Double the Petitions Not Double the Fun

UPDATE: Scroll to the end of this story for Mayor Jerry Fried’s statement on why a specially-scheduled public meeting is a bad idea.
In July, activist Pegi Adams of MontclairWatch lead a campaign to put a question on the November ballot asking voters if they want an elected school board, rather than an appointed one, in Montclair. She’s collected more than enough signatures, but there’s a big problem. Those signatures are spread between two different petitions, with slightly different wording. Neither petition has enough signatures on its own, and town clerk Linda Wanat doesn’t know whether it should be sent to the county clerk for inclusion on the Nov. 3 ballot.
There’s a relatively easy fix. The town council can put the issue on the ballot with a simple resolution. Councilors Cary Africk, Rich Murnick and Renee Baskerville are working to find a date for a special meeting — possibly as early as next week — to consider such a resolution. While not showing his hand on the underlying issue of whether there should be an elected school board, Africk is adamant that the matter should go to the voters.

“Similarities with Florida and the hanging chads come to mind,” Africk says. “The question should be put in front of the people.”
Africk says the council is still hoping there’ll be a legal decision on the two petitions. Township attorney Alan Trembulak is expected to issue an opinion within a day, but that might not be enough. “We would like a judge to help us,” Africk says.

Mayor Fried just weighed in with this statement opposing a special meeting.

I expect that a determination will be made quickly about the legality of the petitions that have been submitted concerning changing from an appointed to an elected Board of Education. When asked about this on Wednesday morning by a Montclair Times reporter, I qualified my response by saying that it is important that the legal process for validating the petitions be followed. I’m writing to explain my position further.
The issue of appointed vs. elected school Boards is vitally important and the closest analog we have is the process of changing our form of government from the “commissioner form” to the “Council/Manager form” in 1979. A Charter Study Commission, which deliberated over the course of an entire year, produced a detailed report on the pros and cons of a change and finally recommended that the question be placed on the ballot.

Our form of government allows the public to put the question of “elected vs. appointed” on the ballot via a petition process. Because of the shockingly low turnout for municipal elections, only 911 signatures out of the 37,000 residents are required. If a judge rules the petitions are valid, it WILL BE on the ballot.
This will leave less than two months for Montclair residents to be fully informed. In my opinion, this a fraction of the time that this important question demands. We must hear experts in education, learn of other communities’ experience, see comparative data and, most importantly, carefully assess what effect this change will have on our children. It is not a simple choice. For that reason, I DO NOT support the idea of the Council convening an emergency meeting to “validate” the petitions ourselves and put the question on the ballot.
If we as a Council were to vote on any other issue of this magnitude, we would certainly plan public hearings, meetings and debates. Many of us ran on “transparency”. The idea of convening a special meeting, not announcing it until the day before people go away for Labor Day weekend, and having it scheduled for the night before school starts… this is simply absurd. “Who will hear about this meeting? Will all the stakeholders be there? Experts and innovators in education? Community icons who created our magnet schools? Will we talk about the option of a HYBRID system, as they have in South Orange? Who might comprise our new Board of Ed.? What it will mean to have candidates on the ballot who only need ten signatures to get on? Will we will end up with a Board that reflects the diversity of our community?
The last time this issue was brought before the voters, over 2800 residents signed the petitions. There’s no question that many residents are concerned about the issue today. If the petitions are validated or the legal number of signatures is reached by the deadline, it’ll be on the ballot and those who want a vigorous debate will mobilize and do the best we can in the little time that remains before election day. If the petitions are not validated, I will commit myself to using the next year to enter into an extensive public debate to explore this before having the Council vote.
I feel strongly that we, your elected officials, owe it to Montclair residents to explore this issue thoroughly and systematically and not rush to insert ourselves into this process.
Jerry Fried

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  1. “While not showing his hand on the underlying issue of whether there should be an elected school board, Africk is adamant that the matter should go to the voters.”
    Does he ever “show his hand”. Really, ever?

  2. “We would like a judge to help us,” Africk says.
    Translation: “No fricken way were taking an actual stand on an important issue…”

  3. Mayor Fried is so happy to hear this news. He’s already convening the Members of the “FWT” Political Action Committee(Fried, Weller, Terry)to celebrate being able to choice through political gain the BOE.
    New Boss same as the Old Boss!
    J. Fried is starting to remind my of another Mayor, from Chicago, also named Jerry.
    Jerry, Jerry, Jerry! I hope we all heard about the Budget woes the Fire Department is having. Huge Budget deficit coming this year. Tax Revenues will be lowest since 2001. Home assessments are falling. Tax increases are coming. If you don’t believe me go to a Council Budget Meeting and listen…

  4. “to celebrate being able to choice through political gain the BOE.”
    I’m not sure I understand what you are tying to say, but you DO understand that the BOE is currently appointed don’t you?

