Yesterday’s township meeting was unremarkable in many ways. The usual suspects talked about the usual subjects. But what was unusual was the way in which Deputy Mayor Masciocchi seemed determined to attack Committeeman Dickinson wherever possible. He went after him once for “over-reach” in the matter of the Fostertown/Rt 38 traffic light, and the second time, harder, for “misleading the public” in the matter of shared services.
We could be charitable and assume Masciocchi’s hostility toward Dickinson is simply him making good on campaign promises to think independently. We can note that his campaign literature declares he “will support shared service agreements that save taxpayers money” and argue that he is concerned his own reputation may be tarnished. Or, we can wonder if this is anything to do with the upcoming Republican Primary.
The Republican Primary
On June 6th, New Jersey will go to the polls for its Democrat & Republican Primary Elections. Outside of the excitement over the Governor’s race, Hainesport has its own contest, with long time incumbents Mick Dickinson & Tony Porto running as the “real” Republicans against “reform” Republicans Lee Schneider & Ted Costa. All 4 candidates have baggage: Dickinson has the Health Benefits; Porto has that, plus the Frog meme; Costa is the former Township Solicitor and Republican Party Chair who was ousted from both positions by Tony Porto; and Schneider is the sister of Natalie Schneider, two-time Democrat candidate for Hainesport Committee.
Porto, Gilmore & Fitzpatrick colluded in the baseless charges which were brought against me, as previously discussed. Gilmore & Masciocchi have not seemed particularly chummy since their campaign. Dickinson & Porto were out and about in District 4 last weekend campaigning as a unit, although the previous week Ted Costa was spotted visiting Tony Porto’s house. Former Committeeman Bruce MacLachlan, also ousted by Porto, is rumored to be supporting the “reform” candidates, and has been seen campaigning with Lee Schneider. Interestingly, Masciocchi & Costa are both solicitors who live on Parry Drive. A quick search reveals that they are, not surprisingly, Facebook friends.
What if Masciocchi were backing the ‘reform’ candidates in the Republican Primary? Or at least, Ted Costa? It would certainly then make sense to try to discredit Dickinson in public.
Furthermore, I received a Facebook Messenger message a few days ago (obviously from a fake profile) accusing me of having an affair with Mick Dickinson. Once you have stopped laughing, let’s consider who would benefit from that slur. Obviously, the ‘reform’ candidates, by attacking two birds with one stone. In addition, using “sock puppet” Facebook profiles is totally in the Republican playbook, as we saw during the last campaign.
Obviously I’m not an authority on what is going on with the Republicans, but I do know what I observed at the Township Meeting last night. And Masciocchi attacking Dickinson less than a month before the Republican Primary is the opposite of supportive.
Fortunately, I have a solution for you if you are tired of these plots and squabbles: ignore the township Republican Primary and simply vote Democrat For Hainesport Committee in November 2017.
A couple of recent articles by Dave Levinsky of the Burlington County Times have added to the mounting evidence that the Burlington County Republican Committee were behind the Super PAC, “Preserving Our Community for Tomorrow.” The group mailed “glossy campaign ads attacking Democratic candidates or supporting Republicans…to voters in Chesterfield, Eastampton, Hainesport, Moorestown, Mount Laurel, Palmyra and Westampton” in the run up to last November’s election.
The PAC’s Treasurer is Joseph Lisnak, of Riverton, who is employed as the Tax Administrator for Burlington County
The PAC’s expenditure filing contains several connections with BurlCo GOP:
Political Consultant Douglas Donoris of Mount Laurel, who received $37,100, is friends with Bill Layton, BurlCo GOP Chair.
Harper Polling, who got $2,342, lists the Republican Committee of BurlCo as a client
Jim Logue, paid $5,500 for Research, is “a legislative staffer for 8th District Sen. Dawn Marie Addiego and Assembly members Maria Rodriguez-Gregg and Joe Howarth, [who] has performed research for the Burlington County Republican Committee and Republican candidates.”
Business Entity reports filed at ELEC showed that at least two companies with Burlington County contracts gave money:
Acacia Financial Group of Evesham contributed $5,000
This group also filed evidence of contracts with Burlington County and Moorestown (one of the townships targeted.)
