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No quorum ends Atlantic City BOE to discuss board member’s status

An Atlantic City school board member whose residency has been questioned was supposed to be the topic of a special Board of Education meeting Wednesday night.
But with only four of the 10 members attending the Zoom meeting, the group failed to get a quorum and had to adjourn.
Farook Hossain’s vote was not counted at last week’s reorganization meeting after the board solicitor said she received information from the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office saying Hossain no longer lives in the city.
But former board President John Devlin and board member Al Herbert questioned how Hossain could be muted without due process.
Hossain, Devlin and Herbert were among the other half of the board that didn’t attend the meeting, which was first advertised to discuss “legal matters” during an executive session.
But after BreakingAC questioned the legality of the vague announcement, an updated agenda was sent to this news site replacing legal matters with “Farook Hossain, Mossammat Akther.”
Akther is Hossain’s wife, who owns a property on East Kennedy Drive in Egg Harbor Township, according to state tax records.
But that listing has Akther’s residence as 109 N. Raleigh Ave. in Atlantic City, the same as her husband.
Steele said he had no comment about the meeting, which came to an abrupt end when Board Solicitor Tracy Riley had the roll call done again to confirm there were not enough members present.
The board’s new leadership, President Shay Steele and Vice President Patricia Bailey, attended the virtual meeting along with Ruth Byard and Walt Johnson.
It was an interesting twist as at last week’s reorganization meeting, questions were raised as to why that meeting had been postponed from its original Jan. 6 date.
Superintendent Barry Caldwell said it was because at 2:30 p.m. that day, he realized they would not have a quorum.
But nearly six hours earlier, Caldwell had sent an email to the board members telling them of the postponement.
The postponement allowed time for new member Johnson’s background check to be complete.
He was the deciding vote in the change of leadership for the board, which was won in a 5-4 split due to Hossain’s vote being barred by Riley.
Steele replaced Devlin and Patricia Bailey took over Hossain’s former spot as vice president.
Hossain did not attend nor did his attorney, Steve Scheffler, who did not return calls seeking comment.
He requested more information about the allegations against his client in a Jan. 4 email to Riley, but never received a response.
“In light of your position, I would ask for you to provide the authority that permits you to unilaterally deny Mr. Hossain any due process, as well as disenfranchise residents of Atlantic City whom voted for and elected (him),” Scheffler, wrote to Riley in an email obtained by BreakingAC.
He also asked for any evidence Riley had.
Instead, a week later, Riley muted Hossain’s vote and said it as Scheffler who didn’t include any evidence his client lives in the city.
A board member immediately loses their spot if they are no longer a bona fide resident, according to the state School Boards Association.
But in a situation where the member disputes the matter, a petition can be filed with the state commissioner of education for a decision. No such petition has been filed in this case, according to the Department of Education.
Various factors can influence residency matters, explained board spokeswoman Janet Bamford, who could not comment on this specific case.
She noted that in a 2001 decision, the commissioner held that a board member going through a divorce still qualified as a resident and board member even though he did not always stay overnight at his marital home.
The commissioner would also consider factors like voter registration, tax bills, deeds/leases and driver’s license.
“As always, a local school board would rely on the advice of its board attorney in the interpretation and implementation of statute, code and case law,” Bamford said.
Riley did not return numerous requests seeking comment.
There is at least something being investigated by the county Prosecutor’s Office involving Hossain, BreakingAC confirmed via an Open Public Records Act request.
The office had 11 emails mentioning Hossain’s name, but “five are investigative in nature,” wrote Assistant Prosecutor John Santoliquido, the custodian of records.
The other emails were another media outlet’s inquiry into the case, which got a “no comment” response from Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon Tyner.
Scheffler did not returned requests seeking comment, but is expected to make an appearance at the meeting.

The meeting originally just said “legal matters,” until a request from BreakingAC resulted in Hossain and his wife being named.

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