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Rivera: ‘I’m political victim’

Belleville BOE President John Rivera is fighting to keep his job as a $48,000 a year township public works laborer.

Suspended without pay in February on charges of “creating a hostile work environment,” Rivera said that the township has yet to schedule a hearing. The municipal governing body only recently authorized hiring a special counsel to deal with the matter. Township Attorney Tom Murphy said last week, “We’re waiting to get some dates from the hearing officer.”

“I’m totally innocent,” Rivera told The Observer. “It’s political – I backed the wrong horse [in the May municipal contest].” Now he’s collecting unemployment. He was hired in April 2013 as a property maintenance inspector but later transferred to various other slots. The township doesn’t discuss pending legal matters.

Another school figure who may be in transition is Superintendent Helene Feldman who, Rivera told a member of the audience at the Aug. 11 BOE meeting, is currently on leave. Feldman has two years to run on her contract.

Because she may be away for an extended time, due to a serious health issue involving her husband, Tom Egan, the state monitor assigned to Belleville BOE, appointed Ray Jacobus, the BOE secretary/ school business administrator, as acting superintendent at the Aug. 11 BOE meeting. Egan said that Jacobus holds a New Jersey school superintendent’s certificate.

Egan said that a possible additional stipend for Jacobus for taking on the extra duties would likely be discussed at a special meeting called for Aug. 25. Egan also expects, at that time, to “finalize changes for the 2014-2015 school budget” and to nail down the calculations for the amount of additional state aid the district will be seeking “so that the 2014-15 school year won’t be in deficit.” Auditors have reckoned that the district ended 2013-2014 more than $4 million in the red.

At the Aug. 11 BOE session, Egan exercised his veto power as monitor to overturn several votes by a narrow board majority: He overruled a 3-2 vote to deny $90,000 in compensation to two resource (safety) officers, one at the high school and one at the middle school, and he overturned a 3-2 vote to table a proposed termination of a contract with Clarity Technologies Group LLC for outsourcing the district’s Internet Technologies Department. Egan said he felt the $20,000-a-month contract was “too expensive.” He also vetoed a vote to table the reappointment of eight non-tenured staff for the upcoming year, allowing six to go through for now, with the other two to be considered at the special meeting, along with a tabled appointment of Michael Vargas as district special education supervisor.

– Ron Leir 

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