Carroll Engineering of Hillsborough gave $3,000
This group also filed evidence of contracts with Burlington County and Mansfield (where Hainesport GOP Committeeman Mike Fitzpatrick is Administrator.)
Why This Matters
By filing as a bi-partisan, state-wide super PAC, the group is allowed not to disclose its contributors. As the group spent $108,000 in total, that leaves $100,000 unaccounted for. There are strict rules limiting contributions that can be made by individuals in direct support of candidates, but the same rules do not apply to PACs. Put simply, the PAC allowed interested individuals to spend as much money as they liked to try to prevent the targeted Democrats from winning GOP seats, which is a perversion of election law.
Similarly, the BurlCo GOP were able to “pretend” that their township candidates were running clean campaigns, safe in the knowledge that an anonymous super PAC would do the dirty work.
Let me first address each of the controversial points that arose last night in turn.
By “the derelict Exxon station” on Route 38, I meant the abandoned one (well after the “You are now entering Hainesport” sign, which is on the right after Stines Apothecary coming from Lumberton. I think Mayor Porto meant the burned out shell (I remember the day of that fire well!) on the right as you go through Lumberton. Note: “derelict” vs “burned out shell”: precision in language is a wonderful thing!
Hainesport Industrial Railroad (HIR) and Clean Up Day: Clean Up Day is, indeed, of benefit to residents; however, a source told me that Clean Up Day is made possible by HIR as part of the deal which was made with the Township back in 2006, when the original law suit filed by the Municipality was dropped. The Committee seemed reluctant to mention this relationship, which I need to research more fully, especially given that HIR frequently transports hazardous materials, which may constitute a pollutant to residents.
Should I be allowed to receive suggestions from township residents and put them to the committee? If we lived in a truly open and transparent township, the answer would be, why not? Shouldn’t suggestions be welcomed, regardless of source? Residents know that I attend meetings and am happy to get up during Public Comment and speak, so it seems logical to use me as a mouthpiece. Furthermore, I did get 44% of the vote (compared to 47% for Frank Masciocchi.) This doesn’t exactly constitute a mandate for the elected officials. The fact is, Mayor Porto doesn’t want suggestions from anyone who disagrees with him politically. He definitely doesn’t want people to think of me as some sort of unofficial representative of residents, even though I arguably have always had the best interests of Hainesport residents at heart, unlike him. (And again, unlike him, have blocked NO residents.)
Should Committeeman Fitzpatrick be allowed to laugh at residents when he is behind the dais in an official capacity? Short answer: no! And that is regardless of whether they are standing at the podium/running as a Democrat like me or simply sitting in the audience like poor Scott Cooper!
Should Committeeman Fitzpatrick be able to yell at a resident and call her a liar? Again, short answer: no! That goes double when it can actually be readily proven that she is telling the truth.
When I asked permission to clarify something, after Frank Masciocchi mentioned my name, I was simply trying to explain that my case was not heard in Hainesport Municipal Court, due to the conflict of interest given the charges were filed by the Mayor of Hainesport. It was heard in Bordentown Municipal. My attorney advised me, however, that any fines imposed would be returned to Hainesport.
Does the current set up of meetings allow residents “plenty of opportunity to rebut everything during Public Comment” as Mayor Porto claimed when he used his gavel? Of course it doesn’t. We have been complaining about that since the new format was introduced. We raise issues during Public Comment, and if the Mayor chooses not to answer them until Committee Comment, we have NO way of responding or interacting in any way. This is the opposite of the transparency and participation that Mayor Porto claims to be for, which brings me to my final thoughts.
The Criminal Charges Filed by Mayor Porto Against Me
I’m glad I brought up the charges myself, because Mayor Porto had clearly already prepared his little statement for Committee Comment. If I hadn’t brought my side up during Public Comment, then I would have had no ability to protest afterward, given the township’s utter lack of transparency and the way they shut down all chance for debate and/or rebuttal.
