By Jay Cook |
FREEHOLD – The Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders has a decision to make: Release a second employee complaint against fellow Freeholder John P. Curley or keep it out of the public’s hands like the controversial first complaint.
That question raised a debate among the freeholders at the March 8 public meeting where they authorized a $2,625 payment to retired Monmouth County appellate division Judge Mary Catherine Cuff to investigate a new complaint filed by a county employee against Curley.
The complaint refers to a “completely different incident” from the one which caused the freeholders to formally censure Curley in December, said Michael Fitzgerald, Monmouth County’s in-house counsel.
“Whatever it is, we gotta move forward here and protect our employees or let the employees know what’s going on,” said Freeholder Director Thomas A. Arnone. “I can only speak for myself. I am being bombarded by it…and we need to have closure on this.”
At that December meeting, which Curley didn’t attend, four members of the entirely Republican governing body publicly admonished and censured Curley for alleged sexual harassment of a fellow elected official and for allegedly making a number of “salacious and vulgar statements” to female county employees – incidents cited in Judge Cuff’s report. Curley filed a federal lawsuit in December against the freeholders, Fitzgerald and Monmouth County Administrator Teri O’Conner, in order to block the report from going public. Current Freeholders Gerry Scharfenberger and Pat Impreveduto were not listed in the initial lawsuit, as they had yet to be appointed.
But on Thursday, the Freeholders discussed their options about releasing the most recent employee complaint after it was brought up in public comment.
Though just before the discussion, Curley purposely excused himself from the meeting room. He was outside a closed door for about nine and a half minutes during the conversation.
“Under my legal counsel, as you know, I have a lawsuit filed against the County of Monmouth Board of Chosen Freeholders and at this moment while this is discussed amongst all of you, I will recuse myself and step out of the room,” he said before exiting.
Fitzgerald wouldn’t disclose many details of the report to the public but said, “It’s not sexual harassment. It is ‘hostile work environment’ and involves another factor.”
Neptune Township resident Dana Rivera sparked the conversation when she took note of Cuff’s payment on the meeting agenda. Rivera is a current county employee who said she clashed with Curley when Monmouth County decided to sell two nursing homes at the end of 2015. Curley led a charge in offloading the nursing homes to cut costs.
“I think it’s time that he should step down,” Rivera said. “He doesn’t deserve to be a Freeholder.”
Impreveduto, who won the Freeholder election in November, said, “I think it’s prudent upon us to investigate and release that report as soon as possible.”
Fitzgerald said the Freeholders would have the final say about any release of the second investigation. He also said the county should consider protecting that person’s identity.
“Is there something in the report that would reveal the identity of the individual and put that person at risk? That’s the concern that I have,” Fitzgerald said. “We can work around that with redactions.”
Also brought up was how much money the Freeholders have expended for Cuff’s services. Monmouth County has paid the retired judge $26,700.
“We’re spending useless dollars here, OK? That’s first and foremost,” Arnone said.
Rivera added, “I just think it’s ridiculous that all this money is being wasted. (Curley) was so gung ho of selling nursing homes and now we’re wasting money?”
The Two River Times contacted the county’s communications office to find out if there had been any developments since March 8 related to the release of the employee complaint against the freeholder, but did not receive a comment by press time on Wednesday.
The Freeholders next convene at 11 a.m. March 19 at the Monmouth County Hall of Records in Freehold.
This article was first published in the March 15-22, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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