The Board of Education is investigating whether board trustee Dora Marra committed an ethics violation by allegedly distributing school board business-related documents to former board trustee Tom Troyer, according to board president Jack McStowe.
The action was prompted when Mayor Michael Gonnelli, at last month’s school board meeting, criticized Marra for allegedly sending Troyer a police report containing an analysis of a traffic survey that was conducted by Deputy Chief John Cerny of the Riverside Court development.
Gonnelli believes it is confidential material because it is only made available to the public with a formal request through the open public records act.
Because of the report’s assessment – that the walking route from the development a few blocks over to Huber Street Elementary School is unsafe – the municipality began offering courtesy busing to that development’s residents.
Marra has recently voiced opposition to busing children from this development and has voted to block the town from leasing a bus for this purpose from the school board. She disagrees that the 2.5 block route is unsafe and wants the report made public so residents can make their own determination.
“I am shocked that you are doing this.” – Dora Marra
Troyer is a regular critic of the mayor, and the busing arrangement, aspects of which he has been vocal about, is the latest skirmish between the two.
“Mrs. Marra…tends to send out emails to everyone, including Mr. Troyer, about board business,” said Gonnelli at the November school board meeting. “I certainly would think that not only is that a violation of the Open Public [Records] Act but it is certainly inappropriate for a past board member to be receiving email regarding this busing.”
At the meeting Marra read aloud a police report from 2010 and the most recent one about Riverside Court routes to school.
“I have copies, if anyone wants after the meeting,” she said.
The Open Public Records Act gives public citizens access to government records, with certain exceptions made for the protection of the public interest. All government records are subject to public access, including police reports. However, personal information such as a victim’s identity in the case of a crime is often withheld for the protection of the individual.
Individuals who want access to government records must fill out a form and should have access to the requested information within seven days.
Last week outside the council meeting Troyer denied receiving any emails from Marra. Marra said that she did share the police reports with Troyer and she alleges that the mayor also shared it with others. At the Oct. 23 council meeting the mayor furnished a copy of the police report to The Secaucus Reporter.
Marra took up the issue during the public remarks section.
“I am shocked that you are doing this,” said Marra. She began her statements by telling the mayor that she was hurt that he said the board members who voted against busing the children from Riverside Court did not care about safety – comments he made at an October council meeting in response to questioning by Troyer.
“The busing issue was over when the police report was issued,” said Gonnelli. “And I disagreed with you on the issues but neither you nor I are experts on whether a route is deemed safe or not safe.”
Marra has said that if the route was unsafe the school board would provide busing, but she believes that the 2.5 block route is safe.
Marra asked Gonnelli, “Can you put the report on the web site so the whole town can read it…so they can make a decision?”
“You have a copy of it. You sent it to everyone,” said Gonnelli.
“I didn’t send it to everybody,” said Marra. “I know you sent it to people. It is okay for you to give it to people but it is not okay for me to give it to people?”
She added that, “It is a public record. I didn’t have to OPRA it.”
“You are a board member,” Gonnelli replied.
Marra, frustrated, won’t seek re-election
“I’m really surprised at Mike because he is doing this to manipulate and distort,” said Marra during an interview. “I am shocked that he would do that…the fact that he is throwing this in my face…let him file charges against me.”
Marra said that although Gonnelli has also accused her of wanting to run for office she has no intention of doing so and said he makes the threat as a way to discredit her.
“Every time someone doesn’t agree with him they are going to run for office,” said Marra.
Marra said she will not seek re-election to the school board next year.
“I’m done. I put my two terms in. That was my goal,” said Marra. “I don’t think I can do much anymore. I tried.” She said she felt she was putting time in and not getting anywhere.
“I hope the truth comes out and the nonsense stops,” said Gonnelli during an interview. He said that he has copies of seven board business-related emails that Marra sent to Troyer. “It is very odd that she emails all the current board members and keeps Mr. Troyer in the loop.” He added that the alleged behavior is “totally inappropriate” because Troyer is no longer on the school board.
He said that while his goal in raising the issue was not to get anyone censured or fined, he expects the school board attorney will make a decision on how to address the matter.
“There will be no more response on this issue from me,” said Gonnelli. “We have to work together. And the school board right now is working with us.”
Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.