OAL to hear case over East Newark BOE president’s votes while serving as borough CFO

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The New Jersey Office of Administrative Law will hear a case where the complainant alleges that the East Newark Board of Education president had conflicts of interest while voting on certain matters since she was also serving as the borough CFO at the time.

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By John Heinis/Hudson County View

The complaint was filed with the New Jersey School Ethics Commission by East Newark BOE Trustee Carla Fernandes against Board President Brigite Goncalves, the former CFO who received a $180,000 settlement from the borough to avoid litigation back in October.

The December 8th filing says that Goncalves should not have voted on three matters between March 2nd and July 20th, 2020, since they pertained to municipal finances and then a shared services agreement between the BOE and the borough.

“Complainant argues that despite being employed by the Borough, Respondent failed to recuse herself from Board matters involving and related to her employer (the Borough). As such … she cannot properly carry out the public duties of her [Board] office without being prejudiced by or having her independent judgment impaired by her private interests and fiduciary duties as a Borough employee,” wrote NJ SEC Director Kathryn Whalen in a May 25th decision.

“Respondent counters the duties of a municipal CFO are prescribed by law, the position is not a political or policy-making position, and does not involve – in any way – review of the school district budget. In addition, as President of the Board (selected in May 2020), “it was [R]espondent’s prerogative to appoint two members” to the BSE [Board of School Estimate], and it has been a “longstanding practice” in East Newark for the Board President to serve on the BSE.”

The SEC ultimately found probable cause for all of the aforementioned allegations, since it is possible that she voted on the behalf of a special interest group or used the schools to acquire some sort of benefit for herself as a borough employee.

“Complainant and Respondent shall be advised that the matter is being transmitted to the OAL for a hearing to be conducted pursuant to the Uniform Administrative Procedure Rules,” Whalen wrote.

“The hearing shall be limited to those allegations, which the Commission found probable cause to credit. Complainant and Respondent are thus notified that this Complaint shall be transmitted to the OAL for a hearing, and that they will be notified about a date/time for such a hearing.”

This isn’t the first time this year that the state will be hearing an East Newark matter: with the appellate court ruling in April that a BOE referendum won’t be on the ballot this year due to procedural deficiencies.