BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Linda Lo, the Bloomfield Board of Education member who ostensibly had won a one-year term in 2016, but to most everyone’s surprise was recently informed that it was actually for two years, issued a brief statement on Tuesday, Sept. 5, regarding the confusion.
In an email to BOE members, Superintendent of Schools Sal Goncalves, BOE Attorney Nick Dotoli, and this newspaper, Lo said, “ I appreciate the clarifying information about my board seat. It is very concerning that in today’s age, an error in candidacy can still occur, especially for the voters of Bloomfield. My intention is to continue serving the 6,300 students of Bloomfield to the best of my abilities. I will make a brief statement at our next meeting, which I will share with board members prior to the session.”
The next BOE meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 12.
Lo ran unopposed in 2016. The ballot on which she was placed had Lo running for what would have been only the second year of Kent Weisert’s three-year, unexpired term. Weisert, who died in October 2015, was on the ballot that year and won a seat. Following the rules, the board appointed someone to fill the first year of his term. Then in 2016, a two-year seat should have have been on the ballot, but only a one-year term was posted. No one noticed the mistake until several weeks ago. Lo was not running for the seat again this year. Instead, another uncontested candidate came forward, only to later be informed that an open seat did not exist.
Dotoli said in a telephone interview last week that the Essex County Board of Elections gets its election information from the school district business office. As board attorney, he said he has no jurisdiction over election matters.
“We never did an audit,” he said. “The circumstances were highly unusual.”
He said there may have been some confusion with a past business administrator. The new business administrator since Aug. 1 is Vicky Guo.
Dotoli said he took notice of the election after he understood there was some public concern about it.
“It’s no place for the school district’s attorney to participate in elections,” he said. “I sincerely doubt this will be the last error.”
Board President Emily Smith said that she was asked by her vice-president, Ellen Rogers, if she knew who the new candidate was for Lo’s seat.
“I wasn’t aware of any new person,” she said.
Smith did not know who got the information wrong to put Lo on the ballot for only one year.
“It occurred in one of two place, either with the business office or the county,” she said. “I’m not sure which party did it. I believe it is usually the responsibility of the business administrator. I believe what the business administrator communicates to the county is the number of seats and the terms. And the candidates apply directly to the county for seats.
In an email to The Independent Press, Guo said Lo was elected for the remaining term of the vacancy that was incorrectly communicated to the county as a one- rather than a two-year term.
“Ms. Lo will remain seated until Dec. 31, 2018,” Guo said. “Moving forward, under my direction, the Office of the Business Administrator will confirm the open seats and their respective terms in a memorandum to the County Board of Election to ensure accuracy for filing nominating petitions for the November election.”
Former BOE member Shane Berger said before board elections were moved from April to November, the candidates would take their petitions to the business administrator who would bundle them up and take them to the county office. He said there was less chance for a ballot mistake to occur when the business administrator had the petition in hand. Now the candidates bypass district scrutiny.
“We have to change some things,” he said. “Kent must be loving it.”