Let’s be clear: I brought the case up because I received the discovery last week, almost a month after the charges were dropped by the Bordentown Prosecutor (who was scathing about the lack of evidence for the case.) The NJSP report clearly shows that the charges were filed by Tony Porto, and that the key witness is Leila Gilmore, who consulted with Mike Fitzpatrick.
So, the case looks horribly like a collusion between Tony Porto, Leila Gilmore, and Mike Fitzpatrick, three of your elected officials. Why would Leila call Fitzpatrick, not the then Mayor, Dickinson, for advice on what to do? (Because Dickinson would have told her to talk to Leo Selb, NOT to take pictures, which is, by the way, illegal in a polling place.) I also know for a fact that Porto asked a couple of other prominent Hainesport Republicans to be witnesses for the baseless charges, and they refused, calling it petty and stupid.
I just want residents of Hainesport to ask themselves if these are the kind of elected officials you really want. Hainesport isn’t a Banana Republic, where the Great Leader gets to put his political opponents in jail, and his toady gets to insult and laugh at residents from the dais. Not so long ago, this was a fantastic little town, and it can be again.
[Note: this post is an edited and expanded version of the Op Ed I originally drafted late last night.]
I’m delighted to announce that I’m running for Hainesport Township Committee again. This November, my running mate will be Edie Darnold, a 16-year Hainesport resident and youthful grandmother who has experience working in industry and municipal government. It’s going to be a great campaign, and you can read our bios here.
Thoughts on Running for Hainesport Again
When I reread my announcement from last April, I am actually thrilled at how much Natalie and I managed to accomplish, even though we didn’t win the seats. We kept the Health Benefits issue ($30,000 packages taken by our part time elected officials) in the spotlight to the extent that the Committee had to give up this taxpayer-funded perk to be competitive in this year’s election. We exposed their agenda to force the resignation of Bill Boettcher, and to replace Township Administrator Leo Selb. Furthermore, Natalie came within 50 votes of beating Frank Masciocchi.
I also hope that I have demonstrated my commitment to the people of Hainesport. I never gave up. Not when I was the victim of a smear campaign conducted through a Burlington County Super PAC. Nor when Mayor Tony Porto filed baseless criminal charges against me in an attempt to stop me from running for Hainesport Committee again. I kept going to the meetings and reporting on them for YOU, so you could understand what was going on in our town.
Unlike the Republican candidates, Edie and I aren’t beholden to some highly political Burlington County machine. Our campaign won’t be paid for by corporate donors who think they can control committee votes. In contrast, we are only about Hainesport, and are accountable solely to the people of Hainesport.
I’m looking forward to getting out and meeting even more people than I did last year during the campaign season. Please let me try to earn your vote.
Committeeman Fitzpatrick’s absence at last night’s meeting seems telling, as it means he avoided the vote on removing his health benefits. I also suspect that Hainesport Committee is becoming irrelevant to him now that it no longer pays for his health benefits. Time will tell.
On the other hand, yesterday marked the beginning of Mayor Porto’s campaign for re-election. Everything he did appeared calculated to show him in a more favorable light than recent events. Let’s revisit some key points:
The Property Tax Reduction of 3% or $25 per average household: Of course, this is never bad news, but let’s put it in context. If there are 2138 households in Hainesport, then the total budget for this tax cut is $25 x 2138 = $53,450. The money saved annually by eliminating the Committee Health Benefits for the 2 whose terms end this year is >$60,000. The tax cut, although welcome, is purely a political gesture.
The Mayor has quietly decided to revert to the previous rules for Public Comment i.e. back to interacting with the public as they speak. The optics of the previous system were bad either way he ran it. If he responded to neutral residents but ignored challenges/criticism, that was clearly unfair. If he ignored everyone, it made no sense. It’s going to be all about looking good from now until November, folks!
Why tell us openly that the new Administrator is Paula Kosko but attempt to obscure the fact that we have re-employed Dawn Emmons as CFO? Emmons came under fire for the number of days she spent in FL while supposedly working full time for Hainesport (and taking benefits.) Strangely, the job apparently only ever required <30 hours per month. Mayor Porto doesn’t want you reminded of these things now he is in campaign mode.
