Monday, August 22, 2016

BOE Special Voting Meeting - August 17, 2016: Selection of Middletown BOE Member Was a Farce

There was a special voting meeting of the Middletown Board of Education (BOE) last Wednesday night, where the order of business was to select a new member of the board, to fill the unexpired term of Board member Helene Henkel. Henkel stepped down from the board for personal reasons last month. Out of a dozen candidates to fill the position, ten of which were present to be interviewed, the BOE settled on Andy Nicholes. Nicholes, some may recall, ran unsuccessfully last year for a seat on the BOE. He teamed up with Board President Jim Cody, but came in 5th (there were 3 seats available). Nicholes’s selection raised a few eyebrows Wednesday night.

There are some, myself included, that believe Andy Nicoles had be given the interview questions prior to the selection process, to ensure that he’d have an upper hand during the interview for Henkel’s seat.

Three questions were asked of each candidate; what do you think your role as a Board member is? What do you think you can contribute as a Board member? And, what do you think is the biggest problem with the Middletown school system?

Each candidate was given an opportunity at an opening statement or comment to introduce themselves to the board members, followed by each candidate being asked the same 3 questions by Board President Jim Cody. There were no probing or follow-up questions to any of the candidates answers from any the board members present; I found out afterwards, follow-up or others questions from sitting board members were not allowed by Cody and that each interview had a 10 minute (or less) time limit.

As the interviews progressed throughout the meeting, it was pretty obvious that Andy Nicholes, who had the opportunity to be interviewed 3rd, had been given the questions early. Unlike those that went before or after, Nicholes had an extensive and well prepared opening statement, that he had taken out of a folder and read as if a script. The answers to his first two questions were pre-prepared and also read (with apparent bullet points) from a piece of paper. Only his last answer, which seemed well thought out, appeared to be off the cuff. Watch the video below, Nicholes questioning begins at the 11:54 mark and finishes at 17:29.

No other candidate was as prepared for the process like Nicholes was. Sure, as the night’s proceedings progressed, the answers from the others being interviewed became more thought out and detailed. I attribute that however, to the fact that the same 3 questions were being asked and they had time to take in what was being said by others to formulate their ideas and give some very good answers.

In my opinion, those that stood out during the selection process and should have been given better preference over Nicholes were in no particular order, Robin Stella, who was the first to be interviewed, John Little, Scott McPherson, Peter Memon and Keshia Guthrie. All have professional backgrounds and had ideas to move the district forward.

Andy Nicholes’s selection to fill Henkel’s seat on the BOE was a farce and looks like a good ol’ boy appointment that could lead to some issues going forward; there are reasons why he came in 5th last November.

Nicholes is a teacher who works in the Parsippany-Troy Hills School District. There will be numerous votes that take place which he’d be prohibited from voting on such as, union and pension issues and possible tenure or other personnel issues. Superficially but no less important to some, Andy Nicholes doesn’t own a home in Middletown (last I’ve heard, he lives with his parents in Leonardo) and unlike others, he has no children attending school in the district.

I don't know if Andy Nicholes will turn out to be a good member of the Middletown Board of Education or not. I've watched the video of the meeting and feel that better choices were available. I do know however, that the dynamics of the BOE isn't likely to change with his appointment.

You can read more about the controversy of Nicholes's appointment to the Middletown Board of Education on the Facebook page MIDDLETOWN New Jersey.


Anonymous said...

I have known Andy for about 10 years as a member of Brevent Park FC in Leonardo. During that time I have watched Andy coaching the foot ball team (south) and becoming president of Brevent- I am sure he will but the same energy in his new seat as he did as coach -fire company and every thing he gets involved with- give the guy a chance --your pick did not get in - Give Andy time to prove himself.

Anonymous said...

If someone on the BOE gave him the questions beforehand, and it appears someone did, and this guy wasn’t bright enough to at least try to make it seem as if he was hearing them for the first time, all I have to say to the person who gave him the questions is be careful what you wish for and good luck, you have your work cut out for you.

Mike, please explain why a teacher from Troy Hills will not be allowed to vote on certain issues in a completely different school district.

Michael Morris said...

He may not be prohibited to vote but it would be unethical for him to do so. He is a teacher's union member and and could compromise his standing in the union or that of teachers in Middletown with possible votes.

I would expect he would need to abstain in many issues that come up for a vote due to conflicts of interest.

Anonymous said...

“He may not be prohibited to vote but it would be unethical for him to do so.”

So first it was “prohibited” now it is “unethical”. Fact is, it is neither Mike.

He is not a teacher in this district, he does not belong to the union in this district and the BOE does not vote on NJEA policy. There may be other reasons for him to abstain, but none that you mention.

Let me give you an example of what a conflict of interest and an unethical vote looks like. If you had been paying attention, you (or anyone) would have seen Joan Minnuies be the only board member who voted not to hire a teacher who would have been likely to replace her daughter as a sports coach in the district. An applicant went through the extensive interview process and was selected by a committee. A process which includes the applicant being interviewed multiple times and presenting a lesson plan to the committee. An interview committee would typically include administrators from the school, a central office administrator, teachers and parents. Board members may attend the interviews and observe but they may not participate in the process. The committee collectively decided on the best candidate among all the applicants. The superintendent accepted the recommendation of the committee and put this person on the agenda to be hired.

