A concerned Montclair citizen captured quite a trio having an off-the-record discussion in the middle of Montclair’s school re-opening dispute: NJEA Vice President/Montclair Mayor Sean Spiller, Montclair Education Association (MEA) President Petal Robertson and Essex County Commissioner Brendan Gill. Sunlight has focused on the photo’s memorializing Spiller’s judicially recognized conflict of interest, but Gill’s presence brings up a whole host of additional questions.
Recall that Gill has very close ties to both Governor Murphy and the NJEA. He was campaign manager for Murphy’s successful 2017 run, and the NJEA was one of Murphy’s key supporters in that race. The NJEA was “all in” for Murphy, with its early endorsement, its “Members4Murphy” get-out-the-vote campaign, and its millions in independent expenditures.
Since Murphy was elected, Gill has continued to work with Murphy and the NJEA by running New Direction New Jersey (NDNJ), the dark-money Super PAC that promotes Murphy’s and the NJEA’s shared agenda. Sunlight revealed that NDNJ is 70 percent-funded by the NJEA (80 percent by the public-sector unions), which has pumped at least $4.5 million of teachers’ dues into NDNJ’s multiple TV ad campaigns. At times, Murphy has appeared in NDNJ ads as if he were the spokesperson for the NJEA, such as when he echoed the NJEA’s call for a millionaire’s tax. Sunlight believes this presents a fundamental conflict of interest for Murphy, who is advocating for the NJEA’s policy priorities in TV ads paid for by the NJEA. Meanwhile, Murphy was elected by a majority of all New Jersey citizens to represent them, not powerful special interests.
The facts show that Gill has been in the middle of Murphy’s cozy relationship with the NJEA. This makes his off-the-record discussion with NJEA Vice President Spiller and the MEA president all the more fraught. Gill also happens to be the Essex County Commissioner representing Montclair, so the majority of parents who want schools reopened would be right to ask why their county representative was meeting with the NJEA Vice President and the MEA president but not with them. Both Gill and Spiller were at conspicuously absent from Sunday’s Rand Park rally led by parents group Montclair FAIL (Families Advocating for In-person Learning). Apparently, the MEA has a seat at the table with Montclair’s elected officers but not the parents of Montclair FAIL.
All of which begs the questions: what was Gill discussing off-the-record with Spiller and Robertson? Where does Gill stand in the re-opening dispute? Has Gill met with Montclair FAIL, and if not, why not?
Like Spiller, Gill was elected to represent the interests of all Montclair citizens, not just the MEA. Like Spiller, he has some questions to answer.