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Superior Court Judge Michael O'Neill. (Photo: New Jersey Globe/Zoom).

Judge won’t stay school referendum vote as group plans appeal

South Hunterdon Regional Board of Education will advance $33.4 million bond issue net week, attorney says

By David Wildstein, June 14 2022 2:24 pm

The South Hunterdon Regional Board of Education can move forward on issuing $33.4 million in school construction bonds, at least for now, after Superior Court Judge Michael O’Neill refused to stay his own ruling that voters approved a ballot referendum last November by a two-vote margin.

A group of West Amwell elected officials and community leaders have challenge the election, and their attorney, Matthew Moench, indicated that they plan to appeal O’Neill’s ruling.

“Whatever I do on this, I’m not going to be the final decider,” O’Neill said.  “The appellate division will certainly hear it and most likely on a short turnaround.”

The attorney for the school board, Scott Salmon, told the judge that his client plans to vote on issuing bonds at their June 20 meeting and that the process could take four to six weeks.

Moench argued that if the school board isn’t stopped from moving forward on the bonding, his clients would “have no effective remedy at all,” even if they win the appeal.

“I don’t now any government that has ever given back taxpayer money,” Moench said.

Because O’Neill made the original ruling, he declined to acknowledge that he might have misread the statute.

“I’m not satisfied that I should be the one to make a stay on this case,” he said.

If it’s upheld, O’Neill’s decision could have a lasting impact on New Jersey elections.  In challenges to the eligibility of five young voters who no longer live in the area, O’Neill permitted them to continue voting from the residences of their parents.

In one case, he allowed the vote of a 33-year-old man who hasn’t lived in Lambertville since he graduated high school in 2007 to use his parent’s address to vote.  The man has lived in London for the last seven years, and in Edison for two years before that, but O’Neill decided that residency is a state of mind.

In May, O’Neill  posthumously disenfranchised a 93-year-old great-grandmother whose final vote, cast in November 2021, just a month before she died, because her signature on a vote-by-mail ballot didn’t match others on file.

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