UPDATE: Mayor responds to Anne Mernin’s resignation from BOE
By ERIN ROLL
Anne Mernin has resigned from the Montclair Board of Education.
Mernin said she was doing so for her family and child’s well-being, after an anonymous email was circulated among the community accusing Mernin of corruption and of not meeting the residency requirements for a BOE member.
Mernin announced her resignation during the Wednesday, Jan. 8, BOE meeting at the George Inness Annex.
“As a parent, I have no choice,” said Mernin, who denounced the allegations as inaccurate and cruel.
The email, which was also sent to Mayor Robert Jackson, accused Mernin of not being eligible for BOE membership, allegedly on the basis of her living with her mother on a rent-free basis. The email also made references to Mernin’s child attending a private school in Bergen County, and accused Mernin of using her status as a BOE member to receive private school placement for her child.
“I’m sorry you’re going. I’m angry for you, I’m not angry at you,” said vice president Latifah Jannah. “I’m angry at what has happened to bring you to this decision.”
Jannah said that Montclair had just experienced a “rough” few days, referring to the criticism that followed anti-Semitic statements made by town civil rights leader James Harris. “And it lessens us.”
Jannah thanked Mernin for her work in the community. “It saddens me, but it angers me that it’s gotten to this point."
Mernin has been a member of the BOE since 2013. Outside of her work on the board, she is the executive director of Toni's Kitchen.
Mernin is the second board member in recent years to have their residency questioned. In 2018, Montclair resident David Herron filed a lawsuit, which was later dismissed, against the district alleging that then-vice president Franklin Turner did not meet the residency requirements. Turner resigned later that year.
Paying taxes is not a prerequisite for serving as a BOE member, said New Jersey School Board Association spokesperson Janet Bamford.
“For example, there are college students serving on local boards of education who do not own homes, and their living arrangements (e.g., residing with parents rent-free) do not preclude them from meeting the residency requirement,” Bamford said.
She also said that residency requirements can be fact-specific, and that the DOE has considered numerous forms of documentation for residency.
A BOE member has to live in the school district for at least one year prior to their election or appointment, and be a registered voter.
“Anne loves this community. She is the most selfless person I have ever met,” said board member Jessica de Koninck.
Montclair is searching for a full-time superintendent, de Koninck said. “Who the heck is going to want to come here when this kind of stuff is going on? I sure wouldn’t.”
Interim Superintendent Nathan Parker thanked Mernin for her service.
“You were one of those special reasons I’ve enjoyed my time here,” he said, and wished her well for the future. “I just want to say thank you, and Godspeed.”
Board president Eve Robinson also thanked Mernin for her service, and said the community needs to examine the public discourse that has been going on. “This is a very, very sad day, and I just want to say that we need to fix this dialogue."
The emails were signed only as "Whistleblower" or "LauraLyn."
On Friday, Mayor Robert Jackson issued a statement thanking Mernin for her work on the BOE and in the community. He also denounced the emails as the work of "an unkind and anything-but-gentle individual or cabal."
Jackson said he was made aware of the email's allegations on two occasions in 2019. The emails were forwarded, as required by law, to the BOE and to the township's legal department, Jackson said. "The allegations were investigated and proven to be without merit then and now," Jackson said.
Jackson also said that the revealing of information concerning Mernin's child and that child's educational status was a violation of federal law. "According to the Whistleblower, Anne's seeking what she believes to be the best educational strategy for her child is an abuse of power (as a Board of Education member) and a diversion of funds from minority students. I have two reactions: BOE members are not required to forfeit their parental responsibilities and Anne's child is African American."
Jackson also said that Mernin had notified him that she was planning to step down at the end of her current term, prior to the allegations. "How sad that she had to leave early to protect her family. How reprehensible that the right decision by Anne is the result of all the wrong reasons."