Elizabeth BOE member absent for 7 consecutive meetings

Daniel Nina

ELIZABETH, NJ — A city school board member who pleaded guilty to charges of assault by auto and drunken driving has been absent from at least seven consecutive meetings since April.

Daniel Nina, a city firefighter, was arrested October 2017 in Linden after his car collided with another vehicle, authorities said. He was sentenced May 25 to three years of probation, a court official said.

Nina, 40, still holds his seat on the nine-member school board, said school district spokesman Patrick Politano. The board’s bylaws state that it may remove any member who fails to attend three consecutive meetings “without good cause.”

When asked if the board had voted on Nina’s membership, Politano said Nina has been a “valued member of the Board of Education and remains so.”
“As a public safety officer, Mr. Nina’s schedule understandably fluctuates,” Politano said in a statement, referring to Nina’s work as firefighter. “Questions related to Mr. Nina’s personal matters should be directed to him or his attorney.”

Nina was represented by Edward Kologi, an attorney from a law firm used by the school board for special outside counsel. While the practice of using a school board attorney in a personal matter is permissible by the board, Nina had to recuse himself from voting on any matters involving Kologi’s firm.

“He’s extremely contrite,” Kologi said in a phone interview. The driver of the car Nina struck in the incident was sent to the hospital after sustaining injuries, the extent of which were redacted from the original police report.

The injured driver had the opportunity to read a victim’s impact statement in court, Kologi said.
“He was very thankful she was seeking justice and not a pound of flesh,” Kologi said of Nina.

Overall, Nina has missed nine school board meetings this year. He missed two meetings in March, including an agenda-setting and business meeting, according to meeting minutes.

Between April 19 and June 9, he missed all special meetings, regularly scheduled meetings and a budget hearing, according to public records and the school board’s secretary. He was present at the most recent agenda meeting on June 11.

New Jersey School Board Association Deputy Executive Director Frank Belluscio said the state statute regarding absenteeism is the same as the local school board policy. The statue would also apply to all “legally constituted meetings of the board,” he said.

A school board makes a determination of “good cause” for missing more than three consecutive meetings, according to a 2014 NJSBA document from the organization’s legal department.

Kologi said he could not comment on his client’s employment status in the Elizabeth Fire Department. Nina did not respond to a request for comment when reached through an email listed on the school board website.

City spokeswoman Kelly Martins did not respond to three phone calls and an email regarding Nina’s employment. A person who answered the phone at the city fire department said employment status information could not be given out over the phone and referred LocalSource to Martins.
Fire Director Onofrio Vitullo also did not respond to an email regarding Nina. Two messages left for the city business administrator did not receive a response asking about Nina’s employment with the fire department.

Nina was originally charged with careless driving and driving while intoxicated in connection with his car collision last year. After pleading guilty, he lost his license for seven months, Kologi said. The careless driving charge was dismissed, Kologi said.

He was later charged with assault by auto since the driver of of the car he hit was transported to Trinitas Hospital for her injuries.
Nina joined the school board in 2016, and his campaign was backed by Mayor J. Christian Bollwage and former state Sen. Raymond Lesniak.

Christina Cunha, who plans to run for school board this year, called for Nina to step down or for board “to follow the law and their own bylaws.”
“Attending board meetings is one of the main responsibilities of being a board member regardless of your job outside of that elected position,” she said in a statement. “The only reason one should miss a meeting is if there is an emergency.”
Nina earned $88,640 annually as a firefighter, state records previously showed.