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Newly-Appointed County College Trustee Quits After Legal Mix-Up

County Administrator John Pulomena Takes Responsibility For Botched Appointment
Kelso, Rios & Pulomena
County Counsel Thomas Kelso, Freeholder Director Ronald Rios, and County Administrator John Pulomena Charlie Kratovil

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Laura Czarneski resigned her position on the Middlesex County College (MCC) Board of Trustees less than two weeks into her three-year term, because her appointment violated state law.

The all-Democrat Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders appointed Czarneski on December 8 to fill a vacancy on the MCC Board, which runs the 12,000 student college and manages its $80 million budget.

But the appointment resolution sponsored by Freeholder Director Ronald Rios proved to be illegal, and Czarneski did not attend any board meetings before quitting the position.

Czarneski, a Councilwoman from Jamesburg who works for the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters, was then appointed to another board by the Freeholders on January 18.

There are very specific guidelines regarding the appointment of County College Trustees, under New Jersey state statute 18A:64A-9, which states “no elected public official” can be appointed to serve.

The same statute does not apply to the county's Vo-Tech School Board, according to the Freeholders, who opted put Czarneski on that board instead after learning her initial appointment to the MCC Board was not permitted under the law.

The resolution appointing Czarneski to the Vo-Tech Board was sponsored by Freeholder Deputy Director Charles Tomaro, who said that he did not know her.

"It was recommended from the rest of the board to put her on as a board member for the vocational school," Tomaro said.

Czarneski, a Democrat, served on the Jamesburg Board of Education before winning election to the Jamesburg Borough Council on November 8, 2016.

MCC has a Trustee Search Committee which is tasked with the job of finding potential appointees, but spokespersons for MCC and the county government were unable to name the committee's members.

When asked who is on the Trustee Search Committee, MCC spokesperson Tom Peterson said: "We’re not involved in it [the Trustee selection process]. They’re appointed by the Freeholders. We just receive the information and go with it."

County spokesperson Stacey Bersani did not respond to New Brunswick Today's inquiries.

At the Freeholders public meeting on January 18, New Brunswick Today asked the elected officials themselves who is currently on the MCC's Trustee Search Committee, after receiving no answers from MCC or the county government.

Freeholder Director Ronald Rios described the confusion over Czarneski's botched appointment as "an oversight" that was "brought to her attention."

County Administrator John Pulomena took "full responsibility" for the mix-up, but also struggled to name the members of of the Trustee Search Committee, of which he himself is the head member.

"All I'll say is I take full responsibility for that as the head of the Search Committee," Pulomena explained.

"When reviewing it, I was not familiar with the qualification of not... serving in a political position at the time."

Pulomena said the screw-up was brought to his attention by County Counsel Thomas Kelso.

Pulomena was able to identify Joseph Colombo, a former superintendent of Middlesex County Vo-Tech School District, as one of the Search Committee's members.

But he needed help from Kelso to identify Trustee Search Committee member David Lonski, an East Brunswick lawyer who is also on the county payroll as an Assistant County Counsel.

A fourth member of the Search Committee was only identified as a woman whose last name is Jones.

According to Tom Peterson, spokesperson for Middlesex County College, there is no replacement as of yet to fill the position vacated by Czarneski, who had replaced Tom Tighe in the position.

Czarneski did not respond to an emailed request for comment.