A Freehold Regional High School District (FRHSD) Board of Education member's Facebook messages have become the subject of an ethics complaint to the New Jersey Commissioner of Education.
Michael Messinger, who represents Marlboro on the school board, referred to Manalapan resident Gloria Close as "an unhinged lunatic" in private Facebook messages.
Close was campaigning for the Manalapan representative position for 2013 against incumbent Jennifer Sutera at the time the messages were sent. Sutera ultimately won reelection, but the alleged mudslinging was not known to Close until after the election was over.
In the first private Facebook message dated Oct. 27, Messinger wrote to a friend and member of the Marlboro K-8 Board of Education the following about Close: “She is either a liar or has a learning disability. If she gets elected, the Manalapan voters are basically saying ‘to hell’ with the high school. She wants no extracurricular activities. If her rationale for paying teachers and administrators is implemented, anyone of quality will leave the district in no time flat. Being on the BOE is a balance between students and taxpayers. This District has shown that balance by any measure since Mr. Sampson has taken over. Gloria, and the other senior citizens who advocate permanent pay cuts are, in one word ‘selfish’.”
Messinger sent another message to the same individual stating, “Gloria’s dishonesty and rudeness to others is what I typically see from Democrats! Even though I think she claims to be a Republican, they don’t want her in Manalapan.”
The person whom Messinger had sent the private Facebook messages to showed them to Close. Close then sent a letter explaining the incident to Commissioner of Education Christopher Cerf and alleging that Messinger’s conduct may have violated the School Ethics Act.
Because a complaint is already in front of Cerf, the FRHSD Board of Education is prevented from taking any action on the matter, Board Attorney Mark Toscano said during a meeting of the governing body on Monday, Jan. 7.
“The reason you are not seeing action by this body is because this body is not allowed to take action,” Toscano said. "The Commissioner of Education invests sole authority for a response or an investigation or a review in the School Ethics Commission and that is where everything is right now."
Close said the statement that she would cut all extracurricular activities if elected--one that she vehemently denied--spilled over into the campaign and hurt her at the polls.
Messinger said that Close did, in fact, state she would remove extracurricular activities at an April 2010 Board of Education meeting which was videotaped.
However, Messinger said the statements were never intended as a public rebuke of Close and amounted to private conversation.
“If [that person] had not showed the message to Gloria, no other person on earth would have ever seen it,” Messinger said. “I never wrote about Gloria over the Internet, unless you classify a ‘private’ Facebook message to [someone] as ‘over the Internet’.”
Close contends that Messinger should have held himself to higher standard because of position in public office.
“As an elected Board member you have a responsibility, not only to yourself to uphold and to have a good character, but you have a responsibility to the residents, to your family, and most importantly to the children - you represent them,” Close said.
Close has not yet heard back from Cerf about this incident.