UNION, NJ – After vetting four candidates for a vacant seat, Union Board of Education members have chosen Jeffrey Monge to serve for the remainder of the year. Monge replaces Richard Galante, who abruptly resigned in June.
Monge will only serve until a new member is chosen by the voters in November who will then be sworn in shortly after Jan. 1, 2016. However, Monge is also one of 11 candidates running for one of three seats in the upcoming November election. There were also two candidates running for a fourth seat, that of the unexpired term of Galante, but multiple sources have reported that Giuliano Farina has dropped out, leaving Steven Le unopposed for the remainder of the unexpired term.
Monge was appointed to the position at a board of education meeting last week, but the appointment did not come without a small hiccup.
“It didn’t come without drama, of course,” Monge said while laughing slightly. “I walked into a kind of surprise.”
The surprise for Monge came when Board Member Thomas Layden, chairperson of the ad hoc committee formed to interview the candidates for the open seat, asked to speak, at which point he reportedly read a somewhat lengthy prepared statement hoping to table the appointment until a future date. The motion was seconded, discussed briefly, and then voted down by a 5-2 vote with one abstention.
According to council president David Arminio, who was also surprised by the attempt to table the issue, the reasoning behind the move was apparently out of concern on the part of Layden that it would create an unfair advantage for the person they appointed to also be running for a board seat in a few months.
“It would be political for a person who is filling an unexpired term to run for a three-year seat,” Arminio said when asked to sum up what Layden had said. “That this would give him undue exposure and be political in nature.”
Arminio went on to say that he found it interesting that Monge was chosen unanimously by the ad hoc committee, and then this measure was proposed at the final hour.
“I assumed as a group they would bring that forward to the board,” he said. “Everything seemed fine.”
Once the tabling of the matter was voted down, Arminio asked Layden, as the head of the ad hoc committee, to make his recommendation.
“Then I asked Mr. Layden, as the chairperson if the committee, to recommend Monge to be sworn in, and he did so. It was seconded and voted on and Jeff was approved by the board in a vote of 5-0 with 3 abstentions,” said Arminio.
Immediately after, Monge took the oath of office from the board secretary.
The search for the replacement took a somewhat bizarre turn last month when after some public pressure Arminio decided to hold the interviews in public, with the candidates being asked a set of questions in front on a public audience. Some residents raised concerns with the process, but ultimately it was touted as the most transparent means possible.
Three of the four candidates had been running for election to the board in November, including Monge, Le and Farina. Dagmara Maslanka, the fourth person interviewed for the position, is not running in November, and Farina has since dropped out of the race.
Layten, the chairperson of the committee who attempted to table the vote, is also up for reelection, as is Arminio. The rest of the candidates include current board member Guy Frances, Samuel Wright Jr., Sharnette Clarke, James Louis, Carl Cole Sr., Maria Sanagustin, Nancy Minneci and Mary Lynn Williams.
In an interview earlier this week with Monge about his appointment, he said he would like to be an advocate for students with special needs, and he would like to make sure the school is not wasting time and energy on the controversial PARCC testing, and he has been a very involved member of the community for many years.
Arminio actually mentioned seeing Monge at meetings very frequently.
“I am very happy with the selection,” Arminio said. “I’ve known Jeff for years only because he would come to board meetings as a citizen and he would speak against some of the resolutions that we passed. He was very critical. He is an independent thinker, and I’m in favor of that. I think he will be in favor of what is best for the kids and the entire district.”
Arminio also mentioned he was glad to have the full board back in action.
“I’m glad that it’s over and we can go forward with board business,” he said. “We will go forward with everything that needs to be done to make our district better.”
“I am going to try my hardest. I’ve been very active in the community as a parent advocate,” Monge said. “A lot of this stuff starts with what happens with my kids and it blossoms from there. I’m not a politician. I have a pretty successful business.
I’m doing this for my kids, other people’s kids, and for the town of Union. I don’t have political backers. I’m independent. The Board of Education has become very political in nature, and with a little nudge from my wife, I decided to put my hat in the ring and do it from the inside, not the outside.”