To the editor:
The Flemington-Raritan school board has agreed to settle a lawsuit by paying $10,000 toward my legal expenses.
It gives me no joy to divert money from the schools; but I can hope that some educational benefit has been gained by the voters. Here's the lesson:
Upon joining the school board in 2014, I was dismayed to find that the board members had yielded their authority to the superintendent and business administrator. They were just voting yes on cue, going along to get along, often not even reading what they were approving. In fact, sometimes contracts were being approved that were not even available to these sleeping watchdogs.
I tried hard to wake them up, but succeeded only in making them very uncomfortable and angry. When my election assured my continuing membership on the board, they were finally stirred to action: They filed ethics charges against me with the state. The charges boiled down to: Al Brewer is not a team player (on a team that is sitting lazily on the bench).
So I was compelled to hire an attorney to defend myself. When a board member's responsibilities incur legal expenses, the school board must pay them. But predictably the board refused. They wanted me off the board, and they hoped that my mounting legal expenses would push me out.
In 2016, my appointment to Flemington Borough Council required me by law to resign from the school board. I resigned with mixed feelings – sorry that the dozing board members had not responded to my wakeup call, but sure I could do more for the community on Council. (Please note that on Council I showed myself to be a team player, but no pushover.)
Once I'd resigned, the school board's victory over good government was won, and the ethics charges were dropped. But my attorney fees did not disappear and the board for the next year refused to indemnify me as required by statute. So I sued to recoup that money. The board settled, agreeing to pay $10,000, which still leaves me a few thousand short, but I'm glad to close this chapter and move on.
But I'm not withdrawing from public service. It is my life. I'm president of the N.J. Lions Eyeglass Recycling Center, and my other volunteer activities have included service with the Flemington Planning Board, the Flemington Historic Preservation Commission, the Samuel Fleming House museum and the Marine Corps League.
I will probably run for Borough Council again sometime, so I wanted to set the record straight. Yes, I sued the school board; but now you know exactly who shortchanged the taxpayers and the students. It was the board members and administrators defending their cozy, negligent status quo.
But their triumph was short-lived. Superintendent Maryrose Caulfield resigned under fire effective Sept. 27, and now the board is looking for her successor. Even better, the board has replaced board president Anna Fallon with Tim Bart. I encourage all to continue the change by replacing the old guard with new board members willing to put our children and schools first.
If my brief rebellion contributed in any way to this shakeup, it was a fight worth having.
Mr. Bart has said his new year's resolution for the board is “improving our direct communication.” If that means a policy of responding to public comments at meetings, instead of a policy of silent listening, it is a promising step toward transparency and responsibility.
Al Brewer, Flemington