Editor’s note: This article is the first of a two-part series. The second part will be published tomorrow.
RARITAN TWP., NJ – The Flemington-Raritan School District has resolved a two-year-old issue regarding an ethics complaint against one of its former school board members, as an ethics complaint against one of its existing members remains undecided.
Mitchelle Drulis filed a complaint with the state School Ethics Commission against then-board President Anna Fallon last June. State Department of Education spokesperson Michael Yaple said yesterday, “There has been no decision in this matter.”
But the case involving Alan Brewer was put to rest just last month, with the school board agreeing to reimburse him the $10,000 he paid for an attorney to represent him in the School Ethics Commission complaint. That means the case won’t be heard by a jury in Superior Court, where Brewer had filed his suit.
Unlike the School Ethics Commission allegation against Fallon – which was made by a resident – the allegations against Brewer were brought by school board members themselves.
Brewer, a Marine Corps veteran, was first elected to the board to fill a two-year term and joined the regional K-8 district board in 2014. He was elected to a three-year term in 2015; less than a week later the school board members filed their complaint with the Ethics Commission. None of their claims have ever been proven.
The complaint was filed by board members Sandy Borucki, Bruce Davidson, Marianne Kenny, Frank Kraus, Eric Liszt, Laurie Markowski, Michael Stager and Fallon. Of them, Fallon, Borucki, Kenny and Markowski remain on the board.
Typically, school boards indemnify their members and pay for their legal representation, if needed. But in Brewer’s case, the board refused to indemnify him against the charges, claiming the accusations were not “exclusively” from his duties as a board member.
But rather than pursue the charges, they withdrew them, which the state School Ethics Commission accepted in June, 2016. But by then, Brewer had already spent about $10,000 for an attorney to represent him.
Some of the board’s allegations were serious. For example, the board members accused Brewer of leaking sensitive school security information, leading them to call for his resignation. That information was later found to already be on the school district’s website.
A school official once called 911 to report Brewer as an “irate” board member at a school board meeting. No charges were filed in that case.
In their ethics complaint, the board members claimed Brewer sought to “subvert OPRA (Open Public Records Act) regulations” and that he “did not support and protect school personnel.” They complained he provided a letter to a news reporter and wrote letters to the editor that “clearly and repeatedly disparages the school district.”
“He compromises the board by saying they are ‘trying to protect a system that shuts out the public and their elected representatives, where policies go unquestioned and contracts and expenditures go unscrutinized,’ ” their complaint charged, part of a “pattern of repeated unethical behavior.”
But Brewer stands by his allegations. He said he was elected to the board “to bring accountability to the school board,” which is why he won re-election. He remains critical of the board’s reluctance to answer questions about its budget posed in public by Brian Swingle, who was then a Flemington Borough Councilperson.
“Individual vendor contracts and invoices ... are never seen or reviewed by the entire board,” he argues. “Board members are routinely expected to approve bills, invoices and expenditures without benefit of review first.”
When he asked for copies of bills as a board member, Brewer said he was instructed to obtain them by filing a request under the state Open Public Records Act.
“It was a roadblock,” Brewer said. “Pure politics.”
Brewer also claimed that board meeting minutes often didn’t reflect comments that were anti-administration and that he couldn’t vote on some board matters because “relevant details and rationale were not being presented.” He was repeatedly forbidden to speak freely at school board meetings, Brewer said, either as a board member or member of the public.
And when the district refused to reimburse Brewer for his legal costs, he sued, leading to the recent $10,000 settlement.
Brewer ultimately resigned from the board in March, 2016, after being appointed to a vacant seat on Borough Council.
How much did the school district pay to fight Brewer over the legal bills, and is the district paying an attorney to defend Fallon against the charge filed against her? Those questions will be the subject of tomorrow’s article.