Resident believes BOE selection process was biased

Photo by Chris Sykes
West Ward resident Conrad McPherson holds the letter he received from Irvington’s public schools too late to respond to the invitation to apply for a seat on the Board of Education. That spot was subsequently given to Mayor Tony Vauss’ son, Anthony Vauss Jr.

IRVINGTON, NJ — West Ward resident Conrad McPherson wanted to serve on the Irvington Board of Education and use it as a launching pad to run for the Municipal Council seat of West Ward Councilman Vern Cox in the 2020 ward elections. This was after he heard a vacancy had opened up on the BOE when former board member Jamillah Beasley-McCleod was appointed to fill the vacant South Ward seat on the Municipal Council, after longtime Councilwoman Sandy Jones died unexpectedly Thursday, March 21.

But McPherson believes he missed his opportunity because the letter from the BOE office informing him he had been approved to interview for the seat at the next regular BOE meeting on Wednesday, May 15, wasn’t delivered until Thursday, May 16. Now Anthony Vauss Jr., son of the mayor, has been appointed to fill the empty board seat.

Beasley-McCleod was sworn in for the South Ward council seat at the Municipal Council’s meeting on Monday, April 22, and Vauss Jr. was interviewed and appointed to fill her BOE seat at that board’s meeting on Wednesday, May 15.

McPherson said he now believes he was “blackballed” and his application was purposely blocked.

“They put an ad in the Irvington Herald saying that anyone that was interested in applying could apply. They needed to submit a letter and a copy of their resume by May 10. I submitted mine on May 8,” McPherson said. “I received a letter on Thursday, May 16, notifying me that I was being considered for the position and I needed to appear before the board on Wednesday, May 15. Unfortunately, because I received the letter late, I could not go for the interview, because I was not aware that I was supposed to be there on Wednesday.”

“I took the letter up to Mr. Reggie Lamptey — he’s the board secretary — and, at that point, he got very upset with me. He said there was nothing that he could do and he basically called security and had me escorted out the building,” McPherson said. “Before I got escorted out the building, Superintendent Neely Hackett stopped me in the hallway and said, ‘What’s going on, Mr. McPherson?’ I explained it to her and she said, ‘You need to schedule an appointment with me.’ I went downstairs, the security escorted me out the building, Irvington police came also and escorted me out the building, and I went outside the school and I made a call upstairs to schedule an appointment with Dr. Neely Hackett.”

Despite the circumstances, McPherson said he left feeling optimistic, but then reality intervened.

“That appointment occurred on Monday, May 20. I met with Dr. Neely Hackett, the superintendent of Irvington schools, at 1 p.m. at 1 University Place, downstairs in the Conference Room,” McPherson said. “At that time, I presented a letter that basically explained what happened to me. She said, ‘Thank you for the letter,’ and said she would consult with her attorneys and get back to me. On Tuesday, May 21, she contacted me and informed that she spoke to her lawyers and they said there’s nothing that can be done. I said, ‘Can you please put that in writing?’ She said no, she can’t. At that time, I contacted my attorneys.”

“The letter from the board office is stamped May 10,” continued McPherson. “We don’t know when this letter actually got placed in the mail. It could have been put in the mail May 12, May 13. We don’t know.”

“And if someone wants to prevent me from getting before that board, because now we know that Anthony A. Vauss is the person that got that position, a relative of the mayor,” he said. “I’m a veteran of the U.S. Air Force. Mayor Vauss’ son doesn’t have any qualifications that come close. I’m a PTA member of Union Avenue School and Irvington High School. What does Mayor Vauss’ son have? I’m overqualified for this position. Had I been given the opportunity to interview for this position, I would have gotten it, hands down.”

McPherson said he really does believe that, if he had gotten a fair chance to interview for the BOE seat, he had a very good chance of getting appointed.

“You look at the qualifications between Anthony Vauss and myself. I don’t even know Anthony Vauss, but I know that he didn’t serve in the Air Force. I did,” said McPherson. “He’s not a parent. I’ve had two sons that went through the Irvington school system from kindergarten all the way to high school. One of my sons graduated from Irvington High School. I was on the PTA, so I know what goes on. I’m still involved in Irvington High School right now. I got some crossing guards placed in front of Irvington High School, so I’m working.”

