Two Holmdel School Board Members Say They Are Being 'Bullied' for Raising an Issue

Dennis Pavlik and Ana Vander Woude say they have been made to feel intimidated for bringing to a light a "serious" and "delicate" issue they say they cannot speak publicly about.


 A routine Board of Education meeting took an unexpected turn Wednesday night when two board members took the unusual action of reading aloud statements that said they feel intimidated by the board and its attorney as a consequence of raising a certain "delicate" and "serious" issue in October.

Members Dennis Pavlik and Ana Vander Woude said they fear they are now at risk for being slapped with ethics violations, and for being sued -- and now must take steps to defend themselves and their families. 

At the conclusion of their statements, which was followed by an awkward silence, Board President Barbara Garrity and Board Attorney Martin Barger said they could not comment on their allegations, because the matter involves personnel -- meaning the board members. But Garrity offered that "reasonable people can have different interpretations" of how the board attorney described the legal pitfalls of a certain course of action.

After the meeting, Garrity said the un-named issue they brought to attention was "investigated and dealt with." She did not describe what it was. [On Thursday afternoon, she issued a more detailed statement.]

In his statement, Pavlik said that in October he and two other elected board members raised, in good faith, "a sensitive personal matter in central office" while being mindful of proper procedures and protocol. "We did the right thing for our taxpayers and our school district," he said. 

The full board has since met and now Pavlik says he was told he, Vander Woude and an unnamed third colleague who participated in the initial meeting can be sued for "libel, slander, defamation of character and malicious prosecution." 

"We were told the board indemnity insurance did not cover board members outside the scope of their duties, and most homeowners insurance policies do not cover this," Pavlik said. "We would be responsible for this. It was mentioned multiple times, making me feel very uncomfortable." 

"I feel now compelled to explore what is available to me in order to protect me and my family's best interest," Pavlik said.

In her statement, Vander Woude said she needed to air these concerns publicly because she no longer felt comfortable doing so in executive session. 

"The three of us were presented with what we believed was a very delicate and serious issue concerning the district," said Vander Woude. "We knew that by raising it, it would unquestionably be volatile. It would have been very easy to do nothing. However, we truly believe, and continue to believe,  that it is our duty and obligation as board members to raise such issues in the interest of the public." 

"We can never forget the lessons learned from Brookdale Community College and Penn State and the failure of their boards to act." 

Vander Woude said thay she is in disbelief and shock of being accused in subsequent meetings to having "ulterior negative motives." 

"We were told that our actions were vicious, self-serving, designed to shame and humiliate," she said.  

"We have now been placed to fear that we will be held personally liable for raising our concerns. I had to tell my husband that our personal assets were at risk. Additionally, we were told that ethics charges would be filed. I feel I have no choice now but to explore what avenues are available to me in order to protect my family."

As of Nov. 28, no ethics charges have been filed, said Barger after the meeting. 

Of the nine-member board, two members,  Ray Tai and Phyllis Pascucci,  were absent for Wednesday night's meeting at the Satz Library.

No other board members spoke on the issue. Several members of the public observed the meeting, but none made any comments to the board. 

Correction: This article was updated at 12:30 p.m. Thursday to correct Board member Dennis Pavlik's quote. He said he feared he was at risk at being sued for "malicious prosecution," not "religious" prosecution.

