Stanley Faces Public Criticism Over Potosnak Remarks; Maintains Board President ‘Overstepped His Bounds’

7-23-15 Meeting3

Board of Education member Patricia Stanley came under fire at the July 23 board meeting for her call that board president Ed potosnak resign.

The Board of Education member who called for the board president’s resignation over comments he made at the Franklin High School graduation underwent a barrage of criticism at the July 23 meeting, but maintained her position.

“He overstepped his bounds,” board member Patricia Stanley said of board president Ed Potosnak at the meeting’s end.”Mr. Potosnak and I disagree  as to the rules of propriety and the role of a public official.”

“I do not back away from it,” she said of her comments. “If everybody else here disagrees with me, that’s your choice.”

Stanley faced criticism for her July 3 letter to fellow board members, in which she criticized Potosnak for his comments at the June 26 graduation ceremony about the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage.

Stanley maintains that Potosnak’s remarks “hijacked” the graduation ceremony and turned attention from the students to him. In her letter, Stanley requested that Potosnak resign as president, and asked her fellow board members to support her request.

None of the board members did so – one member asked Stanley to resign – and neither did the majority of residents and others who spoke at the July 23 meeting.

At issue was Potosnak’s comments, made just hours after the Supreme Court decision.

Potosnak, who is gay, said the “historic civil rights decision” legalizing same-sex marriage “ is a decision “that is deeply personal for me, for my family, so today, your graduation is extra special to me.”

“I graduated high school into a world that discriminated against me and today that discrimination ends, and for you there will be no discrimination on the basis of your sexual orientation,” Potosnak said.

Stanley argued that Potosnak’s comments were political and took the attention away from the graduates, some of whom, she said, did not know they were graduating even weeks before the ceremony.

While she did not directly respond to any of the commenters, Stanley and board vice president Nancy La Corte verbally sparred at the end of the meeting.

“We sat at the same event, two seats away from each other, and heard completely different things,” La Corte told Stanley. “I never heard anyone talking about anything political.”

La Corte said she heard Potosnak tell students that no matter who they are, they should “stand up and make a difference.”

“I hope to God that’s how we’re raising kids in our schools, to make a difference in the world,” she said.

“You saw something and I saw something completely different,” Stanley said.

Stanley said her criticism had “nothing to do with Mr. Potosnak’s sexuality.” She said his speech “should have been focused on the students’ achievements.”

Stanley said she would have preferred that the board have a discussion about her concerns, preferably last week during the board’s annual retreat. The board met to discuss goals for new schools Superintendent John Ravally, and board goals for the coming year.

La Corte told Stanley that discussing Stanley’s request that Potosnak resign as president could not have been discussed in executive session – “it does not meet any of the seven criteria,” she said – and also could not have been discussed drink the board’s retreat because it was not listed as a topic in the meeting’s public notice.

“We have to have this conversation in public,” La Corte said.

La Corte was joined by most of the other board members in her support of Potosnak. Board member Latee Walton-McCleod called for Stanley to resign.

Based on what Stanley said in her letter, Walton-McCleod said, “I am asking Ms. Stanley to resign because I feel that as a community member and a board member we’re charged with making non-biased decisions. I can’t trust her to make non-biased decisions.”

“I do not want to be associated with an individual who cannot make non-biased decisions,” she said.

“I’m here to serve and not to judge,” said board member Margaret Steele.

La Corte and fellow board member Christine Danielsen read statements in support of Potosnak, both of which can be read in the FR&A’s “Speak Out” section.

Board member Julia Presley said the board should “focus on board business” and not Potosnak’s speech.

Later in the meeting, Presley said “people are taking this personally.”

“I don’t think Ms. Stanley was being biased in her statement,” Presley said. “At no time did I hear her speak against the gay community.”

“I think Ed’s speech was very appropriate for some and some didn’t receive it well,” Presley said.

Board member Richard Seamon said he was “disappointed” with the content of Stanley’s letter and “I cannot disagree more with her position.”

Board member Betty Whalen was not present.

Public comment was overwhelmingly supportive of Potosnak, with more than two dozen people taking turns at the podium.

Matthew Ferguson of Oswestry Way said that if he were an “LGBT student at Franklin High School, I would take Ms. Stanley’s comments as saying I should just shut up and get back in the closet.”

“The days of shaming people because of their identity are over,” he said.

Eric Ransom, a 2000 graduate of Franklin High School, said Stanley’s “campaign for resignation is based on homophobia.Michael Steinbrück of East Millstone said that he was originally calling for Stanley to resign, but he had changed his mind.

“Maybe there is no better education for Ms. Stanley than serving under Ed Potosnak,” he said. “I sincerely pray that Ms. Stanley will find her way back from bigotry.”

The two candidates for mayor also showed up to support Potosnak.

Mayor Chris Kelly, a graduate of Franklin HIgh School, said that he was “saddened” by the thought that “in 2015, in this beautiful, diverse community, that we still have these thoughts that come up. I don’t know why we can’t get beyond that.”

Township Councilman Phil Kramer (D-Ward 3), Kelley’s opponent for the mayoral seat, said that he was on the podium at graduation and he “saw the faces of the graduates and I heard their applause. I was sitting within 15 feet of Mr. Potosnak and I stand behind him now.”

Joel Cohen of Bedminster, president emeritus of the Pride Center of NJ in Highland Park, said that it was “very appropriate of Ed to have made that speech.”

“Speeches are meant to be personal to have impact,” he said. “Can you imagine Martin Luther King, Jr. saying, ‘I know someone who has a dream?’”

Bill Connell of Somerset said that while he did not agree with what Stanley said, he supported her right to say it.

“She should not be tortured over this,” he said.

Not everyone who spoke supported Postosnak.

Sheila Van Diver of Somerset questioned whether the rest of the board knew that Potosnak was going to make his speech.

“My question is were the school board members aware of the content of your speech, and did they approve of it?” she said. “At the end of the day, it’s not pro this or anti that, it’s the role of the board.”

After the discussion, Potosnak thanked those who showed up to support him.

“I want to thank the people who stood up for me,” he said. “I see friends and I see people I don’t know, and we stood up together.”

Potosnak said it was clear to him that he has the support of the board.

“A leader stands up, and I stood up for people who are different,” he said. “everyone would be able to stand up for who they are.”

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