MONTAGUE - A school board member here will apparently be allowed to keep his seat on the Board of Education despite lingering questions about his eligibility to serve based on his voter registration and residency.
Billy Underwood became the focus of those questions after it was revealed he was not a registered voter in the Montague School District when he took the oath of office last month. Before that, in February, he had registered to vote with an address in Vernon.
By law, school board members in New Jersey must be registered to vote in the school district on whose board they serve and must also have lived in that district for at least one year immediately prior to taking office. The residency and voter registration requirements are spelled out in the Montague board's own policy and in a New Jersey statute, 18A:12-1.
Underwood, who was notified of these requirements by the board secretary when he applied for the vacant board seat in July, said at the time that he had children attending school in Montague but did not say for how long. He later stated under oath that he met the requirements to serve on the school board when he was sworn in on Aug. 20.
The New Jersey Herald later informed Board President Glen Plotsky that, in fact, Underwood was not a registered voter in Montague. Underwood then filled out an updated voter application with a Montague address on Sept. 3 and was permitted to take the oath of office a second time that evening.
However, the matter of Underwood's residency - which, based on his February voter registration in Vernon, would mean he would have had to have been living in Vernon at the time - has remained unaddressed except for a brief statement Underwood made at last Tuesday's board meeting to the effect that he has been living in Montague for several years.
To date, however, neither Underwood nor anyone else on the board has explained why he signed a New Jersey Voter Registration Application in February stating under oath that he was living at 85 Panorama Drive in Vernon. By signing the form, voter applicants also acknowledge that "any false or fraudulent registration may subject me to a fine of up to $15,000, imprisonment up to 5 years, or both."
Rosalie Lamonte, executive county superintendent of schools for Sussex County, has since told members of the public from Montague that the Montague school board has resolved the matter, though she has not said how. She has advised them that any further concerns should be taken up with Superintendent Timothy Capone and the board.
Capone, on Friday, did not return a message that the Herald left for him with his secretary. A phone call to Plotsky also was not returned.
Mike Yaple, a spokesperson for the state Department of Education, said in an email that it would be inappropriate for the department to comment about a particular matter without reviewing all the facts from all sides. He stopped short of saying what would compel the department to initiate an investigation on its own, but said any person who believes a violation of school law has taken place can appeal the matter to the department's Office of Controversies and Disputes or file a complaint in Superior Court.
Marge McCabe, administrator for the Sussex County Board of Elections, said Underwood never actually voted in Vernon this year despite being registered there. She said if someone were ever to vote in a municipal or school board election and were later found not to be living there, that would be a more serious matter.
"I have yet to come across anything nefarious where someone intentionally tried to mislead us for political reasons or anything like that," McCabe said. "Typically, if we find an address is incorrect, it's a mistake, and we notify the voter and they fix the error. However, if ever anything nefarious did occur, the issue would be forwarded to the Prosecutor's Office for their investigation."
A person listed as one of the homeowners at Underwood's former address in Vernon declined to speak with the Herald on Friday.
Eric Obernauer can also be reached on Twitter: @EricObernNJH or by phone at 973-383-1213.