In a decision dated July 12, 2018, the New Jersey Commissioner of Education upheld the Monroe Township Board of Education’s filling of a board vacancy.
In Lewis-Gallagher v. Monroe Twp. Bd. of Educ., the petitioner, a fellow board member, filed a petition of appeal with the commissioner alleging that the board improperly filled a vacancy and violated portions of the Code of Ethics for School Board members. After a motion for summary decision, both the administrative law judge (ALJ) and the commissioner agreed that the board did not violate any such provisions and properly filled the vacancy on their Board.
The board received and accepted the resignation of a board member on Nov. 17, 2017. On Dec. 16, 2017, the board advertised, in a single newspaper, the scheduling of a special meeting on Dec. 19, 2017 for purposes of filling the board vacancy. The board also had a regularly scheduled meeting on Dec. 21, 2017.
Interviews for the vacant board position were conducted on Dec. 19, 2017 in executive session. Thereafter, during a roll-call vote on the first nominee, a question arose as to the number of votes necessary to approve a candidate. After further consultation was required with the board solicitor, the formal vote was halted and rescheduled for the already-advertised and scheduled Dec. 21, 2017 regular meeting. At that meeting, the eight-person board voted unanimously to approve the board member at issue. Further voting on an additional candidate did not occur as the board had already voted unanimously to approve the first candidate.
The petitioner alleged that the board acted improperly by: 1) only advertising the Dec. 19, special meeting in one newspaper; 2) failing to make special accommodations for members of the public who were unable to attend the Dec. 21, 2017 regular meeting; and 3) failing to conduct a vote for subsequent candidates after the first candidate received a unanimous vote of approval (8 to 0).
The ALJ disagreed with all three contentions and found no procedural defect in the board advertising the special meeting in one newspaper insofar as the official vote did not occur at the special meeting but occurred at the previously advertised and scheduled regular meeting. The ALJ also found no requirement that the board make accommodations for the public to attend the Dec. 21 meeting — finding no requirement that a board schedule a vote convenient to every member of the public. Lastly, the ALJ held that there was no procedural requirement that the board continue to vote on candidates after a unanimous vote occurred to approve the first candidate.
As always, board members are encouraged to strictly adhere to the Open Public Meetings Act requirements for meeting procedures as well as local district policies on filling board vacancies. Any questions should always be directed to board counsel for legal advice. For more information, please contact the NJSBA Legal and Labor Relations Department at (609) 695-7600.