Mike Rath November 29, 2012 at 03:21 PM
Who is being protected and why???
SG November 29, 2012 at 03:24 PM
I find it hard to believe the Board members do not get paid any money and devote their time and energy to make sure our children are protected and cared for and yet the BOE members who spoke up were threatened and treated as if they were the bad guys. This behavior is disgusting and embarrassing and hopefully the members will not resign from their position. Thank you Ana and Dennis!!
Jennifer November 29, 2012 at 03:33 PM
As a taxpayer and member of the public, I would like to see the wording of the law that makes the board and administration " unable to comment on person ell matters". It is very frustrating to have an issue like this publicly raised, and yet withheld. I mean, does anyone have any idea what they are talking about? No. So why read the statement? Do we not have the right to know? These are elected officials. There is a proper procedure when certain allegations are made, that require an outside investigation. There should be a way for us to find out if the situation would call for the state to investigate, and whether or not that actually happened. Hard to really say anything without knowing exactly what we are talking about.
Holmdel Dem November 29, 2012 at 03:54 PM
I congratulate Dennis & Anna for standing up and raising an issue, but to be bullied for doing so by other members of the BOE and possibly the Superintendent, is deplorable. I would like to see a full investigation of the issues by the State or another independent body.....and the only person(s) who should be protected is the children if any are involved. That said, unfortunately the legal bills will be piling up for all involved and of course us taxpayers will be left to foot the bill.
Debbie Brew November 29, 2012 at 04:01 PM
I do know Ana & Dennis & they are fantastic representatives of all parents. If they are concerned, we should all be concerned. Thank goodness someone is concerned for our children!
Lynn Saporito November 29, 2012 at 04:22 PM
I agree - Dennis and Ana are two of the most honest and upstanding people that I know. From reading the article it seems to me that there was some kind of wrongdoing on the part of someone in the central office and now the administration and other members of the BOE are circling the wagons to protect one of their own, and themselves. Thankfully we have a few ethical members on the Board that won't allow them to get away with covering this up. As taxpayers we deserve to know exactly what is going on with this situation. Keep fighting the good fight Ana and Dennis.
dan November 29, 2012 at 04:44 PM
Peter G November 29, 2012 at 06:09 PM
Hopefully, ethics charges and lawsuits will be filed. Maybe this will place the investigation and "sensitive issue" in the public domain. At court hearings the facts will come out. Whatever the outcome the personal legal bills will be daunting. Will be interesting to discover who is "sweeping" and "intimidating" and who is "spinning"!
Dave Searles November 29, 2012 at 07:11 PM
Nearly every commenter has applauded Mr. Pavlik and Ms. VanderWoude for protecting our children. Yet, every commenter (myself included) have no idea what they are talking about. How can you take sides when you don't know the issues or how they have been dealt with?? Another possibility is the two who "came forward" are acting irresponsibly by stirring up a hornets nest in public with their cryptic innuendos. I have no idea what the issues are, nor do I have a belief regarding who is on the right side of those issues. I find it incredible that so many people have such strong support for an issue they know nothing about. There are nine members on the board. It appears six believe this has been handled appropriately and three dissent. Given that I am in the dark like everyone else ... I will choose to give the benefit of the doubt to the majority, some of whom I know personally and I trust completely.
Deannie November 29, 2012 at 08:17 PM
.....so true Mr. Searles! How in the world can anyone intelligently comment on this "issue(s)" when it seems to be all ?????????s ...kind of like who did/said/wrote what about/to whom???....and exactly when/where?????
Gayle Casas November 29, 2012 at 08:26 PM
I am saddened to read that two School Board members feel threatened after speaking out on an issue (whatever it might be) before the remainder of the School Board. I know Ms. Vanderwoude and Mr. Pavlik personally, and I know unequivocally that they are very fine people of the noblest character. It is my hope that our School Board officials can find a way to reconcile their differences of opinion in a positive and constructive way and move past whatever has transpired for the good of our town and of our children.
Gayle Casas November 29, 2012 at 08:29 PM
Oops, that should be Vander Woude. Sorry Ana!
Karen Strickland November 29, 2012 at 08:30 PM
Well said and I agree.
"Big Mike" November 29, 2012 at 09:08 PM
Mr Searles, After reading your comment I felt like throwing up! Obviously you don't need to be a rocket scientist to figure out that there's a problem with the current administration. This is not about taking sides, it's about the truth. This is about board members who saw something wrong and had the "Balls" to speak up for what they thought was right. If there's nothing to hide, why isn't the administration going public with this ? They're not gonna tell you because they don't want anyone to know. Why would you give the benefit of the doubt to the majority of the board before you hear the truth of whatever is going on ? Why would you set yourself up to possibly look like a "Shiminute" if you're wrong. You seem to be the only one who is attacking these members. Everyone else posting their comments feel they are doing an outstanding job on the board, except you. "Cryptic innuendos" Gimme a break. What are you a harvard law student?? Before you critcize any board members, make sure you know the facts of what's going on. I don't know either Mr. Pavlik or Ms. Vander Woude, but I am very happy and satisfied to have them look out for my children's well being and also me as a parent and taxpayer. If you feel some of my comments have been sarcastic and out of line, sorry. "Big Mike" tells it like it is! You 'll just have to put on your big boy undies and suck it up!
