GEORGE W. FISHER, Complainant-Appellant,
ERIC HAMILTON, Member of the Hamilton Township Board of Education (Mercer County), Respondent-Respondent.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted February 6, 2013
On appeal from the Department of Education, School Ethics Commission, Docket No. C50-11.
George W. Fisher, appellant pro se.
Methfessel & Werbel, attorneys for respondent Eric Hamilton (Adam S. Weiss, of counsel; Mr. Weiss, Boris Shapiro and Caitlin W. Lundquist, on the brief).
Jeffrey S. Chiesa, Attorney General, attorney for respondent School Ethics Commission (Christopher Huber, Deputy Attorney General, on the statement in lieu of brief).
Before Judges Sapp-Peterson and Haas.
Appellant George W. Fisher, as a citizen and taxpayer of Hamilton Township (Mercer County), appeals the final agency decision from the School Ethics Commission (Commission) dismissing his ethics complaint filed against Eric Hamilton, a member of the Hamilton Township Board of Education (Board).
According to the amended complaint, Hamilton, by "accepting private contact and engaging in private conversation" with the candidate for the Board's interim superintendent position, "when no other candidate had such opportunity with any board member, was in violation of N.J.S.A. 18A:12-24(b), " and was "inconsistent with the code of ethics binding school board members, especially N.J.S.A. 18A:12-24.1(e)[.]"
The underlying facts, as pled in the complaint, to support the alleged violations are as follows. On June 15, 2011, the Board commenced its search for and appointment of an interim superintendent. The selection process "did not provide for or permit private contact between a board and a candidate for the position." On June 20, 2011, the Board held a special meeting to interview four finalists for the position, including the soon-to-be retired superintendent of the Perth Amboy School District. During the candidate's interview, he disclosed to the Board that, earlier in the day, at the suggestion of someone from his district who knew Hamilton, he reached out to Hamilton and discussed the interim superintendent position.
Additionally, it is alleged that following the interviews of the four individuals, the Board reached an informal consensus to appoint the Perth Amboy candidate as the interim superintendent. However, subsequent to June 20, the Perth Amboy candidate withdrew his name. At a special meeting held one week later, the Board selected its interim superintendent from one of the three remaining finalists. Although Hamilton attended this meeting and appeared to have participated in the closed session discussion on the topic of the superintendent, he abstained from the vote itself.
In lieu of filing an answer to the complaint, Hamilton filed a motion to dismiss the amended complaint, which the Commission, upon notice to all parties, placed on the agenda for discussion at its February 28, 2012 meeting. Fisher filed a cross-motion for summary judgment. The Commission voted to dismiss the amended complaint in its entirety and memorialized its decision in a written opinion issued March 27, 2012.
The Commission found no violation of N.J.S.A. 18A:12-24(b), accepting as true all of the allegations ...