The very first negative comment of the 2016 campaign was made by Tony Porto on March 26th (See screenshot) when he accused the Democrats of having no positive ideas. Last night I suggested two positive ideas. I received no thanks or acknowledgement for either, and Mayor Porto even attempted to defend the existing system of communication until his own fellow committeemen called him on it. Once again, he is trying to gaslight Hainesport. Don’t be fooled!
Here’s what we can say about Mayor Tony Porto:
He posted a disgusting, sexist meme on Facebook directed at me, lied about it, and then refused to apologize specifically to me.
He is suspected of colluding with the super PAC that produced the smear campaign against me last November, and which no-one on the committee ever publicly denounced.
He has blocked 20+ Hainesport residents from his Facebook page, and banned many more from his so-called “Community” page, even though he continues to use both to make official Hainesport announcements. His latest stunt is to use the GOP website to make Township announcements (and the links he posts cannot be viewed by those he has blocked.)
He filed state criminal charges against me for what amounts to “sitting at the wrong table for 30 minutes on Election Day by mistake,” and then, when these were dropped to municipal court, turned up with case files and witnesses (including Committeewoman Gilmore) in a desperate attempt to make them stick. All charges were dropped.
This is clearly not someone who should be representing Hainesport, let alone as Mayor.
Committeeman Fitzpatrick is correct that former Administrator Leo Selb should not have okayed the Pickleball change order, assuming it was for more than $2000, without authorization. However, the situation may be more complex than that.
Fault also lies with whoever assessed the topsoil to be six inches thick rather than two feet. Was this Alaimo Group or Command Co. LLC? Either way, the problem was discovered after construction work had already started. The issue then became, should everyone down tools and wait for a special meeting to be convened to approve the change order? Did Alaimo Group have input into the decision to proceed? Were any township committee members informed of the need for a change order? Note: we also still don’t know the amount of the change order. How much more than $2000 was it? It’s quite possible that doing things that way could not only have delayed the completion of the Pickleball Courts, but also could have ended up costing the township more, because of the downtime.
It seems to me that this is the kind of problem which, if the township were functioning smoothly, could either have been avoided or navigated with far less fuss and recrimination.
New Public Comment Format
While the Committee are within their rights to set up Public Comment/Committee Comment in any way they see fit, they need to be careful about the optics of the measures they continue to introduce. They also need to consider how closely they are skirting state “sunshine” laws, such as OPRA.
The Committee are elected officials who represent all Hainesport, not just those who voted for, and agree with them. Opposition is a cornerstone of Democracy—it keeps our elected officials honest! Yet I sometimes feel our Hainesport Republicans would prefer that the Democrats and other critics simply didn’t attend meetings! I certainly feel that our concerns are not listened to, and our people are disrespected. The new Public Comment format makes the adversarial nature of the current political divide worse, not better. The fact that there is now NO mechanism for constructive debate is unhealthy.
My biggest issue with the committee is perhaps how secretive they are. I understand that they are responsible for the decision-making, but why do they have to keep residents so much in the dark? Why can’t we know how much the Pickleball change order was for? Why don’t they do more to publicize meetings, especially Special Meetings? Why can’t we ask questions and engage in rational debate with them when they respond? Answers naturally give rise to more questions, and the new format frustrates our natural desire to have our issues resolved in a timely fashion.
On the positive side, I would like to commend Deputy Mayor Masciocchi for the independent spirit he showed last night in agreeing with me that the new format should not be enforced selectively. It is not okay for the Committee to interact with a resident asking about building a garage, but not with a resident asking about the possibility of a town hall debate forum.
If both residents are asking respectfully, both deserve the courtesy of an answer. And I would like to ask the Committee respectfully to reconsider their new approach to Public Comment.
Tonight, I saw an unsettling change when I picked up my copy of the agenda at the entrance to the meeting room—two thin stapled pages and not the comfortingly bulky packet I was used to. Copies of draft ordinances and resolutions are no longer being provided as a service to the townsfolk.
