Fleischman: Melham as Better Belleville Chair

Is a sitting mayor chairing and promoting his own political candidates for the school board going too far?

Mayor Michael Melham is listed in campaign finance reports as chairman of the “Better Belleville” campaign for Tuesday’s Board of Education election, and the campaign’s mailing address is listed as 335 Union Avenue — the address of his business, AlphaDog Solutions. Below are screenshots of campaign finance reports submitted by the campaign to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.

Voters know incumbent or sitting politicians usually campaign for or endorse their favored candidates who are running for other public offices. Politicians will politic, but a sitting mayor chairing a campaign goes too far.

Additionally, the decision by Melham and the Better Belleville campaign to use AlphaDog’s business address as the campaign’s mailing address adds to related concerns about the ethics of Melham’s company running the town’s website. Why would a company that sells municipal website services become involved with a campaign for public office?

Putting aside that partisan politics should have no place in school board elections or decisions in the first place, the mayor chairing a campaign sends a message that he is more invested in getting his candidates elected than as a public official concerned with the success and continued improvement of our school system.

Melham’s actions with the Better Belleville campaign could easily be construed as the beginnings – or, some might argue, the rebirth — of a political machine. Belleville is tired of political bosses and machines; for decades, political factions and machines vied for power and influence in Town Hall and on the school board, leaving the residents of Belleville to pay the price in the form of unmet municipal and educational needs and higher taxes for public budgets bloated by whatever pet projects or new hirings the faction in power desired. Belleville’s elected officials, dependent on the influence and power of bosses and machines to keep their seats every election, would more often than not cave to their demands.

The most recent of these political kingmakers, Richard Yanuzzi, saw his power rebuked by Belleville voters over the past few elections, as candidates he apparently backed either lost election, re-election or simply chose not to run again. Belleville residents do not desire a return to the days when political power brokers determined the direction the town took.

It is expected our mayor or other town council members be invested in seeing our school system succeed — something that benefits the town overall — as we all should be. Melham’s chairing a school board campaign and using one’s business address for it, however, appears truly brazen and driven by a political agenda.

— Frank F. Fleischman III, M.A.

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Lee "Griff" Dorry - Founder, watchdog, and public advocate. They've got strings, But you can see, There are no strings on me.