ATLANTIC CITY, NJ – One of several workplace harassment lawsuits and claims filed against Jackson Township Mayor Michael Reina will be postponed, according to the Atlantic Couty Superior Court Law Division. The trial originally scheduled for the end of September by Ocean County employee Ellen Ganapoulos against Reina, who is finishing out the final months of a 5 year politically appointed job with the Ocean County Bridge Department will now be rescheduled due to COVID-19.
“Right now we aren’t hearing any matters right now due to COVID-19 and all of our September cases will have to be rescheduled,” said a representative with the Atlantic County Superior Court Law Division. “We’re not sure at this point whether the case will be moved to later in 2020 or to early 2021.”
The case, filed in Ocean County has been moved to Atlantic Couty because of conflicts of interest.
Reina right now is at the end of his 5-year political appointment job and will have to be reconfirmed by the Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders in January. A meeting was held last week between freeholders to decide the fate of Reina’s future employment with the county. He earns $100,000 per year and this year was given a raise and a “take”, a bonus by the Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders. Reina was awarded a job though his pay-to-play support for Ocean County Republican leaders.
Editor’s Note: Courts confirmed today the new date for this trial will be February 9th and 10th of 2021.
In case you missed it, here’s what’s happening:
TOMS RIVER, NJ – It’s no secret that Jackson Township Mayor Michael Reina is not afraid to let people know he’s from the mean streets of Brooklyn and he doesn’t take any shit from anyone. He reinforces his tough-guy persona with many tattoos and his open association with outlaw motorcycle clubs. Sometimes Reina forgets that he’s also the mayor of a town of 54,000 people and he has been privileged with a patronage job many within the county say he’s not qualified for. He’s the supervisor of bridges in Ocean County and prior to being handed the job as a political favor by the Republican party of Ocean County, his only experience with bridges was driving his motorcycle across them. On one August night in 2017, Reina allegedly “went Brooklyn” on a low-level part-time female bridge worker. That bridge worker was eventually fired and is now suing the county.
“I can do whatever I want, whenever I want, to whoever I want to.” – Ocean County Bridge Superintendant Michael Reina.
County officials this week said Reina, during his five-year tenure has yet to take any of the training required by the state and county for his position to learn about the bridges he’s responsible for and oversees.
For two years, the county has hidden the fact that Reina is the center of a lawsuit against the county that claims he harassed a minimum wage female bridge worker during a late-night rendezvous that sent her to the hospital.
According to a police report obtained from the Point Pleasant Boro Police Department, early Friday morning, Reina showed up at the Beaver Dam Creek Bridge at 4:30 in the morning. He says he was conducting his duties as an executive-level administrator for the county, checking in on a low-wage worker in the bridge tower.
Ellen Ganopoulous, who was working the bridge that morning said she was working the overnight shift as a part-time bridge department employee alone when Reina entered her station unannounced, which is required, according to county policy.
Ganopoulous told police that as she was working by herself inside the bridge tower, a male subject she later identified as Michael Reina, the Superintendent of Bridges in Ocean County, entered into the tower unannounced.
Ganopoulous stated it to be a normal protocol for any visitor of the tower to first pick up the telephone receiver located outside of the tower and to announce their presence before entering, especially at such an off-hour.
Ganopoulous stated she had propped a dustpan against the entrance door that was an early warning system she used to alert her of somebody coming up the steps behind her.
Ganoplouous stated she heard the dustpan fall and immediately called down to where Reina had been standing in the tower and asked him to identify himself or she would call the police. Ganopoulous stated she asked several times before Reina eventually identified himself and made his way up the stairs near the area she had been occupying.
She told police she repeatedly asked Reina why he didn’t follow proper protocol by picking up the phone outside of the tower to announce that he was planning to enter, to which he would not give a proper reply.
Finally, Reina answered her, according to the police report, “I can do whatever I want, whenever I want, to whoever I want to. Why are you sitting in the dark?”
She said Reina then began to harass her about a past incident she had with county employees. As the menacing heavily tattooed Reina continued picking on the woman, he said, “Oh yeah. I heard you had a problem with a couple of other guys a few years ago.”
Ganopoulous stated she acknowledged to Reina that she did in fact have a problem with some male co-workers in the past but that it had been resolved.
“Why don’t you file a complaint tomorrow with Keith Goetting (Director of Employee Relations, Ocean County) and Tom Curcio (Ocean County Road Dept. Supervisor) and see what happens,” Reina told the woman.
She claims Reina then started to ask her if she uses the tower cameras, which she found odd given the fact that the use of the tower cameras is a large part of her job. Reina never took the bridge courses, officials said this week, so he may not have known that.
According to the Point Pleasant Police Department report, she stated the encounter with Reina to be both threatening and harassing and that it caused her to eventually become short of breath. Ganopoulous stated she eventually started to gather her belongings and ultimately left the tower, eventually making her way to Brick Hospital for medical treatment.
She punched out of her post and Reina was left to man the bridge.
When police called Reina via phone after speaking with Ganopoulous he claims he had communicated with Ganopoulous via email the previous evening and confirmed that Ganopoulous was in fact working on the night in question.
Reina stated it is normal for him, as a supervisor, to arrive unannounced at the county bridges, even at 4:45 in the morning to have communication with the on-duty bridgetenders. Reina stated he activated the vehicle’s emergency lights and positioned his work vehicle on the bridge near the tower. Reina stated he then entered into the tower without picking up the phone, adding that he is not required to do so as a supervisor.
Reina told police he had concerns about the woman’s choice of footwear. He asked Ganopoulous about the sandals she was wearing because he didn’t believe open-toe shoes were allowed to be worn while working.
Now, Ganapoulous has a lawsuit scheduled to go to trial in September in the Atlantic County Superior Court Law Division against Reina in the county after she was subsequently fired after her early morning encounter with Reina. The case has been moved to Atlantic County to avoid conflicts of interest as Reina also serves as the Mayor of Jackson Township and has business relationships with many of the county’s judges and prosecutors through his position as mayor in Jackson.
Reina was awarded a 5-year contract with Ocean County after he was appointed by the freeholders under the direction of former Ocean County Freeholder James Lacey. Reina was awarded the job with the county after he was given a patronage job by former Governor Chris Christie with the Department of Homeland Security. After a falling out with the former Governor after Christie forced Reina to give up his salary as mayor to avoid double-dipping, Reina eventually quit the job given to him by Christie in order to take a county job where he could resume taking pay and health benefits from his mayoral job in Jackson.
Reina earns $95,963 annually from that position. His term expires this December and it’s unlikely that he could be rehired as pressure mounts against him. Reina is also facing a federal RLUIPPA lawsuit from the U.S. Department of Justice, a federal Civil Rights lawsuit, and is the focus of several land-use lawsuits in his township claiming he is discriminating against Jews in his position as mayor of Jackson Township.
Political insiders claim Reina is currently jockeying to replace New Jersey Assemblyman Ron Dancer in New Jersey’s 12th district when Dancer replaces the aging Senator Sam Thompson.
We reached out to Reina for comment on this story and he refused to comment. We also reached out to Ocean County Business Administrator Carl Block who also did not respond to an email regarding this incident.