TOMS RIVER, NJ – Toms River Mayor Maurice Hill is renewing the contract for public relations services firm Direct Development, of Tinton Falls, owned by New Jersey State Democrat Senator Vin Gopal, Monmouth County.
Earlier this year, township officials told the public they would probably not renew Gopal’s firm after the hiring of Art Gallagher, Mayor Hill’s 2019 election campaign publicist for $89,000 per year.
Councilman Dan Rodrick raised ethics concerns over Hill’s sudden desire to hire public consultants to take photos, manage the town’s Facebook page ahead of his bid for re-election in 2023. Rodrick also said the spending is unnecessary in a time when many are seeing their property taxes double, food costs spike and gasoline prices soar in order to try to improve the Mayor’s faltering public image.
“When Mayor Hill took office, we already had a public relations person in town hall, and one at the police station,” Councilman Dan Rodrick said. “The mayor just hired on his former campaign manager to do public relations and tonight he’s awarding a contract to Democrat Senator’s firm, a firm that does an awful lot of campaign work. It looks to me that the mayor is using taxpayer funds to polish up his image for re-election.”
Rodrick pointed out since taking office, Hill is spending over $200,000 annually in new expenses on public relations.
“That’s enough to mail every senior citizen in Holiday City a check for $100,” Rodrick said. “Something I’m sure they would appreciate after the reevaluation increased their property taxes by 40% to 100%. I can’t support this expenditure.”
Rodrick moved to table the item, but only Councilman Justin Lamb supported holding off on the expense. The council voted 5-2 in favor of renewing Senator Gopal’s public contract in Toms River.
Council President Kevin Geoghegan said the firm is no longer owned by Senator Vin Gopal, but the company’s website still identifies him as the top officer and partner in the firm.
Toms River currently employs the following firms and individuals for public relations which total $259,000 in annual salaries:
- Art Gallagher, $89,000
- Jillian Messina, Toms River Police Department, $57,036
- Vin Gopal owned Direct Development, $60,000
- Stacey Georgaklis, Public Information Officer/Records Manager, $53,169
Later, Rodrick told Shore News Network, he has concerns about the amount of money Hill is spending on things trivial activities such as sharing Facebook posts, taking pictures of Mo Hill and a messaging platform, few in town actually see.
For instance, earlier in the meeting, Rodrick told the township council residents were texting him saying the town’s video feed wasn’t live. After being scolded by Council President Geoghegan, saying the feed is live and people are watching it, it turned out people were still trying to connect to the old feed, unaware the town switched providers.
On Wednesday, the township launched a new YouTube feed and ceased operating their viebit feed. Mo Hill published an announcement through his large team of public information officers to get the message out to the public, but according to YouTube, only 119 out of the town’s 90,000 people had viewed the video.
Only 115 residents viewed Wednesday night’s YouTube live stream video by the end of the meeting. The township’s website had no mention of the switch on the page that formerly housed the feeds.