The Department of Education has denied Montclair Board of Education’s request to excuse itself from a complaint filed against BOE member Franklin Turner by a resident challenging his residency status.

Franklin Turner
Franklin Turner

In response to a May 31 request by the BOE, on June 7 the Bureau of Controversies and Disputes sent a letter to the BOE attorney stating the board cannot have itself removed as a party to a complaint challenging the eligibility of Turner to serve as a board member over his residency status, according to a letter obtained by Montclair Local.

In May, resident David Herron filed a complaint with the state alleging Turner did not meet the residency requirements to be a Montclair BOE member and also questioned the eligibility of his voting status during his tenure. The complaint requests Turner’s removal from the board.

READ: Resident files complaint questioning BOE member's residency status

The complaint alleged that Turner did not live at the address that he had listed for voter registration purposes, and that he had not maintained continuous legal residency in Montclair. His family home in Montclair was sold in September 2017. Turner at one point listed a Montclair PO box as his address. His most recent address registered with the BOE is a Myrtle Avenue residence, owned by friends.

On May 31, the BOE requested its removal from the suit.

“In light of the fact that the petition of appeal involves a challenge to the residency status of a Montclair Board of Education member, the board is an interested entity ‘who will be substantially, specifically and directly affected by the outcome of [the] controversy,” writes Samantha Price, director of the DOE’s Bureau of Controversies and Disputes. “Therefore it is appropriate for the board to be included as a party in this matter even if not named by the pro se petitioner as a respondent in the petition of appeal.”

Local also obtained a copy of a subsequent letter that Isabel Machado, Montclair BOE attorney to the DOE, wrote to Price’s office on June 18.

In the June 18 letter, the BOE also requested that Turner be given until July 2 to answer the complaint and time to explore retaining counsel.

Board President Laura Hertzog declined to comment on the matter Tuesday.

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.

Herron has filed several complaints and lawsuits against the BOE and the township in the past, including at least four complaints against the BOE since 1996. These include a 2014 complaint relating to the demographic makeup of the schools’ AP classes, and a 2009 racial discrimination suit. Both of those complaints were ultimately dismissed by the DOE. Herron also filed two complaints against the township and the BOE, one in 2006 and one in 2016, related to the release of government records.

A search of the NJDOE website found records of at least 10 other cases that Herron had filed since 2010 against the Montclair BOE, the NJDOE and other boards of education,