Once the meeting proper began one reason for this became abundantly clear. The first ordinance of interest, 2017-1, was described as “An Ordinance Amending the Code of the Township of Hainesport, Eliminating Healthcare Benefits for Members of the Governing Body.” Despite the significance of this ordinance, the only other thing I can tell you about it is that its introduction was proposed by Leila Gilmore, seconded by Frank Masciocchi, and that Mike Fitzpatrick voted against it. So, although it definitely sounds like a step in the right direction (and a victory for Hainesport residents), I can’t tell you when or how it is proposed these benefits will be eliminated. UPDATE: In response to the pressure of this blog and my OPRA request, the township have released the ordinance, and you can find it on the website here. The incumbents will lose their health benefits at the ends of their current terms.
I also can’t tell you much about the two resolutions of interest. (Refer to here for an explanation of the differences between ordinances and resolutions.) Resolution 2017-64-2 (“Resolution Amending Resolution 2016-175-12 Relating to the Appointment of the Municipal Clerk”) and Resolution 2017-67-2 (“Resolution Amending Resolution 2016-172-12, Appointing CFO and Affordable Housing FO.”) have been adopted, and are now a matter of public record. If the Committee has nothing to hide, I should be able to pick copies up tomorrow. If they have, I should be able to OPRA them.
The point is, if the committee don’t discuss these ordinances or resolutions in public, there is now no mechanism for the public to learn, then and there, what is being introduced/adopted. Interestingly, the only Resolution which was discussed was Resolution 2017-63-2 (“Resolution Authorizing Change Order No. 1 for Pickleball Courts Contract.”) Committeeman Fitzpatrick took great pains to point out that this was about an increase to the Pickleball Court construction budget that Leo Selb (former administrator) had allegedly authorized without consulting the township body. The purpose of this public discussion would seem to be to support the Committee’s continued assertions that Leo was a poor administrator: “A lot has gone wrong,” said Fitzpatrick snidely.
Here’s the second unsettling change: before public comment started, Mayor Porto informed the public that the Committee would no longer respond to individuals engaging in comment, in order to prevent unpleasant back and forth, and that questions would be responded to if appropriate at the end of Public Comment. (In practice, this rule was only applied when commenters were known critics of the Committee.)
I began this portion of the meeting and my questions were taken down. No comments were made by the committee. My items were:
To protest that we were no longer seeing the draft ordinances/resolutions and mention the numbers (given above) of the ones I feel it would have been useful to see
To ask if it would be possible to OPRA the ordinances/resolutions ahead of the meeting
To enquire about the progress of the search for the new Municipal Administrator/Clerk
Jennings Black wants to build a garage, is concerned about pollution on the creek, and wants a tree removed from by the boat ramp. He spoke for at least 7 minutes and both Porto and Dickinson engaged with him and asked questions.
Kitty McNelis continued and her points were taken down. No comments were made by the committee. Her items were:
She complained that her January 18 OPRA about the current Committee’s health benefits had been deliberately misinterpreted and thus not been answered fully
She asked why a second OPRA listed former CFO Dawn Emmons as a part time (<35 hours a week) employee receiving benefits even though she had supposedly retired.
Scott Cooper wanted to know why he and several other residents had been removed and blocked from the Hainesport Community Page on which he had never posted or commented. One of the Committeemen observed that it was not an official page.
A Boy Scout asked what the proper channels were for requesting lighting for the tennis courts. Porto and Dickinson both responded to him with advice and suggestions.
Comments from the Solicitor
The new solicitor, John Gillespie, revealed that it was his advice to no longer supply the draft ordinances/resolutions, as he felt it was unfair for the public to see them when the committee hadn’t yet and when they also might be changed during discussion. He said you can’t OPRA Ordinances until they are adopted as they are not a matter of public record. He added that Ordinances upcoming for public hearing and adoption would be published in the BCT along with the meeting date. I raised my hand to clarify something, and he said he would not answer questions. On Kitty’s point he said he would revisit the OPRA she was unhappy about.
After the meeting I spoke to Mr. Gillespie, observing that the new Public Comment format stifles essential discussion because answers generate further questions, which is why I had raised my hand. I wanted to request that Ordinances should be available to the public at their Public Hearing, both in the printed agenda for that night and on the one uploaded to the website. He made a note of my points.
