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Questionable steps lead to new Atlantic City school board leadership

The leadership of the Atlantic City Board of Education changed Monday night in what some called possibly illegal steps.
A hastily canceled meeting and allegations that the outgoing vice president no longer lives in Atlantic City helped lead to the 5-4 votes that ousted President John Devlin and Vice President Farook Hossain.
Solicitor Tracy Riley ordered the board secretary not to record any of Hossain’s votes, saying she received information from the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office calling Hossain’s residency into question.
“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),” Hossain’s attorney, Steve Scheffler, wrote to Riley in an email obtained by BreakingAC.
Scheffler also asked in the Jan. 4 email that Riley forward “any and all evidence (discovery) within your possession that you intend to rely on supporting your unilateral determination that Mr. Hossain does not reside in Atlantic City.”
Riley did not respond to that email as of Tuesday, more than a week later.
“Nobody’s seen it,” Devlin told BreakingAC of the alleged documentation.
Hossain, the board’s first Bangladeshi member, did not comment on the issue.
The timing of Monday’s meeting was also questioned.
The reorganization meeting was originally set for last Wednesday. But Board Secretary Angie Brown sent out an email that morning saying that the meeting was being postponed.
No reason was given at the time.
At Monday night’s board meeting, Superintendent Barry Caldwell said that, as of 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, it became clear that the board would not have a quorum.
But the email canceling the meeting was sent at 8:45 that morning, with no mention of the potential shortage of members able to attend.
It was not clear whether the superintendent even has the authority to arbitrarily cancel a meeting.
The state Department of Education spokesman said they were looking into questions BreakingAC had concerning the meeting, including Caldwell’s and Riley’s actions, but that it may take time to research.
The county referred comment to Atlantic City. Caldwell ignored attempts to get him to clarify what happened. Riley also did not respond to texts.
Riley informed board members before the meeting that she had information alleging Hossain is no longer an Atlantic City resident. Despite Scheffler’s letter pointing out that no petition has been filed with the state to remove Hossain from the board, Riley barred Hossain’s vote from being counted throughout Monday’s meeting.
That includes the two votes that would have left the election for president and vice president at a 5-5 tie.
The legality of Riley’s order could not be confirmed. The state monitor who is tasked with overseeing the school board did not attend Monday night’s meeting.
But Scheffler insisted Riley had “absolutely no authority to violate Mr. Hossain’s due process rights.”
“They violated every statute and state law there is,” Devlin said Tuesday.
Regardless, the move opened the door for a change in leadership, with Shay Steele taking over the presidency from Devlin, by a 5-4 vote. Patricia Bailey was elected vice president by the same margin.
There has been a noticeable division within the school board, and between Caldwell and some members.
When Devlin and board member Al Herbert questioned the time discrepancy between the email about the postponed meeting and Caldwell’s claim about a 2:30 p.m. lack of quorum, the superintendent insisted that the issue on the table was about Hossain’s residency and right to vote.
While Hossain did not speak, Herbert and Devlin argued against barring his vote before the allegations against him are proven.
At one point, Caldwell told Devlin, that as superintendent, “I’m your boss.”
But several longtime board members — including those from other districts — confirmed to BreakingAC that this is not true.

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