School board member Emanuel Capers, who went on an all-expenses paid trip to Arizona funded by a potential vendor, resulting in ethics charges that dogged him for two years, has been issued a six-month suspension by the New Jersey Commissioner of Education.
Capers had accepted the trip to attend the Effective Schools Conference from Feb. 20-23, 2018 at the Scottsdale Plaza Resort in Paradise Valley from Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak’s education company Woz U.
“His conduct in accepting a gift from a potential vendor had significant potential to compromise the public’s opinion of the Board’s integrity,” wrote New Jersey interim education commissioner Kevin Dehmer in a seven-page decision mailed on Friday. “It defies common sense to suggest that the primary purpose of a conference presented and paid for by a vendor was not to sell that vendor’s product.”
Capers called it a “political decision” on Monday afternoon.
“I am disappointed that the Interim Commissioner of Education did not agree with the Administrative Law Judge’s decision which exonerated me of all allegations. The Interim Commissioner along with the ethics commission board made their decision based upon opinions and not the facts of the case,” said Capers. “I am evaluating the decision with my attorneys regarding an appeal. I will continue to work as hard as I can to benefit the children in the Paterson school system.”
Capers had received a favorable ruling from an administrative law judge, who cleared him of the ethics violations. But former school district security director James Smith, who initially filed the ethics charges against Capers, appealed to the School Ethics Commission, which recommended the school board member’s removal.
Dehmer tried to strike a middle ground in his decision reached on October 20. He wrote removing Capers would be an “unduly harsh penalty.” He wrote six-month suspension is the appropriate punishment for the violations of letters C, E, and F in the Code of Ethics.
“While disappointed that he received a gift of only a (6) month suspension, I respect the Commissioner’s decision for at least finding him guilty but I have every confidence that Commissioner Capers will receive additional ethic violations in the future,” said Smith.
Smith had been ordered to investigate Capers’ trip to Arizona by superintendent Eileen Shafer and then-board president Oshin Castillo. His investigation report stated Capers violated ethics rules, but school officials did not file ethics charges.
Smith called Shafer’s decision not to pursue ethics charges against Capers a “cowardly act.”
Shafer did not immediately respond to a message for comment on Smith’s comments via her spokesman. Shafer later fired Smith from his district job. He has linked his firing to the Capers investigation.
Smith had to pursue the ethics charges against Capers on his own.
“In an obvious attempt to have me drop the charges Superintendent Shafer provided me no lawyer even though a blind man could see it was work product,” said Smith. Capers was defended by a district funded attorney. It’s not clear how much the district has incurred in legal expenses in defending Capers in the case.
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