Comments from the Committee
Leila Gilmore thanked Public Works for various good things and said it was nice to see the Scouts
Frank Masciocchi mentioned Natalie Schneider’s work in helping to get the health benefits eliminated and said it showed great things about Hainesport’s young people
Mick Dickinson agreed that Public Works do a great job
Mike Fitzpatrick had nothing to add
Mayor Porto confirmed that the shoes from Project Shoebox do indeed go to the correct charity, and then stated that as of this evening, thanks to Resolution 2017-67-2 (one of the ones it would have been really useful to see), Dawn Emmons would no longer be receiving health benefits. He added that they had received lots of great resumes for the Administrator/Clerk position and that a special meeting would be called soon for interviews.
Disclaimer: this portion of the blog post contains speculation about the township committee’s motives and intents. Speculation is a legitimate part of political discourse (watch Fox News if you don’t believe me) and is not akin to rumor-mongering, which is the sharing of facts with no evidence that they are true.
Firstly, every change that has been made to Public Comment in recent years has been designed to silence dissent and reduce the level of accountability of the Committee to Hainesport residents. Where is our forum now for actual debate with the Committee? When he was Mayor, Dickinson talked about a Town Hall, in which residents would (presumably) be able to interact with the committee in a question and answer format. Let’s put that back on the table. Don’t forget, Hainesport: your elected officials work for you!
Next, let’s consider the way in which former Administrator Leo Selb had his job carved up to the point where he left for alternative employment. I put it to you that Resolution 2017-64-2, which was prefaced by Mayor Porto saying it was “on the advice of counsel,” needed to be passed because something wasn’t quite right about how that was done. Similarly, Dawn Emmons was still being paid benefits because there was something not quite right about how THAT transition was effected, and it took Resolution 2017-67-2 (also “on the advice of counsel”) to correct it. All of this continues to suggest the Committee always planned to remove Leo, as I have frequently suggested. It is easier for the committee to get away with stuff now we no longer see the draft Ordinances/Resolutions.
Finally, WTF Hainesport? Are we a plutocracy now? What happened to democracy, accountability, and transparency? I note that Berkeley Heights, NJ recently introduced their version of a Sunshine Act to try and get their residents a little more transparency.
Do we really need to do something similar in Hainesport, and if so, why?
Over the course of my campaign and its aftermath, particularly in the light of what my Republican opponents did (and continue to do) to me, many people have asked me why I decided to run for office. I typically answer that I am a crusader for truth, transparency, and justice, which begs the question of what turned me into that crusader. The answer to this question is, I became a crusader because of what West Chester did to Kim Bridgford.
After Kim became director of the West Chester Poetry Center and Conference in 2010, she asked me to take over the daily running of the Mezzo Cammin Women Poets Timeline Project. This put us into frequent correspondence, and we became friends. Hence I was among the first to learn when, on September 15th 2014, she was removed from her position, asked to collect her things and leave the Poetry Center (which she was thereafter barred from entering) and reassigned to full time teaching.
I became one of Kim’s most vocal defenders as the West Chester administration and its advocates conspired to give the impression that her reassignment was her fault for being a poor fundraiser (she wasn’t), or perhaps for moving the Poetry Conference too far from its original mission (She was employed to increase diversity and broaden the conference’s appeal.)
During my defense of Kim, my arguments were dismissed as lies, and I was not only regularly told to be quiet, but also frequently belittled and insulted online, mostly by men. It was great practice for facing down the three male incumbent Republican members of Hainesport Township Committee!
The real reason for Kim’s reassignment was that she had discovered financial irregularities under her predecessor as Director, Mike Peich, and when she brought those to the attention of the administrators, they chose to remove her and stage a cover up instead of investigating. Every time I suggested this, however, I was castigated for sullying the reputation of Mike Peich without being able to verify my claims. Unfortunately, Kim was at that time unable to speak publicly about the issues.
Kim and I went on (along with original Executive Board Members Natalie Gerber, Cherise Pollard, and Kat Gilbert) to create and run Poetry by the Sea: A Global Conference, now in its third successful year. The West Chester Poetry Conference came back under the Directorship of Sam Gwynn after taking a year’s hiatus in 2015, and an uneasy truce has prevailed at West Chester.
