FLEMINGTON, NJ – A former board member has filed a lawsuit against the Flemington-Raritan school board and the K-8 district.
Alan Brewer was elected to the board and took office in January, 2014. His tenure on the board was tempestuous and in late 2015, eight members of the board accused him of 10 ethics violations in a complaint they filed with the state School Ethics Commission.
Signing the complaint were Bruce Davidson, Anna Fallon, Eric Liszt, Marianne Kenny, Sandy Borucki, Laurie Markowski, Michael Stager and Frank Kraus.
Brewer’s defense by attorney Gaetano DeSapio cost him more than $10,000. His suit, filed by Jason Scotto D’Aniello, now seeks reimbursement for those fees and a jury trial.
School boards typically indemnify their members against the cost of defending themselves. For example, Flemington-Raritan school board president Anna Fallon is being represented by Comegno Law Firm in an ethics complaint filed by Mitchelle Druis.
But Brewer didn’t receive that benefit. In a letter to DeSapio, John B. Comegno, II wrote that indemnification is provided for claims “arising out of and in the course of the performance” of a school board member’s duties and “the pending ethics charges (against Brewer) do not arise exclusively” from his board duties.
Brewer was appointed to Flemington Borough Council in March 2016, and a state statute required him to resign from the school board, which he did in April. The ethics complaint against him was withdrawn a few months later in June.
In their complaint, the board members claimed that Brewer insisted his mail “be handled differently” and not be opened by the Business Office, and it claimed “legal authority to open any mail” addressed to the facility. Brewer said the mail was personal in nature and was shared with others without his consent.
The complaint alleged that Brewer filed a complaint with police and postal authorities alleging “unlawful” opening of his mail and mail fraud. Brewer said he never filed a fraud complaint, that there was no board policy justifying the opening of his mail and that postal authorities suggested separate mailboxes for board members.
The complaint charged Brewer with being “loud and belligerent” when he was told he could not read into the public record his statement regarding then-Superintendent Maryrose Caulfield. Brewer said he was responding to accusations made by Fallon and was not belligerent.
“I was vocal and did insist that I had a right to speak,” Brewer states in his suit.
The ethics complaint also criticized Brewer's letters to the editor that were published in the Hunterdon Democrat that it said “clearly and repeatedly disparages the school district” when he asserted school officials were “trying to protect a system that shuts out the public and their elected representatives.”
It criticized Brewer’s alleged “pattern of abstentions” and claimed he didn’t sign the state’s Code of Ethics policy, which Brewer denies in the suit. The complaint claimed Brewer exhibited a “pattern of repeated unethical behavior” and that he violated employment laws when he “makes evaluative statements about the superintendent and business administrator” to the press.
Brewer’s answers to the complaint say it was filed “with malice for the purpose of harassment.
“This complaint is for the purpose of harassing and intimidating me and discouraging me from expressing differences of opinion and suggest changes to existing practices and procedures,” the suit, filed in Superior Court, states.