Four years ago, then-councilman Alex Mendez swore in then-newly elected school board member Oshin Castillo. Months after the swearing in, school district officials had to swear in Castillo a second time.
School officials deemed Mendez’s administration of the oath of office to the board member did not comply with state law. The same issue has resurfaced as three school board members — one by a councilwoman — are expected to be sworn in tonight. At the heart of the matter is whether state law allows members of the City Council to swear in Board of Education members.
New Jersey law — N.J.S.A. 41:2-1 — allows superior court and municipal court judges, mayors, aldermen of municipalities, surrogates, register of deeds, county and municipal clerks, sheriffs, freeholders, clerks of all courts, notaries public, commissioners of deeds, members of the state legislature, attorneys, and certified court reporters to swear in school board members.
Members of the City Council are missing from the list of people who can administer oath of office to school board members. However, aldermen, who are predecessors of City Council members, are on the list.
“The state law allows an alderman which is a council person to administer the oath of office. If we’re going to follow the law then we should follow the law,” said Lilisa Mimms, councilwoman at-large, who is expected to swear in Corey Teague at the reorganization meeting scheduled for Thursday night. “Follow the law and stop playing politics.”
Mimms said the district’s interpretation of the law is questionable. On New Year’s Day, Mimms found herself on the verge of being blocked from swearing in Teague. Teague heavily publicized a flyer that Mimms, who served as his chief campaign strategist in the November election, will swear him in.
“The Board of Education Commissioners who will be sworn in this evening will come into office in full compliance with the New Jersey state statutes governing the administration of oaths and affidavits as well as district policy,” said Paul Brubaker, spokesman for the Paterson Public Schools.
Brubaker did not provide the district’s interpretation of the law in both Mendez and now Mimms cases.
Citing the portion of the law that mentions mayors and aldermen of cities, Frank Belluscio, spokesman for the New Jersey School Boards Association, provided Merriam-Webster’s dictionary definition of “Alderman.”
Alderman is defined as a “a member of a city legislative body.”
Belluscio said in these matters the local school district would rely on the advice of its board attorney.
Mimms suggested some of her political rivals were causing a stir to embarrass her. However, those that raised the issue saw a possible double standard at the district.
“I would like to know if the law changed,” said Mendez, who backed Teague in the November election. He was never provided a true explanation for why the oath of office he had administered was invalid. The entire affair was handled in a hush-hush manner.
Mimms adamantly argued council members are allowed to administer oath of office under state law. She refused to be barred from swearing in Teague.
On Thursday, superintendent Eileen Shafer came up with a plan to sidestep the controversy. She will swear in all three – Teague, Emanuel Capers, and Vincent Arrington — school board members elected in November.
Subsequently, the three members will be “ceremonially” given the oath of office by whomever they like, according to officials. Capers is being sworn in by assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter, Arrington by assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, and Teague by Mimms.
Mimms said she has no issues with Shafer’s plan.
Updated 3:25 p.m.