But recently West Chester added insult to injury by engaging Baker Tilly, a firm of accountants, to conduct a financial assessment of the Poetry Center (which Kim’s supporters had demanded), but only covering the years of Kim’s tenure as Director. This financial review, while finding no fault, contains damaging and untrue allegations which Kim has now been forced to refute legally and publicly. The letter from Kim’s lawyer states this:
For 16 years, Prof. Peich directed the center with no accountability, no reporting, and no institutional oversight whatsoever. During that time he drained the six-figure Ahmanson Fund, without notifying any authority, and without being called upon to report his activities.
Prof. Peich’s 16-year wasting spree had been enabled by a passive university and foundation. Dr. Bridgford stepped into a situation not of her own making and did her best to rectify it….The report is unfair to her and protective of those who should be held accountable.
This letter has today been circulated among the faculty of the English department at West Chester University, and finally I am in a position to support what I have been saying all along about the events of September 2014. Truth, transparency and justice are served.
Meanwhile my fight against West Chester exposed many truths I had been ignoring for too long: that many men still attempt to dominate and belittle women, that power corrupts, that those in power will do anything to conceal inconvenient truths, and that it is always the little guy who is exploited. With my social conscience newly awoken, I looked around and I saw examples of this happening very close to home.
And that is why I ran for Hainesport Township Committee.
Hainesport is governed by the Township Committee form of government. This is comprised of five officials elected by the residents to serve three year staggered terms. The elected members will select a chairperson who will be known as the “Mayor of the Township.”
With no mention of Republican or Democrat anywhere on the website, Hainesport residents could be forgiven for believing, as Committeeman Fitzpatrick is fond of saying, that party politics is irrelevant at a local level. However, he is mistaken.
Current Hainesport Township Committee
The three-year staggered terms currently expire as follows:
Mayor Porto (R) & Committeeman Dickinson (R): 12/31/2017
Committeeman Fitzpatrick (R): 12/31/2018
Deputy Mayor Masciocchi (R) & Committeewoman Gilmore (R): 12/31/2019
There are no term limits (although the Democrats would like to introduce a three term limit). Dickinson & Fitzpatrick are currently serving their third terms. Porto is on his third full term having also served a partial term prior to that.
How Do the Committee Govern?
It’s important to note that being an elected official on Hainesport Township Committee is a part time job. Indeed, Fitzpatrick and Porto both have full time jobs in local government elsewhere (Township Administrator, Mansfield, and Tax Administrator, Hunterdon County, respectively.)
Therefore, the day to day administration of Hainesport is carried out by a hardworking and well-respected paid staff (full and part-time), led by the Township Adminstrator. Until January 12th 2017 the Hainesport Township Administrator was Leo Selb. As of April, the role has been taken by Paula Kosko.
The most visible role of the Committee is at the monthly Township Meetings, during which the business of the Township is conducted by means of Resolutions and Ordinances on which the committee vote. The material for the meetings is prepared by the Municipal Clerk. Until December 14th 2016 the Hainesport Municipal Clerk was Leo Selb (He was a joint Administrator/Clerk), but at the township meeting on December 13th he was removed from that position and the role was given part-time to Amy Cosnoski, the full time Clerk in Pemberton. Once Paula Kosko has qualified as Clerk, the roles of Administrator and Clerk will be recombined.
As explained on USlegal.com, “a resolution deals with matters of a special or temporary character and an ordinance prescribes some permanent rule of conduct or government to continue in force until the ordinance is repealed.” For example, at the January meeting, Mayor Tony Porto was appointed by resolution (effective for 1 year) whereas it took an Ordinance in December 2014, (Ordinance 2014-10-11) to increase the cost of a Dog License in Hainesport to $15 for the foreseeable future.
Perhaps the most influential role of the Committee is in the selection of the individuals who either work as paid staff for the township, or are appointed by resolution as the Township Professionals on an annual basis. And this is where Party Politics comes in.
