BOE member complaint
Board of Education Vice President Franklin Turner, center, speaks during the Wednesday, Jan. 10, BOE meeting. Also pictured are Board President Laura Hertzog, left, and board member Jessica de Koninck. ERIN ROLL/STAFF

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

A complaint alleging Montclair Board of Education member Franklin Turner does not legally live in Montclair has been certified “with no defects” by the state department of education commissioner. Turner now has 20 days to respond.

It will most likely take a hearing to decide whether the allegations are valid, according to state officials.

In the complaint filed May 24, Montclair resident David Herron alleges Turner has not been a “bona fide” resident of Montclair since the fall of 2017, and therefore ineligible to serve on the board.

The complaint cited a seller’s residency certification form September 2017 in which Turner gave a mailbox at the UPS Store Watchung Plaza address as his new address. However, his Upper Mountain Avenue home, which he and his wife had been in the process of selling, was still listed as his address on the voter registration lists as of October 2017. The house was sold in September 2017. In April,Turner listed a Myrtle Street address with the BOE, which is allegedly the home of friends.

The complaint also questions the validity of any votes Turner cast during his time on the board since 2017 due to his alleged residency status.

Herron also alleges that the district rejected a May 24 record’s request for Turner’s address, which falls under the state’s Open Public Records Act.

A May 23 ruling by the New Jersey Supreme Court determined that names and addresses in public documents are not considered confidential information and can not be redacted or withheld. The decision came from a case filed against the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office over whether to release the addresses of bidders participating in a public sports memorabilia auction.

Herron says his request has since been filled.

What’s next

Herron’s complaint will most likely be referred to the DOE’s Office of Controversies and Disputes, according to Michael Yaple, a spokesperson for the Department of Education. A hearing will be held to decide whether to uphold the complaint.

As an example of some of the factors to be considered in a case involving a board member’s residency, Yaple referred to a similar case in Bloomfield, in which a BOE members’ residency was questioned after living in Elizabeth and then moving in with her fiancée in Bloomfield where she ran for BOE and won in November 2016.

Shane Berger filed the complaint against Gladys Rivera contending she was not eligible to serve on the Bloomfield BOE because she was not a permanent resident for the required one year before running for the BOE. Berger was a BOE incumbent who lost the election.

Ten people were called to testify in the case. The judge said factors cited in the complaint, including having her mail forwarded to another address while living with her fiancée and an ongoing address change in process, were not in themselves sufficient evidence of lack of legal residency in Bloomfield. As it is up to the petitioner to prove that Rivera was not a resident, not the other way around, the judge ruled Berger had failed to prove non-residency.

Matters of residency can be influenced by various factors, including whether the board member in question is going through a divorce, said Frank Belluscio, Deputy Executive Director for the New Jersey School Boards Association.

In 2001, Martin Cohen of Chesterfield petitioned the Department of Education alleging that BOE member James Durr was not a resident. At the time of the case’s filing, Durr was in the midst of a divorce, and still listed his family’s home as his primary residence even though he was away from the home on occasion. “Petitioner alleged that the respondent, a Chesterfield Board member, was not a resident of the District. Respondent, who was divorcing his spouse, while acknowledging that he sometimes was away from the home, provided documentation listing the Chesterfield property as his residence,” the document said.

Durr provided the courts with residency documentation, including bills and tax records and the judge ruled he did reside in Chesterfield, according to court records.