By Jay Cook |
FREEHOLD – Embattled Monmouth County Freeholder John P. Curley wasted no time as he laced up his gloves last week to publicly scold his county colleagues, declaring he has been “unceremoniously stripped” of a number of duties he’s supervised for several years.
Before a tense crowd of about 200 county residents and politicians at Biotechnology High School on Jan. 5, Curley delivered a commanding 15-minute speech invoking thoughts from his family and a pair of American influencers to summarize the most tumultuous month of his political life.
“As the late, great U.S. senator from Minnesota and vice president of the United States (Hubert H. Humphrey) said time and time again, ‘I’m pleased as punch to be here,’ ” stated Curley, a Republican, which drew a chuckle from the audience. “Because to quote Mark Twain, ‘the report of my death is greatly exaggerated.’ ”
The second half of 2017 was not kind to Curley. A report to the Monmouth County Freeholders following a months-long investigation by a retired Superior Court judge found Curley had sexually harassed county employees by using “salacious and vulgar statements.”
At a Dec. 8 special meeting in Freehold, which Curley did not attend, the freeholders’ legal counsel read aloud segments from the federally sealed document before Curley was formally censured by the freeholder board – a clear condemnation of his actions. Curley is currently involved in federal litigation with the freeholder board over a violation of his civil rights.
While Curley did attend a mid-December freeholder meeting and had issued formal statements through his attorney, Angelo Genova, the reorganization meeting provided Curley the public venue to verbally jab at his fellow freeholders.
Curley stood stoically while addressing the freeholder board behind him. On two occasions, he sarcastically thanked them for their “full attention” when he thought they were talking among themselves.
“I have been dismayed and chagrined by my fellow freeholders, who have without my knowledge or consent, chosen to strip me of departmental assignments that I’ve proudly served over these last six years,” he said.
Curley added, “As my father has said, and as my brother has said, ‘You want to pick a fight, don’t pick a fight with a Curley because you’re going to get one.’ ”
The departments or assignments Curley referred to were oversight positions to Brookdale Community College, the Fire Marshal and Fire Academy, the Division of Aging, Disabilities and Veterans Services and the Board of Health. His total number of supervised divisions shrank from 10 to six.
Freeholder Director Thomas Arnone defended the board’s actions, saying it was the “best avenue” for 2018. Deputy Director Lillian Burry and newly elected Freeholder Patrick Impreveduto each assumed two of Curley’s former positions.
“We just think right now this is what’s best for the county, no reason in particular,” Arnone said after the ceremony.
While Curley did touch on the four different areas he no longer supervises, two specifically stuck out in his speech. Curley, a graduate of Brookdale Community College, said he “exposed and vigorously fought” corruption at the college by its former president, Peter Burnham, who had used college-issued credit cards to pay for numerous expenses unrelated to his position and accepted reimbursed tuition payments from Monmouth University, where his son attended. Burnham pled guilty in 2012 and served nearly two years in state custody.
Curley said Brookdale “is a place that I uncovered and exposed what was going on there – and unfortunately there are people that can’t handle that. There is no room for corruption in this county or any governmental agency or any private sector area. Brookdale Community College is the best community college in the state of New Jersey.”
He also defended his rapport with the Monmouth County Fire Academy, which Curley said he supervised as enrollees had a 100 percent passing rate and a 97.5 percent graduation rate. Curley continued to say he helped catapult the Fire Marshal’s office into the 21st century.
“My hands-on approach to that, where I met with our qualified professionals, I never dictated to them – I listened to them,” Curley said. “And then I brought forth and delivered on their needs.”
In the first half of the reorganization meeting, Curley was a proverbial stick-in-the-mud, voting no on three specific items before the board – the approvals of Arnone as director, Burry as deputy director and the areas of responsibility – and abstaining from a vote to approve a list of 24 special counsel law firms for 2018. The firm O’Donnell McCord, P.C., listed in the resolution, is representing the county in the federal lawsuit against Curley.
A palpable rift exists between Curley and his Republican colleagues. Shaun Golden, both the Monmouth County Sheriff and Monmouth County Republican Committee chairman have reportedly said the Republicans will not endorse Curley for a reelection bid this year.
Shaking hands and taking pictures with residents and officials in attendance, along with attending other reorganization meetings after the New Year, Curley said he remains committed to the job and “will never waver.” And he had choice words for those who don’t believe him.
“My mother always said, ‘each and every person must answer to their own God,’ ” Curley said. “And she was so right, because there are plenty of people who will answer in the end to their own God.”
This article was first published in the Jan. 11-18, 2018 print edition of the Two River Times.
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