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Democracy Undermined, Part 3: School Board President Refuses to Let New Elected Members Answer Questions

Ronald Hush and Diana Fajardo Were Asked About Decision to Submit Candidate Petitions Three Days After Advertised Deadline
Ed Spencer
Board of Ed President Ed Spencer tried to dictate new bizarre rules about public comments during the most recent board meeting. Charlie Kratovil

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Board of Education President Ed Spencer used every trick in the book to prevent NewBrunswickToday.com from asking a simple question of the city's new elected board members, as they faced the public for the first time.

"That will not happen... We do not do that.  We do not do that.  I will not allow it," said Spencer, a mayor-appointed board member who makes $58,828 annually as director of the city's teen center.

"You won't allow them to answer questions?" asked the author of this article.

"No," responded Spencer.

"Are they not elected officials?" asked this author.

"Am I not the President?" Spencer asked defiantly.  "So the answer is no!" 

As we reported in January, Ronald Hush and Diana Fajardo were given an extra three days to turn in their candidate's petitions for the city's first-ever school election, in an un-announced decision that allowed them to select and surprise their opponents, who were not notified.

Hush and Fajardo prevailed in a landslide election on January 22, which had been scheduled prematurely without a legally required 60-day notice, and took office at the board's February 19 meeting.

Thanks to the obstruction efforts of Spencer and the board's attorney George Hendricks, the new members sat silently and were not required to answer any questions during their first meeting.

After asking a question about the legality of the election, NewBrunswickToday.com began to ask the new board members why their petitions were submitted after the advertised deadline.

"I also wanted to ask a question of the two new board members, regarding that election specifically," said this author.

Spencer abruptly interrupted, asking this author to sit down.

"Mister, can you do this?  Can you let someone else, because that is a different topic you are bringing up?"

For the second time in as many meetings Spencer was attempting to enforce a made-up rule limiting public comments to "one topic."

The actual policy states: "No participant may speak more than once on the same topic until all others who wish to speak on that topic have been heard."

The author of this article insisted the question was indeed on the same topic that he was already speaking on: "It's about the election actually."

"No, but you're asking a question.  You had the first topic which was regarding the attorney's advice," responded Spencer.

"If you can let another person come up and speak, then you can come back and ask that question."

The author complied and, about twenty minutes later was recognized for the second time, but was quickly interrupted by Spencer once again.

"Mr. Kratovil, Mr. Kratovil, Mr. Kratovil, on the policy, you can't talk on one-- you can't talk the same topic."

"When I was told to sit down before, you said that this was the same topic and you said that I could come back here and ask questions on it," this author pleaded as Spencer repeatedly talked over him.

"I'm going to continue," said this author.

"Good.  I'm afraid I'ma disrupt you, you can not speak on that topic," Spencer said.

After nearly two minutes of the two men talking over one another, this author was permitted to ask a question, just not to the board members. 

"You cannot speak directly to them, you have to present it to me," said Spencer, correctly stating another board policy.

At long last, this author was able to ask our question: "Through the chair, for Mr. Hush and Ms. Fajardo, why did you turn in your petitions after the deadline that was advertised?  How did you know that that was going to be okay?"

Spencer glanced briefly towards Ronald Hush, who remained silent.  Instead, Spencer opted to protect him and Fajardo, and referred the question to Hendricks.

"The County Clerk messed it up saying the deadline was the 21st.  It was always that Monday," began the attorney.

"So there was no reason to respond to that.  They filed their petition within ten days of the deadline."

Hendricks then looked down, avoiding eye contact with this author for the remainder of his response:

"The 21st was published by the county, not by the school district, and the county was wrong.  If it falls on a weekend, the tenth day falls on a Sunday, you can turn them in on Monday.  I'm quite sure that's exactly what they did.  Had they turned them in on Monday and it was too late, they would have been rebuffed."

He then looked the author in the eye: "That's the answer to your question."

NewBrunswickToday.com attempted to ask the question two more times.

"My question was for the elected officials... What led you to believe it was going to be okay to turn in the petitions on Monday?" asked this author.

Hendricks answered again: "I particularly don't know that, but that was the correct deadline.  Had they filed them and it would have been too late, then they would have been turned down. But they weren't too late."

Hendricks plead ignorance on the failure to notify other candidates of the last-minute change to the petition filing deadline:

"We knew the county made a mistake and I was on top of that to tell them they were wrong... Now, whether they published that or made it known, I don't know.  But I'm telling you this: To close the petitions on Friday was legally incorrect," said Hendricks.

Hendricks had said that the election was conducted properly just twenty minutes earlier.

"The election was fair. There were no unfair advantage... It was done appropriately with proper advertising and proper notice."

Yesterday, we reported that County Counsel Thomas Kelso took a similarly ignorant attitude of the last-minute deadline change.

"The deadline was extended to Monday. I can't answer the question of what notice would go to who, whether that's the board of education or whatever," Kelso said in a televised meeting of the Middlesex County Freeholders.

Watch The Video: "Episode 3: Board President Shields New Members From Questions About Election Irregularities"

Editor's Note: This is the third in a four-part series that explores New Brunswick's historic yet illegal school board election held on January 22, 2013.

"Democracy Undermined, Part 4: Who Botched New Brunswick's First School Board Election?"