BRIDGEWATER, NJ - A Bridgewater resident brought forward a petition to get a resolution passed to keep politics out of the board of education – but the Bridgewater council opted not to move forward.
Mayor Matthew Moench has come under fire from members of the community recently for an email he sent to members of the Republican committee endorsing certain candidates for the board of education and giving information about who running for the board identifies as Republican.
During the public portion of Monday’s council meeting, Bridgewater resident Patti Selikoff gave a statement on the matter, and read from the original e-mail that Moench had sent, in which he said he “believes it is important to elect Republicans at all levels of office.”
Moench was not present at Monday night’s meeting.
Selikoff complained that Moench was “using his position to influence the election,” said he had participated in a robocall on the issue and then “doubled down” on the matter with an editorial on Oct. 17.
“It’s extremely disappointing,” she said. “As an elected official, he should stay out of non-partisan elections.”
Selikoff added that she had started a petition to keep politics out of local non-partisan elections, through an act of the town council, and had already obtained about 187 signatures. She asked the council to promote good government, with the best qualified candidates elected regardless of their political party affiliation.
She also submitted statements made by petition signers to the council. Council president Howard Norgalis said they would be collected and distributed to the council by the town clerk.
Council vice president Filipe Pedroso responded to the comments made by Selikoff, thanking her for her input. He said he was aware of the issue, but pointed out that Moench’s original email had been written to an internal group.
“The bottom line is, Mayor Moench has the right to have an opinion on whom he feels is best suited to represent him on the board of education,” said Pedroso.
Pedroso added that the school board is also an elected body that is politically structured, with candidates who campaign, put up signs, write letters and knock on doors when seeking election.
“They do everything that basically every other politician does,” he said.
He also explained that the school board budget last year was about $161 million, as compared to an approximately $43 million municipal budget, or almost four times as much. He said that the school board and its representatives are important to the community, and that they control a large budget and spending, while overseeing the education of local children.
As an elected body, Pedroso said the school board is “subject to the scrutiny (asked) of every other body.”
He added that he was a little perplexed by the issues that had been raised, since Moench has children of his own who are now attending Bridgewater schools, as does Pedroso.
“We all care about education and issues,” said Pedroso.
He said that just because Moench is mayor does not mean he had stopped caring about education. Pedroso said endorsements are “fundamental to our government,” and that to introduce a resolution that would hamper political opinions would be “unconstitutional.”
Pedroso also added that he was disturbed by comments he had seen on social media outlets, in which some individuals tried to “shut others up,” which he said goes against the foundations of society and is “un-American.” He said people have a right to express their opinions, and that includes the mayor.
Norgalis added that if a majority of the council had voted to bring forward such a resolution as had been mentioned, he would have voted against it.