West New York Mayor Felix Roque has filed a petition with the state Commissioner of Education against the appointment of Board of Education members Janet Passante and Alex Locatelli by outgoing Mayor Silverio Vega, questioning the legality of the appointments.
Vega made the appointments in May, right before he left office and Roque took over.
According to Assistant City Attorney Joe Demarco, the complaint is scheduled for review the second week in August.
The July 13 complaint says that state law requires that any person appointed to a five-year term on a municipal board must be appointed between April 1 and 15 of each year and must be seated by May 15.
“We have to do what is right for the kids.” – Mayor Felix Roque
At the June 30 Board of Education meeting, Passante was elected vice-president of the board.
The appointments by former mayor Vega have been controversial since the May 16 school board meeting.
Passante is a former board president and formerly Vega’s chief of staff. Locatelli, whose current term on the board expired the week of the appointment, was reappointed for five years.
Vega also appointed Daniel Ortega to fill the unexpired seat of Angelica Jiminez, who did not seek reelection because she was running for a seat in the state Assembly. But Ortega was forced to resign in May for not meeting residency requirements that require someone to live in town for a year before taking office.
Christine Piscitelli, director of secondary education in Old Bridge Township, was appointed by Mayor Roque to replace him.
After Vega made those appointments, Roque’s allies made a move that allowed the new mayor to make two appointments of his own. On June 15, the West New York Board of Commissioners adopted an ordinance expanding the five-member school board to seven seats.
After that, Roque appointed two members. But the school board attorney did not allow those members to take their seats because, according to him, they were appointed too late in the year. The two members were Silvio Acosta and Adrienne Sires. Sires is the wife of Rep. Albio Sires.
They may take their posts at the reorganization meeting next May, but Roque disagrees with the year long wait and wants the members seated immediately.
What are both sides saying?
The day the petition was filed, Roque said, “We have to do what is right for the kids. I will not involve politics with the Board of Education. It’s about teaching the kids.”
According to Demarco, the mayor’s challenge will be reviewed by the state Commissioner of Education, who may render a decision on the Passante and Locatelli appointments, or send it to an administrative law judge to decide.
Locatelli served on the Board of Education in the late 1970s and rejoined the board in 2009, so he is no stranger to the political atmosphere of West New York. He previously worked as a West New York judge, prosecutor, county freeholder, and for many years was an attorney with a local practice.
Locatelli said last week that he could not talk about the mayor’s petition, but said the best interests of the students are more important than anything else. He said his qualifications to sit on the board are supported by his years in the community as a school board member and public servant.
He said that the Board of Education has been very active in the lives of the kids in the community. He said it is difficult to run the school board when political influence interferes with the board’s business, which he said he has witnessed recently.
Roque supporters have come to recent board meetings in large groups, mainly to protest Vega’s appointments.
Passante did not return phone calls to comment on matter.
Santo Sanabria may be reached at SSanabria@hudsonreporter.com.