TOMS RIVER-The Toms River Township Council has voted unanimously to launch a $300 per hour investigation into itself and has hired attorney Howard Mankoff of Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman Goggin to perform the investigation. Mankoff also represents Jackson Township Mayor Michael Reina and the township in a federal civil rights violation lawsuit.
The council, which regularly meets in executive session behind closed doors from the public to discuss pre-determined agenda items such as employee contract negotiations, legal issues and vendor contract discussions is upset because some of the information not shielded by the Sunshine Law’s protection during executive meeting minutes has been allegedly leaked to the public and the media in recent months.
What we know so far…
- $300 per hour investigation approved by town council.
- Somebody’s being accused of leaking information to the public.
- Is it a whistleblower or municipal espionage?
- Executive meeting minutes do exist and have been requested.
- Mo Hill looking to squash political opposition.
- 7% tax hike approved minutes before investigation announced.
- Toms River second highest municipality in terms of coronavirus infections.
Mayor Maurice “Mo” Hill has expressed his displeasure in the leaking of the off-topic backroom discussions and insiders in the township say the investigation is being driven by Hill’s administration.
Whistleblower or municipal espionage?
If a member of the council or anyone inside the executive session meeting discloses privileged information discussed during those closed-door meetings, it is a violation of New Jersey’s sunshine laws, however, no penalties exist for such violations under the law. The council could use their powers to censure each other for violations or perhaps seek action against the employment of employees if they turn out to be the leakers.
Can Toms River afford a $300 per hour investigation as layoffs loom and 7% tax hike approved?
In essence, with taxes going up 7% in Toms River this year, this amounts to a $300 per hour witchhunt by the mayor and his council allies for a feel-good political stunt in the middle of a global coronavirus pandemic and minutes after they raised taxes by 7%.
Hill and the council, according to former councilmembers and staff routinely speak about topics that are not protected under the state’s Sunshine Laws, including political bargaining, hiring of political patronage firms and political retribution strategy using township resources to either favor allies or cause financial damage to opponents.
Township documents can shed more light on the scandal if released by Hill’s administration.
Shore News Network has submitted an OPRA request to the township to obtain the last twelve months of executive session meeting minutes but has yet to receive a response from the township.