McPherson said he really cares about Irvington and education and that’s why he wanted to volunteer to serve on the BOE.

“What we accept is what we get,” said McPherson. “If you don’t complain about something, it will never get changed. You want change, you got to be involved and that’s my passion. That’s why I want to get involved. I got to roll up my sleeves and get involved into the system. You can’t make change by just sitting on the sidelines.”

According to McPherson, in a meeting with the mayor on Monday, May 27,the mayor, “kept telling me that I wouldn’t have gotten the board seat, even if I had made it to the interview. It was really annoying and condescending.”

Vauss gave a different version of the meeting, saying after their initial remarks in his office he was more amused with McPherson’s position, until he started insulting him.

The heated altercation resulted in Vauss issuing an executive order to McPherson, prohibiting him “from any unsupervised access to any township of Irvington municipal buildings” and “if he attempts to enter any township of Irvington municipal building, he shall not be permitted access and shall be removed in accordance with law.”

Further, the executive order states: “If Conrad Mcpherson has legitimate government business, he shall be advised that he must go to the Irvington Police Department to be escorted by a police officer to attend to his business only.”

The mayor said he issued the executive order because it was the right thing to do, from a public safety standpoint.

“It’s not the first executive order I’ve issued, banning people from public buildings,” said Vauss on Tuesday, June 4. “I’ve also done executive orders to remove the parking restrictions in blizzards and snowstorms. Better safe than sorry.”

But the mayor said he doesn’t regret meeting with McPherson.

“As a constituent who requested a meeting with me, I took the meeting with him. I didn’t know that his intent was to cause controversy,” Vauss said. “I’m not an official of the school district. I would have contacted the post office to ask why I received my mail later than it should have. I don’t really know. He should have just went to the post office and asked, ‘Why didn’t I get my mail on time?’”

Vauss also said he doubted things happened the way he was told by McPherson.

“I doubt it very seriously,” said Vauss. “I assumed he wanted to have a meeting about the Board of Education, but he talked more about his political ambitions. He said he was running for the school board, running for the West Ward Council seat and he was running for mayor. I said, ‘It’s a free country and you’re entitled to run,’ and I think that upset him in some way, because he then started telling me how powerful he was and who he was connected to and how they ‘shut down East Orange at the Memorial Day parade.’ He went on to talk about how much I would have to spend to ‘stop him from being elected.’”

At that point, Vauss said he knew the meeting was officially over.

“I think I upset him, because I started laughing and that’s when he told me he ‘had something on me.’ And then he pulled out a flier of an endorsement piece that I did for Board of Education candidates in the recent April election and told me it was illegal for me to endorse people as mayor,” Vauss said. “My response was ‘Is there something else you want to talk about?’ He said, ‘OK, Mr. Mayor, I see you’re not going to take me seriously.’ We shook hands and I was walking him out of my office door. I was just escorting him out of my office. But as we were going out the door, that’s when he started throwing personal insults at me.”

Irvington BOE member Richard Williams agreed with Vauss that he doesn’t believe McPherson’s interview letter was lost in the mail. He also said the board-selection process of filling Beasley-McCleod’s seat was unbiased, not rigged to favor any particular applicant and as above board and in keeping with established law and school board policy and procedures as possible.

“During the last 20-plus years since I have been going to the Irvington Board of Education meetings, not once have there been any problems with the candidates that wanted to apply for a position on the Board of Education,” said Williams on Monday, June 3. “Now the reason he was not interviewed is because he did not show up. We had his resume and it was reviewed and we were prepared to interview whomever the candidates were.

“I’ve gotten no feedback from anybody on the Irvington Board of Education regarding there being a glitch with him being notified, and I personally do not believe that anyone did anything in order to obstruct him being interviewed by the Board of Education for the position. We had all his stuff and he didn’t come. This is the first time I’m hearing about what happened right now.”