TOMS RIVER, NJ – With multiple ongoing investigations by state and federal authorities into the hiring practices of the Ocean County GOP by the Department of Justice and the Attorney General’s Office, Kevin Geohegan, the Toms River Township Council President on Wednesday said he’s not afraid of the FBI.
In the face of the latest FBI investigation into hiring practices of the Ocean County Board of Commissioners, Geohegan and Toms River Mayor Maurice Hill awarded former Councilwoman Maria Maruca with a six-figure job in town hall.
Toms River Councilman Kevin Geoghegan defiantly declared that he’s not afraid of the FBI ahead of his vote to hire a political friend, Maria Maruca, to a job at town hall worth over $100,000 annually when you factor in benefits and pension payments. It is not clear at this time whether or not Maruca will receive a township car.
No means no, but Hill, Geoghegan and the members of the newly formed Republicans for Toms River rejected the voters’ will after they sent Maruca packing in last November’s election. Even after allocated tens of millions of dollars in Maruca’s waterfront ward, through the purchase of the former Joey Harrison’s Surf Club, Maruca still lost nearly every district in her ward in 2021, a clear message from the voters in Toms River. They want to see an end to Hill’s administration and everyone Hill Supports.
In 2021, Hill also silently backed Democrat Councilman Terrance Turnbach, who also lost his re-election bid.
Maruca, a former political appointee at the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, was pushed out of her position to make room for a Democrat councilwoman in Brick Township. At this time, we are not releasing the name of that council member until the appointment is official by the administration of Governor Phil Murphy.
Councilman Justin Lamb, a Lavallette police officer, said he had concerns over how hiring Maruca, who was just voted out of office by the residents of Toms River in November, would look in the eye of the public and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The New Jersey Office of the Attorney General recently launched an investigation into Toms River’s hiring and medical benefits, delivering a subpoena for a treasure trove of documents from town hall.
Lamb said Toms River Town Hall is starting to look like Tammany Hall, the corrupt New York City political machine that maintained a tight grip on the city for nearly 200 years in the 1700s and 1800s, with figures such as the infamous “Boss Tweed”.
Lamb mentioned ongoing FBI investigations into the Ocean County Board of Commissioners into the hiring practices of the county commissioners.
“With everything I see, there are reports down the street, maybe a criminal investigation about hiring at the Ocean County Board of Commissioners, so maybe it’s not the right kind of hiring at this time,” Lamb said to his fellow councilmembers. “It’s bad optics that it’s the second patronage hire in two months. This is starting to sound like Tammany Hall. I think it’s unreal.”
Geoghegan said he’s not scared of the FBI walking into Toms River Town Hall.
“I’m not concerned about the FBI walking through here, or the Ocean County prosecutor…I’m not afraid,” said Councilman Kevin Geoghegan.
Lamb criticized Mayor Maurice Hill’s penchant for hiring people in his close political circle to lucrative public jobs that include full benefits and sometimes, even personal vehicles. Lamb identified the hiring of Hill’s former campaign attack dog, Art Gallagher, to a $90,000 job as a Facebook and social media manager. Gallagher was a former political blogger from Monmouth County who Hill hired to push Hill’s campaign messages and press releases to local online news media and newspapers during his election.
Mo Hill barked, “It’s a mayoral appointment.”
Hill asserted his right to skip a job seeking and interview process to hire Maruca.
“Union positions are advertised, but mayoral appointments are not…it’s a mayoral appointment,” Hill said. “It takes a special person to lead this department and I’ve known Maria for at least 18 years. She has served this community with distinction.”
Residents of Toms River didn’t think so. Lamb defeated Maruca by about a 15% margin in last year’s hotly contested Republican primary election.
Pat Lazlow, a resident of Toms River spoke against Hill’s hiring practices, criticizing the mayor’s streak of hiring only his friends and political allies to jobs at town hall, locking potentially more qualified candidates from the public pool out of the process.
“Don’t get me wrong, I like Maria, but this job should be open to other people. It seems like everyone is taking care of all their friends,” Lazlow said.
Hill initially said Maruca was recommended by outgoing senior center director Joann Benson, who currently earns $132,000 at the job. Later, Hill said it was his choice alone and recommended Maruca to Benson, and Benson approved.
The council voted to approve Maruca’s patronage job. Lamb dissented. Josh Kopp and Dan Rodrick were not present at the meeting to vote.
Earlier in the day, Rodrick criticized the hiring practices of Mo Hill since taking office.
“Maria Maruca has no experience in senior services and is not qualified for the position,” Rodrick said. “Mayor Hill continues to waste taxpayer dollars on hiring his friends and rewarding his political contributors. All while property taxes soar and quality of life declines here in Toms River. Mayor Mo needs to go!”