Friday, August 26, 2011

Asbury School Board President Ordered Out Because of Past Cocaine Conviction

Asbury Park - State education officials have told city school board president Remond Palmer that he is permanently disqualified from serving on the board because of a past cocaine possession conviction in 1989.

In a letter dated Aug. 22 to Superintendent Denise Lowe, Carl H. Carabelli, manager of the state Education Department's criminal history review unit, said that Palmer had been told he cannot be on the school board and asked Lowe to let the state know what action was taken to remove him.

Palmer, 43, could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but his acknowledgement that he is off the school board could become clear by a scheduled board meeting at 7p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 24.

Superintendent Lowe said she sent the state letter to the full board Monday.

Palmer's disqualification comes under a new law signed by Gov. Chris Christie May 26 requiring all board members to comply with criminal background checks and step down if they have past conviction for a wide array of crimes, of which cocaine possession is one.

Carabelli wrote in the Aug. 22nd letter that the disqualifying offense was in Laurens County, South Carolina, where Palmer was arrested June 30, 1989.  He was convicted later that year.

Palmer's removal is the second time he has been forced to step down while a sitting president on the Asbury Park school board.  In 2004, the state removed him on an ethics code violation of interfering with hiring in the district.

Palmer came back in 2010, winning a three-year term.  By the spring of 2011, he had consolidated his power and was once again board president.  He switched board attorneys.

But this time the new board's majority's agenda to hire or fire and to challenge the superintendent's educational initiatives were met by the stronger power of a state fiscal monitor established in the district since 2007 to control all financial matters.  The new board attorneys have filed at least two lawsuits to challenge that state power.  So far, those suits have gone nowhere.

Palmer's disqualification matches a similar ban for his cocaine conviction that he encountered three years ago after he applied to be a substitute teacher at Monmouth Regional High School.

Palmer fought that disqualification in court but has yet to win.  In an unexpected development in late April, action Education Commissioner Chris Cerf agreed to reconsider an earlier commissioner's decision that Palmer was disqualified.  Specifically, Cerf was to review a pardon Palmer obtained in South Carolina.

The commissioner has not yet ruled.  In a brief dated June 28, Deputy Attorney General Jennifer L. Campbell wrote on behalf of the education department that "South Carolina pardons are not considered extraordinary relief, do not connote innocence and do not eliminate the offender's conviction."

The education department said the permanent disqualification from public school employment should stand.

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