Two School Board Members Cleared Of Ethics Charges

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  TRENTON – The state’s School Ethics Commission dismissed charges by formal resolution last month filed against a member of the Freehold Regional Board of Education and a Howell Township school board member.

  Former Howell Deputy Mayor Pamela “Pam” Richmond lodged charges against Marc Parisi, a Freehold Regional school board member, and Ira Thor, who serves on the Howell Township Board of Education. Richmond, who represented herself, filed the complaint in early November 2022.

  The eight-page decision rendered by the School Ethics Commission included a summary of the documents submitted in the matter. The basis for the allegations focuses on social media posts purportedly made in violation of New Jersey’s Code of Ethics for School Board Members.

  Richmond identified Parisi and Thor as “two of the five founders” of a political activist group called “Howell NJ First.” The group’s Facebook page has over 3,400 followers and states that it is a community organization of “residents putting Howell First and ahead of personal and political agendas.”

  In October 2022, Richmond said she visited the Howell NJ First page and noted “they have publically (sic) endorsed political candidates.” She viewed the endorsements as a violation of the law that prohibits school board members from surrendering their “independent judgment to special interest or partisan political groups…or to use the schools for personal gain or for the gain of friends.”

  The complaint further alleged Parisi and Thor disregarded the section of the school ethics code regarding making decisions related to students regardless of their “ability, race, creed, sex, or social standing.” Richmond claimed both individuals breached their obligation to “make no personal promises nor take any private action that may compromise” their respective boards.

  Both Parisi and Thor acknowledged their participation in the Howell NJ First group, which they emphasized was separate and apart from their roles as school board members. Notably, the political candidate endorsement posts bore the group’s name rather than the identity of either individual charged with violating the ethics code.

  “There is absolutely no evidence that either Respondent Parisi and/or Respondent Thor personally or individually endorsed certain candidates running for Howell Council,” wrote the Commission in its decision. “Instead, the evidence submitted by Complainant uncontrovertibly affirms that ‘Howell NJ First’ endorsed certain candidates.”

  The Commission further stated that the perception that the endorsements came from either school board member in their official capacities was therefore negated.

  “Ms. Richmond has been on a malicious crusade against me since 2021,” said Parisi. “She has wasted taxpayer money sending (Open Public Records Act) requests for information about me as a Board Member.”

  “Most troubling, she tried to get me fired from my job as a state worker by filing a complaint with the NJ Dept of Labor that I unlawfully obtained personal information about her on state and federal databases, then shared this information on social media,” Parisi continued. “A thorough investigation revealed I had never accessed her information, and the complaint was closed as unsubstantiated.”

  Parisi pointed out that the school ethics complaint also cost taxpayers more money even though it was ultimately dismissed. He said he did not forfeit his personal freedoms of speech or association when he became a Board member.

  “It should concern every American when an elected official tries to silence private citizens in the manner Ms. Richmond has gone after me and others,” added Parisi.

  Richmond additionally accused Thor separately of charges “he repeatedly bullied, insulted, disrespected and disparaged her on multiple social media posts.” To support her allegations, Richmond said Thor posted that she was “a vile, disgusting, despicable piece of human filth and said that if [she] was on fire on the side of the road, he would not even pee on [her] to put out the flames.”

  Thor said his comments had nothing to do with his position on the Howell Township School Board. He cited his First Amendment rights to publicly speak out against Richmond, saying the two disagree on both a personal and political basis.

  “Even if Respondent Thor’s comments on social media about Complainant were patently offensive, insolent and unabashedly crude, and contrary to proper civility and decorum,” wrote the Commission, “there is no evidence from which a reasonable member of the public could perceive his comments as being in his official capacity or on behalf of the Board.”

  Thor emphasized that he is a lifelong Republican and, therefore, a member of the same political party as Richmond. He said he had never even had a conversation with Richmond until he supported another council candidate in last year’s Republican primary.

  According to Thor, he became especially alarmed when his and another board member’s home addresses suddenly appeared on a public forum that he believed to be run by Richmond and others.

  “It is my First Amendment right to speak out against bullies,” said Thor. “I will always defend myself or others against people, especially those who are in influential positions, who mistreat others, and use social media as a means to inflict harm. This type of behavior needs to stop.”

  Parisi and Thor were represented by separate legal counsel to respond to the allegation, who asked for a dismissal of the complaints against them. Both individuals requested Richmond be imposed with sanctions, saying her complaint was a “frivolous filing” made in bad faith.

  The School Ethics Commission found Richmond had not provided sufficient credible evidence to support her ethical code charges against either Parisi or Thor. No sanctions were imposed upon Richmond as the Commission found her complaint was not frivolous.

  Attorneys’ fees for both Parisi and Thor were afforded by their respective districts.

  “People need to realize that when they make a complaint because of a personal or political vendetta, they are selfishly hurting the people of their own community by wasting taxpayer dollars,” said Thor. “In a time where the state is taking funds from our district due to the S-2 legislation, actions like this hurt our children and families.”

  S-2 is a law that changed how schools are funded, and it pulled millions of dollars in state aid away from some local districts.

  Richmond responded to a request for comment, but unfortunately, no connection was made prior to this story going to press.