Montague recall effort was ill-fated from the start

Montague recall effort was ill-fated from the start

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By ERIC OBERNAUER

eobernauer@njherald.com

MONTAGUE -- The abortive effort to recall Board of Education President Beverly Borrego was destined from the start to fail as a result of several miscues that sealed the fate of the effort even before the signature-gathering began, a veteran of several recall campaigns said Thursday.

Sparta resident Jesse Wolosky, who was involved in a recall campaign in that township several years ago and has since advised more than a dozen such efforts statewide, said the sponsors made a serious mistake by attempting to hold the recall vote in conjunction with the November election. That decision, he said, left the organizers 12 days in which to collect signatures from more than 600 registered township voters, the minimum needed in accordance with the law requiring signatures from at least 25 percent of those registered to vote in Montague.

That ill-advised decision, he said, was compounded by numerous other slip-ups that betrayed a lack of familiarity with the process. The final nail in the coffin, Wolosky said, came when the sponsors failed to turn in all sections of their signed petition at the same time, as the law requires, thus assuring that the entire effort was dead on arrival.

Wolosky, who has advised recall efforts in several Sussex County towns including Frankford, Hopatcong, and Stillwater as well as in Morris and Bergen counties and in Trenton, said he would have gladly considered helping the sponsors of the Montague recall effort or the school board member being recalled -- in this case, Borrego -- if either had asked him.

But although his assistance was recommended to them by a prominent Sussex County attorney they contacted, the sponsors of the Montague recall campaign ultimately decided to go it alone. Wolosky said he remains confident he could have helped them navigate the process and avoid its various pitfalls if they had turned to him.

"I'm not on anybody's side," Wolosky said. "The process is unfamiliar to most people, and I just try to aid them in the process of the recall effort."

The recall campaign, which was initiated late last month after the Montague school board voted 4-2 to enter into a send-receive agreement with High Point Regional High School, reportedly succeeded in garnering more than 600 signatures in three weeks' time.

But by handing in a batch of 512 signatures on the Aug. 14 deadline and then attempting, in defiance of that deadline, to hand in 100 more a week later -- an attempt that was properly denied by school officials -- the sponsors effectively missed the deadline and violated the requirement that they present their entire signed petition in a complete package.

And that, said Wolosky, was one of several fatal errors the sponsors made -- a conclusion he reached after obtaining the paperwork filed by the sponsors through an Open Public Records Act request he made on Aug. 12.

Among the other defects identified by Wolosky were the lack of a statement on the sponsors' original notice of intention certifying that they "support the recall of the named official and accept the responsibilities associated with serving on the recall committee," as required by statute.

The petition forms, he said, also included no mention of whether the circulators were being paid for their efforts, as required.

Additionally, the petition forms included on only the last page -- instead of on each page, as required -- a notarized, signed statement by the circulators attesting to the fact that they witnessed each of the signatures obtained. The petition also was supposed to have included at the top of each page a statement, in bold letters, explaining its purpose and naming the official whose recall was being sought.

Because the sponsors failed to include a statement on their petition justifying their reasons for the recall campaign, they were also required by law to include a statement on the petition explaining that the official being recalled -- in this case, Borrego -- was not entitled to have a statement in her defense included on the petition. For her part, Borrego had expressed disappointment several weeks ago over that very point.

Still, even if the sponsors had collected the required number signatures by the filing deadline, any one of these defects could have been grounds for overturning the recall effort in court.

Wolosky said that after having his OPRA request fulfilled on Aug. 16, he contacted School Business Administrator John Waycie -- who, by law, was the official in charge of overseeing the recall process -- and explained to him why the original notice of intention that started the process never should have been accepted in the first place. An attempt to reach Waycie by phone Thursday was unsuccessful.

But John Mannion, who one of three sponsors of the effort along with Paul Brislin and Betsy Reinhardt, said he considered the recall effort alone a moral victory of sorts.

"The bear has been awakened, and the bear is the voters and taxpayers of Montague," he said. "We have opened their eyes."

Although an elected member of the Township Committee, Brislin had said previously that his involvement in the recall effort was strictly that of a private citizen and did not imply the Township Committee's official endorsement. Reinhardt, the third member of the recall committee, is herself a former school board member of nine years, having served from 1979 to 1988.

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