The only member of the BOE who voted not to hire the teacher was Joan Minnuies because she didn’t want her daughter to lose her coaching job. Joan should have abstained from voting on this hire because it directly impacted her daughter’s employment in the district. But she didn’t which is really mysterious for someone who routinely abstains from voting without providing any reason whatsoever.

Why does she routinely abstain from voting? Because she doesn’t want to disappoint her voting base and be seen as supporting the administration.

Joan Minnuies was the only BOE member not to vote to approve Dr. George’s contract. Again she abstained from voting. What possible conflict could there be for Joan to vote on the contract of the superintendent? She had no problem voting to hire him initially so it can’t be a conflict of interest. (and we have seen that doesn’t stop her from voting anyway) The superintendent is the ONLY person that the BOE is responsible for selecting and hiring, everyone else must be recommended by the superintendent after going through the interview process. Yet Joan abstained from doing her job. Why don’t the other board members hold her feet to the fire when she constantly abstains and ask her to provide a reason?

People need to wake up. I applaud you Mike for watching the video of the BOE meeting and reporting on it. Keep paying attention. The BOE has been flying under the radar for far too long.

Who knows? Maybe you might even try attending a meeting and participating. Like perhaps tonight.

Anonymous said...

Joan Minnuies is and has always been one of Middletown's great embarrassments. Only cares about her say and power. Piss poor body language evey single meeting. Disgraceful.

Anonymous said...

While Mike makes some fair points, this article is widely without founding and badly misses the mark. Yes, it is a fair swipe at the Board of Education for having the power to vote on its own members when one resigns. That should be changed. However, the attack on the selection of Andy Nicholes is shortsighted and wrong. First, Mike is far off base with regards to Mr. Nicholes qualifications. He was a student in the district from elementary school through high school and went on to do custodial work, substitute teach, and volunteer his time with the football coaching staff. He holds a bachelors and has a graduate degree earned while studying abroad. He is now a full-time teacher in North Jersey. Mr. Nicholes ran for Board of Ed in 2015 finishing 5th out of 8 candidates in his first ever race, losing by only a few hundred votes, closer to 3rd than last. I guess Mike forgot to mention these details. Additionally, he is the President of the Brevent Park Volunteer Fire Department after several years of service. If one of these other potential candidates mentioned in the article, who I never heard of despite living in Middletown for 20+ years, were more qualified than Mr. Nicholes then they must really be something special. I am sure they are capable people, but I find it hard to believe their qualifications are superior.

Instead of leaving it there, the articles goes on to make accusations and personal swipes at Mr. Nicholes. The suggestion that there was some impropriety regarding the questions asked of the candidates is wild accusations without fact. If I were Mr. Nicholes, I would be consulting with my legal counsel. The questions asked to the potential board members are so generic, how could any candidate not be prepared for them? “What do you think you can contribute as a Board Member?” “What do you think your role as a board member is?” Oh gee, didn’t see those coming! If a candidate was not prepared for those basic, banal questions then they should not be there in the first place.

Next Mike decides to make it personal with Mr. Nicholes by suggesting that he is somehow unqualified because he “lives with his parents” and “doesn’t have children”. Ridiculous! As if either thing renders him incapable of making decisions for the good of the district. Maybe Mike does not know that in 2014 slightly more adults between the ages of 18-34 live with their parents than live on their own. (I refer you here: Maybe instead of the old stigma that somehow a person living at home is a bum, we realize that it makes a whole lot of fiscal sense, and just perhaps, Mr. Nicholes has a good relationship with his family. Full disclosure, I live with my parents when I am actually in town and not traveling for my business that has over $4 million per year in revenue. So maybe we don’t judge books by their cover? But Mike says, Mr. Nicholes does not have children. Is it not a good thing to have different perspectives on the board? For as long as I can remember, the Middletown Board of Education has been full of self-serving parents looking out for their own interests. It will be refreshing to have a member without such bias.

I suppose in today’s era of “gotcha” journalism where anyone can sit behind a keyboard and have an opinion, it is easy to paint a false portrayal. But the facts are quite clear that Mr. Nicholes is a more than qualified Board of Education member and someone who is likely to prove very capable at the task.

Anonymous said...

Oh Mike, this is what always happens in corrupt Middletown. First, make friends in the right places and perhaps manufacture some drama. Second, run for the Board of Ed. Third, get rejected by voters at the polls. Fourth, wait till a board member has to resign and get put in their place "temporarily". Fifth, when the next election comes along, put your name on the ballot and saturate the township with political signs. Presto! You are then elected by the same township that rejected you before because newbies in town perceive an incumbent as having the stamp of approval (it is almost always an advantage). Look at history, this is what they do. This is what they will always do.

It's just Chinatown, Jake.