2012-03-01 / Front Page

O.B. board selects member from field of six candidates

Board votes 5-3 in favor of appointing local business owner Palehonki
Staff Writer

OLD BRIDGE — The Board of Education selected its newest member, township resident Mark Palehonki, on Feb. 21 amid some criticism about the proceedings that led to the appointment.

Palehonki, who ran unsuccessfully for a board seat in 2008, was appointed to fill the seat vacated by the late Ellen “Ellie” Mc- Dermott. The seat will be on the school election ballot in November.

Five residents in addition to Palehonki filed applications for the position: Kevin Borsilli, Linda Seiler, Isaac Crosson, Kathy Shortlidge-Toth and David Josselyn.

Before the vote, Seiler requested that the board allow all the candidates to present themselves to the public at the televised meeting.

Candidates had been invited to make brief statements about themselves during the board’s agenda meeting on Feb. 15, Seiler said, but they were not informed of this beforehand.

“I didn’t expect an interview,” she said.

Board members did not respond to Seiler’s request.

Board member Frank Weber moved that the board go into closed session to discuss “a potential conflict of interest” posed by one of the candidates, and after doing so briefly, they returned to their seats.

In voting on the appointment, board attorney Christopher Parton advised that the board would go through a roll call for each candidate in the order they filed applications. The first nominee to receive a simple majority of five votes would be appointed to the vacant seat, at which time the appointment process would end, he said.

The first candidate up was Borsilli. He received “yes” votes from four members — Weber, Matthew Sulikowski, Donna Andriani and Richard Dunn — and “no” votes from board President Eugene Donofrio, Vice President Annette Hopman, Andrew Gonzalez and Fred Colabella.

Next was Seiler, who received favorable votes from only two members, Sulikowski and Andriani.

Third was Palehonki. In the initial round of voting, Colabella, Gonzalez, Hopman and Donofrio came out in favor of Palehonki, with Andriani, Sulikowski and Weber voting “no” and Dunn taking a pass. After a tense moment of silence, Dunn gave the deciding “yes” vote, thus appointing Palehonki to fill the seat.

At that point, Parton ruled that the election was officially over, and the other three candidates were not voted on.

Standing with his wife, Patricia, at his side, Palehonki was then sworn in on the Bible by board Secretary Nancy Mongon.

The board’s newest member has been a resident of Old Bridge for over 30 years, and his two children are graduates of the Old Bridge Public School system — his son Joseph in 2000 and his daughter Taylor in 2009. Palehonki owns M.T.V. Driving School, located on Englishtown Road, and said he spends most of his days working with local high school students.

“I speak to them one on one, I speak with their parents,” he told the Suburban. “I have a handle on what people’s concerns are. ”

While his appointment only runs through November, Palehonki said he plans to run again for a full term.

“I’m looking forward to attending all the meetings and becoming more familiarized with how the board functions,” he said .

The vote on his appointment last week did not bring an end to discussion on the board’s deliberations. During the public comment session later in the meeting, Seiler went before the board to question the legitimacy of the closed session that immediately preceded the votes on the candidates.

“I am stating that I believe the executive session was illegal,” she said.

Parton assured Seiler and the public that the executive session was, in fact, legal and that further discussion of the subject would be unnecessary.

“We don’t need to get into a dramatic reading of the laws, as exciting as that would be,” he said.

Before the meeting’s end, Seiler came before the board for a third and final time.

“I protest the closing of the meeting,” she said, because it was not made known when the record of the board’s executive session would be made public as required by state statute. Parton said that the information would be made available when feasible, which satisfies the requirements put forth in said statute.

Seiler then informed the board and the public, “I put in my shoe who I thought it [the new board member] was going to be.” She proceeded to take off her shoe and extract a small folded piece of paper with Palehonki’s name.

“You got any numbers in your shoe I can play the lottery with?” joked Donofrio.

Contact Adam Joseph Drici at adrici@gmnews.com.

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