Four members of the Newark Board of Education face ethics complaints currently before the New Jersey School Ethics Commission, according to details shared during the February school board meeting.
On Thursday, the school board approved four resolutions to pay $285 per hour in attorney’s fees and expenses for four unnamed board members at the center of the complaints.
The district did not release the names of the board members or details about the nature of the complaints during the meeting. The ethics commission has not released the ethics complaints.
Under New Jersey law, the commission cannot publicly release information about a complaint until a public meeting is held to determine probable cause or violation, or until the matter is settled, withdrawn, or dismissed.
During the meeting, board member Hasani Council abstained from voting on all four motions. Board president Dawn Haynes and members A’Dorian Murray-Thomas and Crystal Williams each abstained from one of the four motions.
According to Robert’s Rules, an abstention is neither for or against a matter before the body and can be used by board members who legally cannot vote on a matter due to a conflict of interest.
Council, Haynes, Murray-Thomas, and Williams did not respond to calls and emails from Chalkbeat Newark. The district’s acting communications director, Nancy Deering, did not respond to an email inquiry about the complaints.
Two board members will be represented by Souder, Shabazz & Woolridge law group, and the other two by Janelle Edwards-Stewart and Porzio, Bromberg & Newman PC, according to Thursday’s resolutions approved by the board.
Calvin Souder of Souder, Shabazz & Woolridge law group did not say what board members his firm was representing and refused to comment on the matter before ending the call. Janelle Edwards-Stewart and Porzio, Bromberg & Newman PC law firm did not respond to calls or emails from Chalkbeat Newark.
The votes on the legal fees came after members entered into a roughly hour-long executive session. Brenda Liss, the district’s general counsel, introduced each resolution and noted the state code requiring school districts to pay legal fees for board members facing litigation during the course of their terms.
The district did not say who filed the complaints against the board members.
This is the first time school board leaders face ethics complaints during León’s tenure. The news comes nearly a month after school board members came under fire after reports that León’s contract was automatically renewed.
It also comes two months before school board elections. Council’s board term is up this year but he has not said if he will run for reelection. Haynes’ term ends next year and Murray-Thomas and Williams have terms ending in 2025.
Jessie Gomez is a reporter for Chalkbeat Newark, covering public education in the city. Contact Jessie at email@example.com.