Vinny November 29, 2012 at 10:08 PM
I think it is imperative that we attend the next board meeting as a show of support for Ana and Dennis. To be bullied for simply wanting to discuss a topic is reprehensible. I know them both personally and feel that if they want to discuss a topic concerning our children, then they are acting in our children's best interest. It's time to lift up the carpet and see what flies out from underneath it.
Christina Johnson (Editor) November 29, 2012 at 10:45 PM
Holmdel Board President Barbara Garrity released a statement on this matter this afternoon. You can read it at this link: http://patch.com/A-zTJp
Deannie November 29, 2012 at 11:08 PM
Click on the highlighted "...a more detailed statement..." in paragraph #4 of the above article. There's a wee bit more information on this topic.
Patty November 30, 2012 at 12:26 AM
I don't know the by laws, but if this is something pertaining to our children or to an individual who works with and is around our children we have the right to know what is going on. I am extremely concerned because board members who are representatives for the children and parents are obviously being made to feel that they cannot address a situation and this is exactly what they are on the board for. I know how big the binder is for the "Bullying" guidelines and I would like to know that it is being followed the same in every circumstance. I applaude Mr Pavlik & Ms Vander Woude for standing up for what they believe in and obviously representing their positions in protecting the parents and our children.
Justine Coleman November 30, 2012 at 12:51 AM
In response to the message left by Barbara Garity - Please - I know Anna and Dennis personally they are two thoughtful and measured people that would not have questioned something unless they had real concern. I am very troubled about what is going on and I think the people of the town deserve to know more details. Anna is an attorney and Dennis is a law enforcement officer - I could not think of two people less likely to fabricate an incident. I stand by these two and plan on attending the next board meeting.
Justine Coleman November 30, 2012 at 12:54 AM
Hi Gayle - come to the next Board Meeting with me - lets get to the bottom of this :)
Lynn Saporito November 30, 2012 at 01:17 AM
Agreed Justine. I will also be at the meeting.
"Big Mike" November 30, 2012 at 06:42 PM
I would like to apoligize to all the "Upper Echelon" & the more "Intellectual" friendly folk who found my last posted comment to be rude & crude. My comment was removed due to an "Implied curse word" and my feelings were very hurt. I feel there was no vulgarity demonstrated while expressing my feelings. If I said what I really felt, your servers would have exploded! I would assume the recipients did not appreciate my straight forwardness and honest opinion on the subject. You may not of liked my comments, but one thing I do is to speak what's on my mind and tell it like it is! and i'm assuming certain people don't like that very much . Oh Well! I guess "Freedom of Speech" doesn't exist any longer. Unfortunately, "Big Mike" got put in "Time Out" Also, If anyone is interested I am starting a "Big Mike" Fan Club. No fees to join and free T-shirt !
Molly Ringwald November 30, 2012 at 07:36 PM
To Big Mike Send me a t-shirt, I'm signing up for your club!!
"Big Mike" November 30, 2012 at 09:57 PM
Congrats Molly. You are the 1st official member of the BMFC! My motto is "Big Mike" loves everyone! Well, almost everyone. Except for you know who. I can't say their names again cause they'll put me in time out again. LMAO!!!!
Leah December 01, 2012 at 01:52 AM
There was nothing written to suggest that "union thuggery" was in any way a part of this situation. Unless you have some undisclosed information that incriminates a teacher or other member of the union, you ought to keep your mouth closed and your ears open.
Deannie December 02, 2012 at 02:34 AM
..just thinking...members of the BOE are elected....so obviously enough people trusted them (board members) in order that they be elected....so why all the maligning comments??...makes one wonder....
Jess December 02, 2012 at 09:44 AM
@Deannie, Abuse of power has been happening since the beginning of time. The Greeks had a word for it: hubris - the arrogance that leads to ruin. We trust many elected officials, and people that are hired into positions of authority, but unfortunately there are always some that think they are above the rules/law or immune from any consequences. Self-importance and greed often go hand-in-hand with power, money and cronyism. One of the reasons our Board of Education is there is to provide oversight on behalf of the taxpayers. And if a member of the Administration crosses over any moral or ethical lines, whether it is crossed by an inch or a yard, it is the responsibility of the Board of Education to raise a red flag. Yes, Deannie, we as voters trusted these members on the BOE enough to elect them, but that doesn't mean that all of them will ultimately end up having the courage to raise that red flag on our behalf. P.S. to everyone... the next BOE meeting is on December 19th 8pm at Satz
Debbie Brew December 02, 2012 at 03:23 PM
Yes... And between this and the Satz school serving "Marleys Mellow Mood", a drink not intended for children, to 12 & 13 year olds on Friday making most very ill & lethargic.... They had better purchase some more folding chairs quickly.
Michael December 04, 2012 at 03:22 AM
Garrity isn't the right person to be sitting in that chair
Chris Jones March 14, 2014 at 02:59 PM
The basis for this bullying has resurfaced as Meryl Gill, the administrator who is working in two different districts now needs a $100k assistant who Sockol and Garrity are pushing hard for? Anyone who commented on this thread should read this article about Wednesdays board meeting if you have not seen it yet http://holmdel-hazlet.patch.com/groups/vincenzos-blog/p/intrigue-at-holmdel-boe-meeting-31214


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