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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Edward Spencer, a longtime city employee and political figure, was chosen by his fellow board of education members to serve as the board president for the second consecutive year.
The board unanimously voted to keep Spencer in the leadership role, and Pat Sadowski as Vice President, at their annual re-organization meeting Tuesday night at New Brunswick High School.
Spencer is one of the board’s four remaining unelected members, appointed almost two decades ago to serve on the board by the city’s mayor. The district’s voters decided to switch to an elected school board in November, but members are serving out the remainder of their terms.
NewBrunswickToday.com previously reported on Spencer’s obstructionist efforts to shield two new board members from questions about irregularities with the election that sent them into office.
The board’s first regular meeting since a subsequent election began with a positive tone, thanking the challengers in the most recent election and talking of working together.
“This is not Congress. We don’t have that issue of not working with one another,” Spencer remarked during the President’s Report, where he reflected on the election that kept his team of three incumbents on the board.
But after a few respectful exchanges with residents, the obstructionist in Spencer returned when some familiar faces rose to ask tough questions.
Yolonda Baker, a parent who fought to switch to an elected school board, accused George Hendricks, the board’s official attorney of lying to cover up irregularities with a special election the board scheduled in January.
News12’s investigative reporter Walt Kane looked into the irregularities in that election after we showcased inconsistencies in the positions of county and school officials.
“I was so embarrassed. I was insulted and I felt ashamed,” Baker said, describing her reaction to the four-minute segment that asked the question, “Did school officials and politicans try to rig an election in New Brunswick?”
In the segment that aired on April 16, Kane pokes fun at Hendricks for insisting the official candidate petition did not specify an accurate deadline.
In fact, the misleading deadline of December 21 was printed on the petition form by officials in the County Clerk’s office.
“The form said the 21st. The form was wrong?” Kane asked.
“No, the form didn’t say the 21st, Walt. It did not,” said Hendricks.
“Yes, George,” a Walt Kane voiceover declares. “It did.”
“Can you please tell why you [George Hendricks] weren’t telling the truth?” Baker asked at Tuesday night’s meeting.
But Hendricks never got the chance to respond. Spencer refused to give him the floor to address Baker’s concerns, saying Baker was “out of order.”
“Let me stop you right here. That was back in January, we’re no longer in that. That’s been resolved,” Spencer said.
Kathleeen Feeney, who lived next-door to Spencer on Handy Street for more than twenty years, was denied the chance to ask any questions during the “Open Questions from the Public” portion of the meeting.
Spencer has developed a reputation for misinterpreting the board policy on public participation, earlier this year attempting to limit members of the public to a single topic during their alloted five minutes.
Residents are asked to give their address before they speak at board meetings. When Feeney gave an address in Milltown, Spencer said she wasn’t eligible to address the board.
“Okay, the way that this is done–This is for New Brunswick residents.”
Feeney said she had a home and a small business in the city for twenty-five years. In 2009, she unsuccessfully ran against Spencer’s wife in a neighborhood election.”I’d like to ask a question, am I forbidden?” she asked.
“What group do you represent?” Spencer shot back.
“What hurdle must I reach to ask a question?” Feeney clarified. “I represent myself. I’m a lawyer in the community, I have many clients in New Brunswick. I also represent [Parents Leading Advocacy in Children’s Education].”
After residents spoke up on her behalf, including the author of this article, Spencer backed off his position that she could not ask a question but the initial standoff was ugly.
Board policy #0167 clearly states that “persons having a legitimate interest in the actions of this Board” are permitted to participate in the meeting, including asking questions.
The author of this article rose to point out that most of the school district budget is funded by the state government, meaning any state taxpayer would have a legitimate interest.
Spencer refused to let the board attorney, George Hendricks, speak to the question.
“I don’t think that’s necessary. It’s written. It’s what it is,” Spencer said when asked if the lawyer could comment on the policy.
Rev. Antonio Finney, a city resident who briefly ran in the flawed January election criticized Spencer for his dismissive attitude: “You do us a disservice when you avoid answering the question by saying, ‘It is what it is.’ That’s insulting.”
Editor’s Note: The author of this article was an employee of Feeney’s law practice in 2009 and worked on her campaign for Democratic Committee. The author also briefly ran for City Council on a team with Baker last summer.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.