOE was
required or there would be legal ramifications, and that Respondent’s actions were not ‘self-serving,’ the Commission finds other facts in the record more compelling and sufficient to justify a penalty of a censure,” the SEC explained regarding their November 19th vote.
” … In other words, Respondent was specifically advised by counsel that he did not have the authority to file with the Commissioner; nonetheless, he did so. Of note, when Respondent filed his petition of appeal with Commissioner, he failed to copy both [Vidya] Gangadin and [Ramon] Rivera on his filing, thus suggesting that he did not want either to be aware of his filing.”
As HCV first reported, an administrative law judge ruled in September for Richardson to be sanctioned for filing a petition against then-Board President Vidya Gangadin and former Board Counsel Ramon Rivera over the contract of Dr. Marcia Lyles – the superintendent of schools at the time.
Lyles’ contract was automatically renewed at the end of 2015 due to a provision in her contract and Richardson led the charge in trying to have the board take a vote on the matter.
This resulted in ex-Trustee Matthew Schapiro filing an ethics complaint against him in June 2016 and this appears to be the final chapter in the matter.
The SEC further argues that if only a reprimand is issued under such circumstances, specifically when a legal proceeding is filed against the board, it would allow trustees to routinely undermine the board with litigation – instead of introducing resolutions or having public discussions.
Richardson has the ability to file an exception within 13 days of the decision, and/or an appeal with 30 days of the decision.
BOE President Sudhan Thomas, as he did when the AOL opinion was rendered, came to the aid of Richardson, painting the SEC vote as another example of Trenton hurting the Jersey City Public Schools.
“It is evident from the onset that Vice President Richardson was targeted and set up by anti-public education forces, the same folks who bled the JCBOE dry In the last 29 years of state occupation,” he said.
“The ethics commission is a holdover group appointed by the Republican, Christie who used the SEC as a weapon against hard working Board members like Richardson who fight for equity, equality and full funding in our public schools. The citizens of Jersey city will not be hoodwinked by these desperate actions.”
The SEC is a nine-member board (though one is currently vacant) and each member is appointed by the governor.
Robert Bender, the board chair, had his term expire last year, though Gov. Phil Murphy (D) has not appointed a replacement. Another member, Dan Kaplan, sees his term expire at the end of the year, while everyone else’s term is good through 2020.
According to their website, a maximum of five commissioners are allowed to be from the same political party, two must be school board members, two must be school administrators and five must be individuals who are not school officials.