Budget Calls from Mayor's Firm Inappropriate
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.