Municipal Weather: Shady With Remote Chance of Sunshine

The last meeting of both the Municipal Council and the Board of Education has shown just how much transparency is a buzzword, without much meaning, to many elected to public office.

The Council

At the December 12th meeting of the Teaneck Council, Councilwoman Goldberg made a motion to appoint co-chairs of the PPRAB. In response, the following conversation appears to indicate that open session (public) items have not only been discussed in closed session but decisions were made in closed session for open session items, in violation of the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA):

Discussion from the December 12th Open session meeting:

You can watch the entire meeting here:

The conversation below starts at approximately 1:15:26

Deputy Mayor Gee: “Mr. Mayor, I’m doing all the personnel nominations, I’m not sure why she [Councilwoman Goldberg] did that.”

CW Belcher: “The discussion is, I thought in closed session, we said that Deputy Mayor Gee was going to put forth the nominations, so I don’t know why Councilwoman Goldberg is usurping that intent. That was clearly stated during closed session.”

After Mayor Pagan re-affirmed a valid motion was made Councilwoman Goldberg and seconded by Councilman Schwartz, the following comment was stated:

CW Belcher: “She made a motion, but she realizes that during closed session, Deputy Mayor Gee who is overseeing personnel, [at this point, Mayor Pagan questions “Are we even allowed to talk about what we discuss in closes session, in public?“] this is… well, I mean I think we just should, ought to, because certainly, the public needs to know and we shouldn’t… I simply said that during closed session, all of us heard that Deputy Mayor Gee was to put forward the nominations. So I don’t understand why Councilwoman Goldberg is taking it upon herself to change that.”

After an attempt to “amend” the motion, which failed with only Gee and Belcher in support, the following conversation took place:

CW Belcher: “I want you guys to know the backstory. Because, you know what, it’s time that we stop talking in closed session and talk in front of you. It’s time because these games can’t continue. The best disinfectant is light. That’s the best disinfectant is light. So we are going to shine the light, despite the fact that those do not want it to happen.”

If the statements made by Deputy Mayor Gee and CW Belcher, as indicated above are true and accurate, the evidence would appear to be beyond a doubt that they have violated the Open Public Meetings Act.

As Councilmembers are no doubt aware, NJSA 10:4-12 requires “all meetings of public bodies shall be open to the public at all times”, unless there’s an exception found in section B.
1) Did a conversation take place in closed session as Gee and Belcher described in the public meeting on December 12th?
2) If such conversation was properly within the exception found in N JSA 10:4-12(b), was there a vote to permit Council to discuss this topic in an open session?
3) If such a conversation was not properly held in closed session, will Councilmembers Gee and Belcher apologize to the public for the lack of transparency (a key part of the RISE slate’s bid during the election) and affirm that they will not violate the Open Public Meetings Act going forward?

These are unsettling allegations and if confirmed, would constitute an attack on the right of the public to know the actions our representatives are taking and deprive the public of their statutory opportunity to respond to actions taken in public.

I asked both DM Gee and CW Beklcher if they had a comment regarding this alleged breach of law and protocol.  I requested that they please respond via email no later than 5pm on December 21st, and I would include any statements, in full, with my post.  No response was received.

The Board of Education

The Board of Education held its last Regular meeting on December 13th.  At no point were there indications that an emergency issue was apparent to the district.

Nevertheless, a Special Meeting was called for December 21st.  The Public Notice had one word to describe the reason for the meeting: “PERSONNEL”.

The Law requires “Adequate notice”, which means written advance notice of at least 48 hours, giving the time, date, location and, to the extent known, the agenda of any regular, special or rescheduled meeting, which notice shall accurately state whether formal action may or may not be taken.

We now know that the meeting had two personnel issues being discussed:

  1. The removal of Pedro Valdes as Principal of Teaneck High School
  2. The transfer of Piero LoGiudice from Whittier Elementary School to Teaneck High School.

We also know that Mr. Valdes requested that any Personnel discussion be held in Public Session (i.e. not in Executive Session).

Whenever a Board will be discussing the employment of a staff member, and there are possible ramifications to their employment in the district, the Board must send what’s called a RICE Notice to the employee.  The notice indicates that they will be discussed at a meeting and offers them an opportunity to request, in writing, that the discussion take place in the open, public session instead of the executive session.

