Complaint alleges BOE member Franklin Turner does not meet residency requirements
By ERIN ROLL
A Montclair resident filed a complaint with the state on Friday alleging Montclair Board of Education member Franklin Turner does not meet the residency requirements for a board member.
In the complaint, filed with the state education commissioner on May 18, resident David Herron alleges Turner does not meet the board’s residency requirements and is therefore ineligible to serve, as well as vote, on the board. The complaint requests Turner’s removal from the board.
According to an Essex County deed, Turner sold his Upper Mountain Avenue property in September 2017. He is not listed as an owner for any other property in Montclair.
Under New Jersey state law, a BOE member must be a citizen and resident of the district, and must have been for at least one year immediately preceding his or her appointment or election. BOE members must also be registered to vote, and not be disqualified as a voter.
The BOE’s own policy states when a board member ceases to be a "bona fide resident of the district, their membership shall cease." However, the policy does not specifically set residency criteria for BOE members.
Turner listed his family’s former address on Upper Mountain Avenue as his legal address when he was first appointed to the board in 2016 by the mayor, but the complaint alleges he did not actually reside there. It further states Turner did not maintain a permanent Montclair address.
A State of New Jersey Seller’s Residency Certification Form from September 2017 referred to in the complaint, lists Turner's address as 41 Watchung Plaza, #110, Montclair, New Jersey 08812, which is a UPS mail and post office box service store. The complaint notes that 08812 is not a Montclair zip code.
In a voter registry dated October 2017, Turner uses the Upper Mountain Avenue address.
Another document included in the complaint states Turner's address registered with the BOE as a Myrtle Avenue residence, owned by friends.
Herron said he had reached out to the BOE on several occasions regarding Turner’s residency, and that he was not satisfied with their response. The complaint includes four pieces of correspondence sent to the district, including an email to then-Interim Superintendent Barbara Pinsak, Board President Laura Hertzog and Mayor Robert Jackson on March 27, a letter to Hertzog on May 11, an email to Isabel Machado, the district’s attorney, on May 1, and an email sent to the entire BOE on May 11.
On May 14, Hertzog replied “kindly note that the Montclair Board of Education does not have the jurisdiction over board member qualifications, including residency."
The BOE office was forwarded the complaint late Friday afternoon.
In a statement provided to the Montclair Local on Saturday, Hertzog said, "Dr. Turner has stated publicly and on multiple occasions that he is a Montclair resident. The district is in receipt of a copy of the complaint from Mr. Herron addressed to the Commissioner of Education challenging Dr. Turner’s residency. Because the board is not a party to this complaint, no further comment is warranted. The board continues to focus on the important work of providing an excellent public education for all of Montclair's children."
Superintendent Kendra Johnson did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.
Turner did not return requests for comment on Saturday. However, he did make a statement addressing the allegations during the May 16 BOE meeting.
In that statement, Turner described a recent discussion between himself and an unidentified reporter. “The first question that was asked of me was, do I live in Montclair. The answer was yes.” He continued, “The statement I gave was, I will not answer any more questions about my residency, I will not legitimize this interview or the allegations.” The reporter asked him to provide documentation of his residency, he said. “My response was, if I provide proof of my residency, does that mean you’re not going to run the article? So if I prove that if I’m a resident of Montclair, that proves that the allegations aren’t true?”
Two audience members voiced their support of Turner during the meeting.
“I just wanted to tell you, Mr. Turner, that I definitely agree with you, in not dignifying certain allegations with a response,” said Petal Robertson, the president of the Montclair Education Association.
Parent June Raegner compared the questions over Turner's residency to that of Barack Obama and the controversy with his birth certificate.
“I think this country witnessed many years of inappropriate requests to see our former president’s birth certificate. And I’m sorry, but this is what it sounds like. And I’m sorry, and it’s really disappointing,” said Raegner.