Blog for Highland Park

Welcome to the Blog for Highland Park, a weblog chronicling events in Highland Park, NJ from an alternative perspective to the often one-sided slant of the official borough newsletter.

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Location: Highland Park, New Jersey, United States

I am a freelance writer and community activist who has worked on many progressive and Democratic political campaigns over the last 25 plus years and a lifelong resident of Highland Park, NJ. I have a BA in Journalism from Rutgers University, an MA in Middle East Studies from Harvard University, and an MEd in English Education from Rutgers Graduate School of Education. An enthusiastic amateur astronomer, I have just completed Swinburne University Astronomy Online's Graduate Certificate of Science in astronomy and am pursuing a Masters of Science in astronomy at Swinburne. I am also an actress with experience in theatre and film and have written a full length play. I am currently working full time on a book "The Little Planet That Would Not Die: Pluto's Story."

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Budget Calls from Mayor's Firm Inappropriate

Municipalities such as Highland Park that have elected rather than appointed Boards of Education do so for a reason. That reason is to maintain a healthy separation between the political establishment in the town and the running of the town's school system. This separation allows a balance of power between the Governing Body and the Board of Education in which each is autonomous, and schools are not held hostage by politics through having to depend on the good graces of municipal elected officials.

Unlike our neighbors in New Brunswick, we here in Highland Park are fortunate enough to have an elected rather than an appointed school board.

This Tuesday, April 15, voters across the state will go to the polls to vote on proposed school budgets for the 2008-2009 academic year.

Here in Highland Park, a troubling development has occurred over the past several years in regard to school board elections. Specifically, that trend is the use of facilities in the mayor's energy consulting firm, Gabel Associates, as a call center from which volunteers have conducted phone canvassing on behalf of the school budget.

I emphasize here that this is not a statement against the school budget. It is a statement that use of facilities owned by the mayor to make phone calls regarding the budget constitutes a conflict of interest.

When residents overburdened by our high property tax rates have complained to the mayor about their inability to afford living here anymore, the mayor's most frequent response has been to blame our high taxes on the schools rather than on the municipal budget. This response conveys the notion that, as should be, the school budget is operated independently of the mayor and council.

The donation of the mayor's business facility for calls supporting the budget make her above response highly disingenuous. She is not the neutral party she wants people to believe. Giving use of a facility to a campaign as a call center constitutes an in-kind donation that must be reported to the state Election Law Enforcement Committee (ELEC). It is the equivalent of the mayor donating money to canvass voters on behalf of the budget.

None of this is against the law unless the donation is not reported to ELEC as required. However, it can legitimately be viewed as inappropriate political involvement by the mayor in the business of the schools, which is supposed to be independent of the Governing Body. It is also an insult to those taxpayers because she assigns blame for our high taxes to the schools while at the same time donating her own property to actively support those taxes.

Our children deserve the best education possible, and all voters should support our school system. At the same time, the mayor should respect the system designed to deliberately create a healthy distance between the Governing Body and the Board of Education and should at least publicly maintain a healthy neutrality on this issue.

By all means, go out and vote on April 15. But if you receive a canvassing call from Gabel Associates, take the chance to inform the person on the other end about the concept of conflict of interest.