PLAINFIELD, NJ - The Board of Education’s work and study session on Tuesday included more than the usual review of curriculum and policies. Plainfield Education Association President Eric Jones had been served with a RICE notice, and PEA members packed the cafeteria in support of him.
Board Attorney Phil Stern began the meeting, explaining the Open Public Meetings Act, "subtitled the Sunshine Law," to those in attendance, saying that with just a few exceptions, all Board of Education items are discussed in public.
"One of the exceptions to the Sunshine is that the board has the option to discuss personnel matters in what's called executive session, where it's only the board without the public listening," Stern said.
He added, "Whenever there is potential for adverse action, or anything negative regarding an employee, they must receive what is called a RICE notice." Stern said the notice indicates that the board may have a conversation about an employee in executive session, and that employee has the right to tell the board he or she prefers to have the discussion take place in open session.
Stern said, "Mr. Eric Jones received a RICE notice and opted to have the conversation about any board concerns that there may be in open session, and that's what we are going to open with tonight. The board has concerns that it would like to discuss."
He clarified, "Now just to be very clear. This experience is very much like a fishbowl. This is not a dialogue between the board and the audience; this is the audience, and especially... and particularly Mr. Jones, having the ability to listen to the conversation that the board is having. This is not a... there will be no audience participation in this. It is simply the board; what would normally happen in executive session is happening here because Mr. Jones exercised his right to ask for this to be in public."
Board President Richard Wyatt, Vice President Cameron Cox, and members Emily Morgan and John Campbell spoke out against Jones.
Wyatt said, "This board has always been in support of the teachers, so I found it a little troublesome when I received documents that were filed at the court that stated Plainfield Education Association vs. Plainfield Board of Education. I thought to myself, this is just another frivolous complaint filed by Mr. Jones, one that we have to waste time on for discussion, and money for representation."
"While we've been sued for campaigning on school property, Mr. Jones needs to check himself," Campbell said.
The PEA had endorsed Independent candidates Timothy Priano and Rebecca Perkins, as well as Melba Mullins, in the November General Election. Incumbents Campbell, Morgan and Wyatt won re-election.
Board member Carmencita Pile challenged her colleagues on Tuesday. "I'm trying to understand that this board, and I am a board member, why is it that everyone has prepared notes," adding, "obviously you guys had some kind of a meeting where you decided what you were going to say."
Pile continued, "The incumbents just spoke." She likened the board's concerns with Jones to "Trump complaining that Hillary Clinton got the popular vote. You guys are in. You won, okay? You won. Whether it was fair and square, it's politics, you won."
Wyatt concluded the part of the meeting about Jones by asking Stern to provide a legal update at a later point in time.
In public comment, Maryanne Salamone-Rodriguez, NJEA UniServ Field Representative, said there's miscommunication between the board and the association.
"While I'm here because of a crisis time, I think it's hopefully a good thing that I was here and heard all this stuff, and can maybe try to help build some bridges instead of having this adversarial relationship continue on."
She addressed the Jones salary dispute Wyatt referenced, and a back-to-school night cookout, saying, "Whenever there's a majority of the board together, that constitutes a board meeting. It is a violation."
Salamone-Rodriguez went on to talk about programs with which the association could help, and connections they could help make.
"I just want you to understand that you can tap into the resources through the association. It doesn't just always have to be us not getting along, or us being on opposite sides."
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