Orange BOE election certification delayed for judicial review

Photo by Chris Sykes
Tisa Singleton, standing third from left, was one of the eight candidates vying for two available seats on the Orange Board of Education in the special election on Tuesday, March 28, who came to meet and greet voters at the Oranges-Maplewood NAACP Candidates Forum at First Shiloh Baptist Church on Saturday, March 25. The other six seated candidates who attended the event are, from left, Tyrone Tarver, Derrick Henry, Thomas M. Wright, Anthony P. Johnson, Courtney J. Thomas and Marie Y. Celestin. Former Orange Board of Education President Pat Arthur also participated in the forum, but is not pictured here, because she had to leave early to take care of personal business.

ORANGE, NJ — A snowstorm may have delayed the special election of two new Orange Board of Education members from Tuesday, March 14, to Tuesday, March 28, but the results will have to wait a little longer, at least until Superior Court Judge Tom Vena has a chance to review the legal findings of the attorneys for the board, Orange City Council and Mayor Dwayne Warren’s administration, and to verify the validity of the election itself.

Meanwhile, attorney Stephen Edelstein, who represents the BOE, is arguing that the entire election should be scrapped, as Public Question No. 1 on the ballot in the Nov. 8, 2016 election did not state the ramifications on the city’s ability to issue bonds to for capital improvements to schools throughout Orange, if voters decided to change from a Type 1 appointed school board district to a Type 2 elected school board district.

Attorney Robert Tarver, representing the City Council, has returned to court to argue for the change voters said they wanted: from a seven-member appointed board to a nine-member elected one.

Warren sided with the BOE against the council and hired Edelstein to represent the board in the case.

The results of this special election are being handled by Essex County Clerk Chris Durkin’s office, which admitted the delay in certification was an unusual move.

“Yes, it is unusual for a judge to ask that the certification of an election be delayed,” said Durkin on Monday, March 27. “We would normally certify the election results eight days after election day. The voters of Orange should exercise their right to vote tomorrow in the March 28 special election to elect two members of their school board.”

Tarver agreed with Durkin and also confirmed that Vena had originally asked him and Edelstein to submit briefs in support of their opposing positions on the special election and the validity of Public Question No. 1 by Friday, March 24, but changed his mind once Warren and the city got involved on the side of the Orange Board of Education.

“The attorney the city hired to handle the case asked the judge for an extension of time to file his brief, that’s all; the judge granted the extension until March 28, the same day the election is scheduled to take place,” said Tarver on Monday, March 27. “Delaying certifying the vote is unusual, but the voters will know that a challenge to the results is pending. These things don’t usually happen. This is a very extraordinary type situation. You have a group of people that are the current seven board members, who are purporting to speak for an entire population of voters and saying that they did not know what they were voting for when they voted. To me, that’s insulting.”

“This is legal shenanigans,” said Janice Morrell, a former Orange Zoning Board member, Monday, March 27. “On one hand, the board’s brief says the voters were ill-informed and uninformed, but on the same hand, the board going back and filing these briefs after the fact of the November election is negligent, too, and harmful, too.”

Edelstein had been hired by the BOE at its special meeting on Monday, Jan. 23, to file a petition with the New Jersey Board of Education seeking an injunction to stop the change from a Type 1 district to a Type 2 district. He filed the petition Friday, Feb. 3, and the state Education Department referred it to the Office of Administrative Law where, on Monday, Feb. 27, Administrative Law Judge Michael Antoniewicz ruled the Office of Administrative Law was not the proper court to hear the case.

That ruling, however, didn’t stop Warren and BOE President Cristina Mateo from filing another motion with the Newark Superior Court on Friday, March 10, which temporarily stopped the change from a Type 1 to Type 2 district.

“If it’s agreed that the process was done correctly. We welcome whatever process we need to work on,” Mateo said at the board’s special meeting on Monday, Jan. 23. “Whatever process we need to work on, we will work on. If we get two more members, we will do everything possible to educate those members, to make sure they also need to do what needs to be done. Eventually, this is a position that you’re either elected or voted on. This is all temporary, so we’re going to make sure that whoever takes our place or comes to the board is prepared enough to take over and to do what needs to be done.”