Lacey Board Member’s Mask Charges Dropped

Members of the Lacey Board of Education give their report during a recent Board meeting. (Screenshot by Bob Vosseller)

  LACEY – Charges filed against a Board of Education member by a fellow member have been tossed out by the Ocean County Prosecutor.

  Months ago, Board member Frank Palino filed a complaint with the Prosecutor’s Office toward incoming Board member Sal Armato, his wife, family members and others he recognized in the audience during the 2022 reorganization meeting in January.

 The reason being, they weren’t wearing protective masks which until March, were required due to an executive order of Governor Phil Murphy.

  Armato and other Lacey residents refused to wear masks at several other Board meetings. This caused the session to be rescheduled online using Zoom and later a hybrid meeting of live and virtual. Palino, who became Board President in January, vowed to file additional complaints toward anyone not wearing a mask.

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  While the majority of the Board expressed being in favor of the idea of an optional policy for staff, students and visitors for masking up, they stressed the need to follow the state mandate that the governor said was supported by State Health Department guidelines.

  The issue became a bone of contention since the summer of 2021 with protests and terse words during Board meetings calling for the Board to oppose the state mandate.

  The complaints carried a possible $1,000 fine or even some jail time but Board member Sal Armato said during a recent meeting that his charges were thrown out by the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office. Four other municipal disorderly charges were heard in Lakewood Court that involved Armato’s wife Jessica, Richard Bidnick and two others.

  “I’m happy to say that the charges filed were found to have no probable cause and were dropped. We still await the outcome of four other residents and I’m sure the judge will rule in their favor as well,” Armato said. He noted that he still had not been assigned to any board committees which Palino previously said was due to his refusal to wear a mask within school buildings where committee meetings would take place.

  He commended the business administrator and some board members for helping to familiarize him in his role as a new school board member.

  Palino previously said that any legal costs related to his personal decision to file complaints against residents would be covered by him. He also said he would attend court proceedings on his own time related to those filings.

New Board Meeting Format

  During the meeting Board member Kim Klaus said that through recommendation of Superintendent Vanessa Clark and other members of the committee, the Board would change the format of their meeting to open first, go to executive session, return to a public meeting at 7:30 p.m. If an additional closed session meeting is required it would be held but no action would be taken.

  “One of the reasons we are changing it is that the public is waiting so long for us to come out of the executive session so we will be out of executive session by 7:30 and back for the rest of the meeting,” Clark explained. “We’ll be doing the executive session first then the entire meeting.”

  The meeting includes Board reports, public comment, resolutions, and Board comments. “We’re trying to make it so the public isn’t sitting around an hour, hour and a half for us to come back. We are trying to streamline it and try to make it more user friendly for everybody,” Palino said.