Adamson Takes Seat on Board of Ed, Wright & Lawson-Muhammad Start 2nd Terms

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On January 4, 2017, the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education welcomed its newest member Susie Adamson at it annual Reorganization Meeting.

Adamson was sworn in alongside returning colleagues Johanna Wright and Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad, both of whom are starting their second terms on the Board of Education.

There are nine seats on the Board. Three are up for election every year. Terms are for three years.

(Read Board 2nd Vice President Madhu Pai’s explanation of the role of Board of Education members here.)

During the meeting Board President Elizabeth Baker announced the annual appointments of Board members to committees and as liaisons with various community entities. Wright protested that she was unfairly denied the position of Chair of the FFT (Finance Facilities & Technology) Committee that she requested due to an alleged conflict of interest.

Wright’s conflict is that her daughter is an employee in the district and a union member. The Chair of FFT is involved in negotiating contracts with unions in the district.

Wright said she had researched the issue with the NJ School Board Association and that “there is no conflict.” Wright asked that the vote to approve the appointments be tabled. Her motion was not seconded.

Baker explained, “There is an effort to accommodate the interests as well as expertise as well as efforts” of all the board members in making the appointments as well as ” what needs to get done and with conflicts also in terms of contracts and collective bargaining.” Baker also said, “The goal of executive officers is also to collaborate, to be facilitators internally of communications within the Board because of the volume of work. All those factors played into my recommendations in terms of appointments.”

Wright then accused Baker of being in conflict, asserting that the Board President “worked for” Temco, a firm that the district contracts with to provide custodial services.

But Baker countered, “For the record, I’m not employed by Temco.” In fact, she noted, “I had employment relationships that could be seen as adversarial to Temco and other vendors and in those cases I recuse myself.”

Wright and Baker went back and forth a bit before Lawson-Muhammad interrupted to make a motion to end the discussion. Three fellow Board members quickly said, “Aye!”

The Board passed the appointments.

Later in the meeting, a representative of the NJ School Board Association led an Ethics for School Officials training session for the Board. During the training, the rep pointedly addressed the issue, saying, “With a relative [working in the district], in collective bargaining you cannot participate in any way. Not in conversations, not in negotiating, not in voting.”

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