Union Board of Education election row creeps onto Internet

UNION, NJ — Words matter and apparently so do names, when it comes to school board brands, slogans and elections.
A Union Board of Education faction is crying foul after learning of a web address that’s strikingly similar to its own. Moreover, the similar web address redirects visitors to the opposition’s Facebook page.

Parents for Change, a faction of the BOE that supports incumbents Ronnie McDowell, Nancy Zuena and Vito Nufrio, has a website registered as “unionpfc.com.”

However, anyone who visits “unionpfc.org” will automatically be redirected to the Facebook page of the opposing faction running in the upcoming BOE election — the Children First Coalition. Linda Richardson, Michelle Schulz and Sherry Higgins are supported by the coalition.

In a press release published to its website last month, Parents for Change said registering such a similar web address is a “direct effort” to “deceive the community into believing that Parents for Change and the Children First Coalition are one and the same.”
Online public records show that Sal Terrezza, a township employee, registered the unionpfc.org web address in April. Terrezza is the station manager for the Union TV34 cable station.

“I do own the site, as a matter of fact I own a few sites, but far from trying to have anyone think they are the same groups I hope to ensure people understand the significant differences between them,” Terrezza wrote in an email to LocalSource. “As a taxpayer and resident in our township, I have the right to participate in the process and I hope all voters in Union review the candidates running and make an educated choice.”

When asked, Terrezza would not say who he supports in the November BOE election. Steven Le, who recently dropped out of the race and now serves as the campaign chairman for the Children First Coalition, denied the coalition has any relationship with Terrezza and the .org domain.

“There was never an authorization from the Children First Coalition to register the unionpfc.org web address,” Le said in a recent email. “Furthermore, there is no formal relationship between Mr. Terrezza and the Coalition. Parents for Change is desperate to assert claims with zero proof and evidence to distract the public from their record of school mismanagement.”

Registering websites that phonetically sound or appear similar to other corporate trademarks has become a larger issue as the internet expands. The federal Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act was enacted in 1999 to curtail people from doing just that.

But that law may not apply in this situation, said Bennet Kelley, a lawyer with the California-based Internet Law Center. He said the Anti-Cybersquatting Act only deals with trademarks, and not free speech.

“That’s protecting a trademark and being used for someone trying to profit,” Kelley said in a phone interview Sept. 28, referring to the federal regulation. “Here, they’re not trying to profit, they’re trying to make a political point. So that’s different.”
Paul Casey, one of the founders of Parents for Change, told LocalSource that his faction had not asked anyone at the Children First Coalition to remove the similar website, unionpfc.org.

“There have been previous situations that PFC has had with Children First where we have approached them to no avail,” Casey said in an email. “This [website] was purchased with an intention to deceive and, based on previous experience, we did not reach out.”

Le said no one from the Children First Coalition has asked Terrezza to remove the web address.

“Because there’s no formal relationship between the Coalition and Mr. Terrezza, we cannot force Mr. Terrezza to reverse his own private, independent actions,” Le said. “But more importantly, we’re not interested in entertaining in this kind of silly drama that Parents for Change thrives on. We’re engaged and focused on building a better future for the children.”