This needs to be cleared up by the people there: did this meeting in fact take place? If so, was Cerf at the meeting? What was discussed given the title of the email?
The same week that Ward E City Councilman (and future mayoral contender) Steven Fulop had to explain more than $18,000 in campaign donations from a law firm with ties to Spectra Energy, an e-mail was leaked from the 2013 mayoral candidate's personal gmail account in which he invites an inner circle of school board members to what appears to be a secret meeting.If this is true, it is big, big news. Because, as ACTING Commissioner Cerf must know, it is unethical for just part of a school board to meet and discuss anything in secret, let alone meet with him (and maybe illegal - I'm not a lawyer, but the Sunshine laws seem pretty clear to me*) . Further, Cerf has said he wasn't at all involved in the hiring of the new Jersey City superintendent, Marcia Lyles, a fellow graduate of the Broad "Academy." And Lyles also says Cerf wasn't involved.
Sent under the subject heading "Cerf meeting," the May 2, 2011 e-mail from Fulop reads: "Please keep in confidence as always. We are meeting at 274 Arlington Ave. tomorrow (Tuesday) at 6 p.m. See you then."
According to one source, 274 Arlington Ave. was a vacant residential property at the time of the meeting. Chris Cerf is the acting commissioner of education for the state of New Jersey.
The e-mail was sent to Sterling Waterman, who at the time was president of the Jersey City Board of Education; Carol Lester, vice-president at the time of the meeting; Carol Harrison-Arnold and Marvin Adames, who had been elected to the board just days earlier, on April 27 - but had not been sworn in yet; Ellen Simon, founder of Parents for Progress; and Shelley Skinner, deputy director of Better Education for Kids, a school choice advocacy group. Fulop's e-mail was also sent to Leda Duif Shumbris, Mohamed Akil, and Tine Pahl. [emphasis mine]
Cerf met in a closed door session with the entire JC school board, but that's at least on the record. If what the Hudson Reporter is saying is true, this is just about as serious of a violation of ethics and maybe even the law as anyone could imagine.
And if this was orchestrated by Fulop, it likely spells the end for his campaign for Jersey City mayor. It's worth pointing out the Shelley Skinner was his former campaign manager, although it appears the two of them had a falling out. Who knows? Maybe something happened at the secret meeting, assuming it actually took place.
The timing of the e-mail and Arlington Avenue meeting are significant as they came just one week after Fulop-backed candidates won control of the Board of Education. These events also took place at a time when the Board of Education was gearing up to oust Dr. Charles Epps as the superintendent of schools and conduct a national search for his successor.Well, sure - who uses the phone these days?
School board members Suzanne Mack, Angel Valentin, and Sean Connors were not invited to the meeting.
Ever since the board majority voted last month to hire Dr. Marcia Lyles as the new superintendent Fulop has tried to deflect criticism that he worked in concert with Cerf and his staff to remove Epps and install Lyles in his place.
Last month Fulop told the Reporter that the school board is independent and he does not communicate with the trustees on a regular basis.
"Anyone who wants access to my phone records can have them with regards to this board and see I don't talk to them regularly," Fulop stated.
Look, I am in no position to confirm this story or not. But the Hudson Reporter is considered a legitimate, albeit local, news source.
I am very, very anxious to hear if ACTING Commissioner Cerf has anything to say about this at his hearing. This could get really ugly really fast; hold tight and stand by.
ADDING: A commenter at Blue Jersey makes a point: "Cerf meeting" does not necessarily mean Cerf was there. That's possible, but to my mind, highly unlikely.
* ADDING MORE: I'm trying to talk to people who know about this stuff. You can apparently meet in private with people from your group if there isn't a quorum. Two members on the email distribution were not yet sworn in, so that wouldn't be a quorum technically.
I don't know how this also relates to the fact that the state has partial control of the JC schools.
What has to happen here is clear: the folks on this email need to tell us whether the meeting took place. If it did, Cerf needs to tell us whether he was there. There needs to be an accounting of what was discussed, especially the then-current superintendent.
Again, I'm no lawyer: maybe this really was a legal meeting (if it really took place). But even if it was allowed, it still stinks.