Less than two dozen residents came out for the joint meeting between the City Council and the Board of Education on Wednesday evening at the board’s district office.
Residents voiced their concerns over the decision the school board took in September 2013 moving the school board elections. “I am not in favor of the school board election taking place in November,” said Malikah Abdullah, a city resident. “Once we put it in November, then we lose control.”
Residents have expressed a sense of apprehension since the passage of the resolution moving the elections from April to November. Many fear the influx of money will align the allegiance of board members towards companies and interest groups and away from residents. “The issue of the election being changed from April to November — totally I’m in disagreement with that,” said Bilal Hakeem, an activist, who is running for a council at-large seat, addressing the school board and the only two council members who attended the meeting.
“I am not in agreement with the board’s decision,” said Kenneth McDaniel, councilman at-large, who said the consequences of the change may not be felt in the next few years, but it will certainly be felt in future. “Down the road a decision made now will have an adverse effect,” said McDaniel. The councilman urged the board to rethink its decision, and possibly rescind the resolution it passed to move the election.
“It’s going to be a mess,” said Waheedah Muhammad, a former school board member, who asserted that by moving the election to the most political month in the Gregorian calendar, the city risks losing its voice to party politics. “You all can sit there and say it’s not going to be political,” said Muhammad, “you know better – it’s going to be Row A, Row B, Row this.” No member of the public supporting the change appeared during the meeting.
Absent council members
Andre Sayegh, the only other councilmember, who attended the meeting said few of his colleagues were boycotting the meeting: William McKoy, Kenneth Morris, Julio Tavarez. And he stated Anthony Davis could not attend due to the loss of more than one family member. Prior to Sayegh’s statement, out of the 18 residents that attended, many had picked up on the boycotting idea. “Maybe what they’re doing is boycotting it,” said Abdullah.
Board members — Chrystal Cleaves, Christopher Irving, Martinez, Kenneth Simmons, and Corey Teague — that voted in favor of the election change adamantly defended their positions. Irving, the board’s president, said the decision is “irreversible” and “it’s a moot issue.” Manuel Martinez, a board member, called the election issue “petty” and it being nothing more than “nonsense.” Martinez said, “We’re wasting an evening talking about things that are so petty, when we should be focusing on the work we’re here to do.”
The meeting was organized to bring together both governing bodies of the city for a robust discussion on the election change, Hinchliffe Stadium, and the lack of recreational space in the city, at least according to the joint meeting notice that was mailed out of the City Hall. Only the election was discussed while the other two issues made no appearance.
Video tape and meeting location
The initial meeting was to be televised live and held at the council chamber in City Hall. Sayegh, the council president, who worked with Irving to put together the joint meeting, had said last week the meeting would not be live but he would ensure it was recorded and broadcasted on the city’s public access channel at a later date; however, during the meeting Sayegh explained the city’s equipment to record the proceeding was broken, and therefore the meeting was not going to be taped. Jonathan Hodges, a long time board member, said an independent producer was turned away and told he would not be able to record the meeting.
The meeting was not held at the council chamber after Irving stated his board members and he would not attend if it was held there. It was pointed out during the evening, that there is a rotation schedule set between the council and the board: one meeting takes place at the council chamber, the next one takes place at the board’s main office.
With large number of council members absent from the meeting and the public having little access to the meeting Rosie Grant, president of the Paterson Education Fund, said, “I’m very disappointed the discussion is not happening.” An idea to reschedule the meeting was floated by Errol Kerr, a board member, who said, “I trust that we reschedule this meeting.” However, the prospect of that happening, especially to rescind the election change vote, appears slim.