Teaneck Board of Education Policy 0162

The rule is also mentioned in Policy 0162, which states:

The Board will provide notice to the affected person that will include the date and time of the closed session meeting, the subject or subjects scheduled for discussion at the closed session meeting, and the right of the affected person to request that the discussions be conducted at a public meeting.  Such notice will be given no less than forty-eight hours in advance of the closed session meeting.

A written request for public discussion must be submitted to the Board Secretary prior to the commencement of the meeting.  Any such properly submitted request will be granted.  In the event that one or more, but fewer than all, of a group of persons whose employment will be discussed request a public meeting, the discussion regarding the person or persons who have submitted the request will be severed from the rest and will be conducted publicly.

A discussion held in public by reason of the written request of an individual will be conducted at a regularly scheduled meeting for which annual notice has been given or at a meeting for which adequate public notice has been given in accordance with law.

As stated by Board Counsel Phil Stern, one individual requested “public discussion”.

The BLANK Agenda

If a request to have a public discussion:

  1. “must be submitted to the Board Secretary prior to the commencement of the meeting”
  2. “will be granted” and
  3. “the discussion “will be conducted publicly”

Why was the public not provided any notice of such a conversation (see agenda below)?

Why was the agenda blank?

The Board of Education has listed matters on prior agendas, with topics to be discussed regarding Personnel and / or Executive Session topics.  Why did they not include those items here?

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Excluding Information From the Public

We now know that two actions were happening.  Namely, the removal of Mr. Pedro Valdes from THS and the transfer of Piero LoGiudice from Whittier to the High School.

Since one requested an open hearing and one requested a closed session hearing, the board SHOULD HAVE discussed the reasons for removing Mr. Valdes in public (providing a foundation as to why there would be a vacancy in the position of principal at THS) and then followed with an Executive Session discussion as to why they should move Mr. LoGiudice.

Then, when they came into public session (following the Executive Session), both discussions would have taken place and action could have been proposed.

But that didn’t happen.

Instead, the Board went into Executive Session immediately, presumably to discuss Mr. LoGiudice (as they were prevented by law and procedure from discussing Mr. Valdes in closed session)

Then, they came to open session and read a resolution making the two transfers.  This puts the cart before the horse.

If there’s no basis to remove the principal (yet) in the discussion, why did they have a discussion as to who should replace the Principal at THS?

Question: what reason was provided in closed session for upsetting the balance of two schools in our district, when discussion of the Principal of THS wasn’t permitted?

They either impermissibly held a discussion or moved a motion without any basis.

Reducing Public Comment

For anyone who has attended Board of Education meetings, the length of the meeting is rarely dictated by topics on the agenda, as much as how many people wish to address the board from the public.  A meeting for which no one or a few members of the public wish to speak will likely end at a reasonable hour.  When there’s a controversial topic, more people wish to speak.


2. Each statement made by a participant shall be limited to (not less than three) 3 minutes’ duration;

Nevertheless, the Board voted (5-3) to reduce public comment during this Special Public Meeting to two minutes per person.  They also stated that 1 hour would suffice for good and welfare.

Since many in the district have mathematics issues, I’ll run through some numbers here:

3 minutes per person = 20 comments in an hour

2 minutes per person = 30 comments in an hour

Allowing 30 people to speak for 3 minutes = 1.5 hours

The change, which disrupted many with comments prepared under the longstanding rule, was ostensibly made to allow more people to speak.

Excluding the Executive Session, the board meeting on December 21, 2023 took 1 hour and 46 minutes.

Contrast that with meetings such as:

  • December 13 (3h 06m)
  • November 15 (2h 04m)
  • November 8 (2h 18m)
  • October 18 (3h 13m)
  • September 20 (2h 48m)
  • September 13 (2h 18m)

The Board could have kept the public comment to 3 min per person AND doubled the number of speakers, while still being within the normal length of their meetings.

All they have succeeded in doing is showing contempt for the public.

Will the public care to notice?

2023-12-21_Special Public Meeting Agenda