Mancini declines recusal request

A finance board member was asked — and declined — to recuse herself from discussions and voting on the school budget, on the grounds school issues had been part of social media exchanges she’d participated in.

“I am able to say whatever I want, as a parent,” finance board member Jessica Mancini said Thursday night, March 29, after school board vice chairman Doug Silver had asked that she abstain from participation in the finance board’s school budget deliberations.

Silver argued that Mancini’s participation on school budget matters was tainted because she had previously been discussing pertinent issues with people through social media.

“Our attorneys advised us we cannot comment on meetings ahead of time,” he said.

“You have legal advice specific to your board. You don’t know if it’s specific to ours,” replied Finance Board Chairman Dave Ulmer.

Mancini said she had made it clear in her social media exchanges that she was not speaking for the finance board, or as a board member, but as a parent.

The school board’s understanding was that to refrain from discussing official school matters outside of meetings was “the ethical and legal bar we as a Board of Education must meet,” Silver said.

“We’ve had board members recuse themselves. We’ve had board member resign,” Silver said. “That’s the bar we’ve been held to. That’s why this is being raised.”

Mancini didn’t see a need to abstain from the discussions.

“If you have an issue, we have a process and you can file a complaint with the ethics board,” Mancini told Silver.

Manicini had the support of fellow finance board members.

“This is an open discussion about the Board of Education budget,” said Ulmer. “It’s important for elected members of the board — all elected members —  to weigh in.”

Finance board member Dick Moccia said he often discussed town financial questions with people he ran into at Founders Hall.

“We talk to people all the time,” said Ulmer. “That’s part of our job — getting input from townspeople.”

“The rest of the board is fully in support of our colleague, here,” finance board member Sean Connelly said after the meeting.

In a statement Friday morning, Mancini detailed her position.

“As elected officials, we all have the responsibility to listen to the opinions of voters and to encourage them to be involved in the process of democracy. It is our job as elected officials to be open and to encourage residents to make their voices heard,” she said. “As a parent, business owner, and a lifelong resident of Ridgefield, I am free to engage with my neighbors just like any other citizen. I encourage every resident to be assured that their Board of Finance is working on their behalf every day. Every member of our Board of Finance is focused on doing their job, including me.”

Following the fairly short discussion of the recusal issue, the finance board — including Mancini — went on to talk about the school budget with Silver and acting superintendent of schools Rob Miller for another three and a half hours Thursday night. No votes were taken.

The finance board has budget deliberations meetings scheduled at 7:30 in town hall Monday through Thursday next week, April 2 to 5, although board members may finish their budget work and not need to have all those meetings.