  5. C’mon, ROC, give me a break!
    I always take a stance, and I will with this.
    Right now, though, we need to get this on a ballot. And I’m not sure it will be!
    I have made a stand that there should be a referendum, and I will make a stand on elected vs. appointed.
    But the question of two different petitions is a new one for the attorneys, and for the County and Municipal clerk, and for others.
    And some say the two petitions really aren’t different, some say they are!
    So, we really “don’t know what to do.”
    What do Barisanet people think? Should this be at least on a ballot, for the people to decide?
    And if it takes a Resolution of the Council to do this, should that happen, or should we just wait out the courts (keeping in mind that no court has agreed to hear this, nor do we know whether one would ever agree to do so)?

  6. “I always take a stance, and I will with this.”
    Why so coy? Lemme guess! Your “stance” will just coincidentally be in line with the vote result!
    A leader among leaders are you Cary!
    “And some say the two petitions really aren’t different, some say they are!”
    How could we possibly know if they’re similar or not? Hmmm?

  7. So if I understand the Mayor’s point, it’s better for the Council not to put it on the ballot because we don’t have enough time to consider the issue fully. So its better to wait for the legal process to take place later so our fact finding period will be even shorter.
    Really now. How stupid can you get.
    Why don’t you cut a deal with the petitioners Mr. Mayor. Ask them to forgo the legal process if the council puts it on the ballot for the election AFTER the one in two months.
    Then they get it on the ballot and we have enough time to explore the issue. Win-win.
    The the second the election results are made public Cary can announce his “stand” and we can move forward.

  8. One of the two different versions of the petitions has a little over 100 signatures on it. The vast majority of the signatures are on the other version. Regardless of which way the town council or the county court rules, it won’t be too difficult to either get the 100 or so signatures to sign the majority version of the petition or to simply obtain another 100 or so new signatures.
    Fried, you are spineless and your stance against an ordinance to simplify the process of getting the referendum on the ballot is a stance against democracy. Or perhaps, you simply don’t want to give up your ‘oh so powerful’ appointee powers. We can see right through you and it appears that the only thing you have inside is an inner tube.

  9. Mayor Freid –
    What a farce!
    You would NOT be convening a special meeting to vote on the appointed vs elected issue but simply to allow taxpayers the opportunity to decide on their own on election day.
    We would have plenty of time to debate the issues AFTER you allow for the question to be on the ballot.
    What are you afraid of?
    Your position is condescending at best, bordering on insulting.

  10. Dear ROC,
    This is a VERY good idea:
    “Why don’t you cut a deal with the petitioners Mr. Mayor. Ask them to forgo the legal process if the council puts it on the ballot for the election AFTER the one in two months.”
    I don’t think anyone is trying to “rush” the voters into making a decision, and if more time is needed to hear all sides (as long as it’s not 38,000 sides) that’s fine with me!
    I’ll have to research how timing for a referendum like this is scheduled. If this election doesn’t happen, I’m not sure when another could be held. It might be shorter than a year.

  11. Stu,
    The only problem is that as far as I know Pegi hasn’t been told WHICH petition to use, or whether EITHER is good!

  12. The only problem I see is that various local politicians don’t want to take a stand on the issue because then, you see, they’d have to defend it.
    So the employ the age-old stall tatic of “we need to investigate more” or “we need to wait for the courts to decide” so that hopefully these politicians will be relieved from ever having to voice an opinion.
    Politicians avoid taking stands not for our benefit but for their own.

  13. Transparency?
    Bike Boy forgets to tell you that he already broke his campaign promise to create a “citizen” committee to select the BOE members when he appointed his wife’s best friend, Leslie Larson to the BOE and the council found out about the appointment from the Montclair Times.
    When asked about it, he said that he did not have enough time to do the committee thing this time.
    Can we amend the BOE petition to include a recall these Knuckle heads (Except Cary, he is the only adult currently serving)

  14. Why is it that we can’t get a town council and town manager that can work together to satisfy the will of the majority of the residents instead of pursuing their own individual agendas? It is telling that we haven’t had a reelected mayor (and most council members) in the recent past. I’m betting this is not the last time the people of Montclair get duped by candidates saying one thing and then doing another.
    Transparency in government? This group is invisible.

  15. Under Montclair’s form of government, the Mayor has very little power. One significant power he does have is the power to appoint the members of the Board of Education.
    He can, and has, done this entirely by himself.
    So it’s logical that he try really hard to keep that power, rather than give it away to some “democratic process.”
    But what is really disappointing is that while he writes a million words on why he should keep this power, he has written NOTHING about the crime situation.
    How about thinking about US Mr. Mayor, instead of constantly thinking about YOU

  16. It was announced on the Watercooler that Pegi Adams is willing to collect signatures and needs to submit them by September 22- she is looking for volunteers and people to sign.
    Perhaps the Baristas can do a thread on her heroic effort to help the people of Montclair be able to actually vote on the issue.
    Pegi’s e-mail address can be found on the MontclairWatch website

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