CARTERET, NJ—Voters in Carteret rejected Mayor Dan Reiman’s controversial proposal to stop having school board elections and give the Mayor the permanent power to appoint members to the Board of Education.
That measure went down in flames, with 65% of Carteret voters voting "NO" to the proposal.
The question, which was asked only after the Board of Education unanimously voted to put the question to voters at Reiman's behest, also provided an opportunity for challengers to kick two of the incumbents out of office.
"The referendum was a tough question and I thank the board for giving the voters the opportunity to have their say," Reiman said. "My administration and I are committed to working with the current and future board members to improve our schools."
Also along for the bumpy ride was one of the county's most powerful elected officials: Freeholder Director Ronald Rios.
A longtime Carteret resident, Rios initially declined to give an opinion on the ballot question at the October 20 public meeting of the Freeholder Board.
“I haven’t decided yet,” said Rios, encouraging this reporter to attend Board of Education and Borough Council meetings in that community.
But, just two days later, Rios was posting on the Mayor’s page in support of the takeover question.
“Yes the Mayor has a proven track record I think his vision is for a better Carteret. Vote Yes,” read Rios' comment.
When asked again about the ballot question by New Brunswick Today, Rios said only, "I'm voting yes" before retreating to a back office in the county building.
Ultimately, the question failed by a vote of 3,941 to 2,157, a landslide that will likely be viewed as a major setback for the four-term Mayor, who has been in office since 2002.
The vast majority of school districts in New Jersey use elections to decide who serves on Boards of Education. Until recently, New Brunswick was in the minority, with a Mayor-appointed board.
But that changed after voters narrowly approved a ballot question to switch to an elected board in 2012. It was the fifth time in two decades that Hub City voters had been asked if they wanted to make the change.
Many of the school systems with Mayor-appointed boards, such as Trenton's, struggle to provide quality education amid challenging circumstances such as poverty and violence, while voters in those communities are left without a say beyond choosing who serves as the Mayor every few years.
Reiman wanted his borough to become one of those communities, arguing that it would increase accountability to put himself in charge.
He also claimed that the only thing his own constituents in Carteret complained about in his community was the school system, according to a Home News Tribune article.
Among the opponents of the ballot question were the NJ Education Association (NJEA), the state's largest teacher's union, and many community leaders who coalesced against the proposal.
The campaign against the question galvanized around town and on social media, with many residents claiming that Reiman deleted critical comments on his own Facebook page.
After the election, one man claimed that the Mayor was a sore loser who used foul language when an opponent of the question offered Reiman a handshake at a Veteran's Day event.
"Instead of taking my hand, he turns to Father Chubenko and states, 'This piece of shit beats me up on line and now wants to shake my hand? F— him', and he walks away," wrote Richard Greenberg on the Carteret Save Our Schools Facebook page.
The community rejected not only the question, but also two of the four candidates that Reiman was backing for the Board. Reiman often throws his influence behind candidates for the board, and had circulated the petitions for all four incumbents he was backing.
The controversial question may have been part of the reason that Lydia Singura and Gregory Setar were able to win seats on the board, besting Reiman-backed incumbents Debra Weaver and Hardyal Singh Johal.
"In my view, there was absolutely no reason to put that kind of question on the ballot," Singura told the Home News Tribune. "It's always been that elected people are elected by the voters. In my opinion, you're taking away that right."
After learning of Reiman's harsh treatment of Greenberg, Singura commented, "It is time for this man to pack up and get out !!! He is a servant of the community, although he thought he could redefine the position and become emperor !!"
Carteret was one of four communities in the county that had local questions on their ballots during this election.
Spending proposals for the South River Board of Education, and for Spotswood to launch a full-time emergency medical services operation, were shot down by voters.
The only local ballot question to pass in the county was in Jamesburg, where voters decided to shrink the Board of Education from nine members to seven members because it is proving to be a challenge to find candidates to run for the volunteer position.
Voters across New Jersey also voted down a vague ballot question that would have allowed for two casinos to be built somewhere in Northern Jersey.
That measure was soundly defeated, while another that would dedicate the state’s diesel fuel tax to funding transportation projects was narrowly approved.