The Hainesport Democrat & Republican Committees
When Hainesport voted in the last township election, they had a choice between 4 candidates: Schneider & Evans (D) and Gilmore & Masciocchi (R). (You could of course vote for 1 R and 1 D, but most people don’t.) Schneider & Evans were supported by the Hainesport Democrat Committee, while Gilmore & Masciocchi were supported by the Hainesport Republican Committee.
In my experience of the Democrat side of things, the chair of the Township party committee is expected to attend the County committee meetings, which would mean that Mayor Porto would be an active member of the Burlington County Republican Committee, whose Chairman is Bill Layton.
What Do the Burlington County Republicans Have to Do With Hainesport?
They funded the smear campaign against me, Anna Evans, which some experts have estimated cost ~$8000
They provided campaign literature supporting Gilmore & Masciocchi along with the Burlington County GOP candidates
They pushed the Hainesport Committee to get rid of Administrator/Clerk Leo Selb, who was seen as too friendly to Hainesport Democrats and not sufficiently supportive of the Republican agenda
How Else Do Party Politics Influence Hainesport Township Government?
Hainesport township professionals are typically Republican and/or campaign donors
Appointees to e.g. the Joint Use Planning Board are expected to support preferred Republican candidates
Recently the Chair of the JUPB was not reappointed without warning (despite 6 years exemplary service) due to his support of non-preferred candidates.
Democrats and their supporters are seen as ‘troublemakers’ and less deserving of participation in community activities
Mayor Porto recently ‘purged’ his Hainesport Community Page on Facebook of all members known to be associates of mine.
So, party politics is more important than you thought, isn’t it? Please bear this in mind next November when you are deciding whether to vote Porto (R) & Dickinson (R) in for their FOURTH full terms, or whether to vote for the as of yet unannounced Democrat candidates.
The residents of Hainesport should read the Hainesport Township Employee Handbook. The handbook specifically prohibits sexual harassment and states: “The Township expects all employees, Township Officials, Department Heads, supervisors, to treat other individuals including other employees, volunteers, guests, business invitee, vendors, suppliers, contractors, other non-employees and others not directly connected with the Township (collectively referred to as “non-employes”) with respect and courtesy, both in their speech and in their conduct.”
It goes on to state:
“THIS POLICY APPLIES TO ALL INCIDENTS OF UNLAWFUL HARASSMENT OR DISCRIMINATION INCLUDING INSTANCES WHICH OCCUR OFF PREMISES OR OFF-HOURS. ALSO, IT DOES NOT MATTER WHETHER IMPROPER CONDUCT TAKES PLACE ON OR OFF TOWNSHIP PREMISES OR BEFORE OR AFTER WORK HOURS SINCE. WHILE THE CONDUCT MAY NOT BE UNLAWFUL, THE EMPLOYEES BEHAVIOR NEGATIVELY REFLECTS UPON THE TOWNSHIP.”
The Handbook explains that unlawful discrimination or harassment includes, but is not limited to comments, jokes, insults, slurs, derogatory statements, drawings, pictures or cartoons, innuendos, etc. Tony Porto’s violation, whether it was on his private Facebook page, in his home or not, was sexual harassment and not only in violation of New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination and Federal law, it violates Hainesport Township’s own employee policy handbook. Every resident, male and female should be outraged. It exposes the Township to lawsuits.
Where sexual harassment has occurred, the law REQUIRES management to take prompt and adequate remedial action. Under New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination, where upper management, in this case, the Mayor, knows about an alleged sexual harassment and fails to take prompt and effective measures to stop harassment, the employer (in this case, Hainesport) may be found liable for sexual harassment.
Deborah Douglas Plaia has lived in Hainesport since 2004, but her family moved to Mount Holly in 1966. Prior to becoming an attorney, she worked in the insurance claims industry. In her last position, she was a field examiner with 4 regional reporting to her on their catastrophic claims -Woodland Hills, Ca, Denver, CO, Des Moines, IA and Raleigh, NC. During that period of time—mid-1990s—there was an explosion of claims involving sexual harassment and discrimination. Thus. she has had exposure to that area of the law for over 20 years. In 1998, she graduated Rutgers School of law and became licensed to practice. Her areas of practice include construction defects, employment law, workers compensation, personal injury and insurance coverage matters.