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Posts Tagged ‘Neptune Democratic Party’

By Charles Layton

We reported a few days ago that the Ocean Grove Sewerage Authority has lost a major lawsuit, involving a great deal of money. That money rightly belonged to the people of Ocean Grove.

More needs to be said about this travesty of justice.

The OGSA had sought the return of well over $300,000 in overpayments it had made to the owner of the regional treatment plant that processes Ocean Grove’s sewerage. It did not lose the lawsuit on the merits of its case. The overpayments were real. Ocean Grove lost on a legal technicality – the fact that the OGSA had failed to file written notice within the deadline prescribed under its contract.

The OGSA slipped up in that regard. And it may be that, within the narrow legal limits of the contract dispute, the arbitration judge who ruled in this case had little choice but to decide against Ocean Grove.

That doesn’t make it right. What’s legal is not always the same as what’s honorable and just.

Let us explain:

The OGSA (and its customers, the people of Ocean Grove) were overcharged approximately a third of a million dollars over a two-and-a-half-year period ending in April of 2006.

The outfit that erroneously received that money from us and then obstinately refused to give it back is the Township of Neptune Sewerage Authority (TNSA).

The TNSA, despite its name, is not a part of Neptune Township but rather an independent public body. The OGSA is also an independent public body. The officers of both these bodies are appointed by the Neptune Township Committee.

The TNSA operates a sewerage treatment plant that accepts the waste water from Ocean Grove, Tinton Falls, the western portion of Neptune Township, Wall, Avon, Bradley Beach and Neptune City. By contract, each of these towns pays the TNSA based on the amount of its sewerage input. This input is measured by flow meters in each town.

According to the court record, the TNSA is required by its own rules and regulations to calibrate those flow meters on a quarterly basis, so the measurements will be accurate.

Also according to testimony in the court record, the TNSA failed in this responsibility; it never performed calibrations on the equipment of any of its municipalities.

In November of 2003, a new flow meter was installed at the Pennsylvania Avenue station in Ocean Grove. At some point thereafter, Ocean Grove officials began to suspect that the measurements taken by this new meter were in error. According to the record, they made an informal verbal request that the TNSA calibrate the meter. The TNSA denied that calibrating the meter was its responsibility. The argument went on, unresolved.

In April of 2006, the OGSA and its chairman, Francis Paladino, took it upon themselves to have the meter calibrated at the OGSA’s expense. According to the OGSA’s complaint, filed in Superior Court in September of 2007, that calibration showed that the meter had been overmeasuring Ocean Grove’s flow by approximately 35 percent. OGSA pointed this out to TNSA – not formally in writing, but orally — and asked for reimbursement of the overpayment.

You might think the TNSA would have just acknowledged reality at that point and refunded the overpayments. That’s what your local hardware store would do if you inadvertently overpaid for a can of paint.

But no. The TNSA has insisted that OGSA was entitled to no refund because, under the rules in its contract, the OGSA should have given written notice of the overmeasure within seven days, and had not done so.

The OGSA filed suit. In its answer to the OGSA’s complaint, the TNSA claimed that the OGSA’s losses were entirely its own fault.

After waiting for several years to receive a court date for a jury trial, the OGSA and the TNSA agreed to submit the dispute to binding arbitration. Week before last, the arbitrator, retired Judge Bette Uhrmacher, ruled against OGSA, citing its failure to meet that seven-day deadline.

This is blatantly wrong. The people who run the TNSA should have seen the simple justice of Ocean Grove’s position from the start, as soon as the overpayment errors became known.

Who, you might ask, are these people who run the TNSA? They are prominent players in the local Democratic Party, appointed to the TNSA by the Township Committee. The TNSA’s chairman is a former Neptune mayor, and its secretary is the municipal Democratic Party chairman. Here is the full list of officers:

Chairman: James W. Manning Jr.

Vice Chairman: Harry Devine

Treasurer: James Williams

Secretary: James Mowczan

Assistant secretary: Linda Johnson

NOTE: James Manning informs us that he recused himself from participating in the OGSA-TNSA dispute from its inception until the present day. He told Blogfinger in an email that he had been appointed to the TNSA while still serving on the Township Committee. “The TNSA attorney felt it would be a conflict to be involved in discussions with the lawsuit since I was serving on BOTH public bodies, so based on that advice I recused myself from discussions about the lawsuit,” he said.

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To visit the TNSA’s website, go here..

To read our news stories about the judgment in the lawsuit, go here and here.

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Mary Beth Jahn is the choice of the Monmouth County party

By Charles Layton

The Monmouth County Democratic Party officially endorsed Mary Beth Jahn for re-election to the Neptune Township Committee today, rejecting the efforts of Neptune party leaders to oust her from the ticket.

County chairman Victor Scudiery sent a letter to the County Board of Elections this afternoon listing the party’s chosen candidates to appear on the June 5 primary ballot. Those candidates for Neptune were Jahn and the other incumbent who is up for re-election, Dr. Michael Brantley.

However, the candidate who has challenged Jahn, Nicholas Williams, indicated he was not quitting. When asked to comment on Scudiery’s decision, he said: “I’m looking forward to running with Dr. Brantley as my running mate and I think that we will prevail.” He refused to say more.

Even though Williams won’t be listed on the party’s “line,” he can still run with his name appearing elsewhere on the ballot. Politicians point out, though, that it is an uphill battle for a candidate who is not listed among the party’s endorsed slate.

The issue of Jahn versus Williams has touched off a bitter fight among local Democrats. On March 24, a majority of the local party’s district leaders voted to replace Jahn with Williams, a former school board member. However, rather than accept that decision, Jahn chose to fight back, and Mayor Randy Bishop joined in her cause, openly opposing the party’s municipal chairman, James Mowczan, as well as some other prominent members of the Neptune party.

Nicholas Williams says he'll run anyway. Photos by Mary Walton

Jahn’s other colleagues on the Township Committee, all of whom are Democrats, took no public stand one way or the other in the dispute. But a grass-roots showing of support from Democrats and Independents, many of them from Ocean Grove, strengthened Jahn’s case.

“I’m very grateful for all of the residents of Neptune who stood up for me and allowed me to have another three years to serve them,” Jahn said after hearing of the county party’s decision in her favor. “I especially want to thank Randy Bishop for all his support. He’s always been my mentor and he really helped me keep it together.”

As for the party rift, she said, “We hope that we can come together as one Democratic Party in the future.”

For background, see our previous coverage: here and here.

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Mary Beth Jahn (left) speaks with Connie Ogden of Ocean Grove after the meeting. All photos by Mary Walton

By Charles Layton

A large contingent of Ocean Grovers turned up at the meeting of the Neptune Democratic Club on Tuesday night to show support for Committeewoman Mary Beth Jahn.

Not only were they not allowed to speak in support of Jahn, they were told by the club’s president that they were not welcome.

Club President Linda Johnson opened the meeting by announcing that she would only allow a limited set of issues to be discussed. “If anyone is here for any other issue,” she said, “we do not deal with that issue, so if that is what you came for you can leave.” She went on to say that if anyone stepped out of line “there is a sergeant of arms and he will show you to the door.”

Johnson's message to Jahn supporters: "You can leave."

That was Johnson’s opening statement. Her closing statement was: “I think if you are not a dues-paying member and a Democrat you do not belong in this room.”

These remarks were entirely unprovoked. The crowd of Ocean Grovers, most of whom had never attended the club’s meetings before, could not have been more well-behaved throughout the evening. They politely applauded some of the speakers, who included members of the Township Committee.

The turnout, at the VFW post on Corlies Avenue, was much larger than is usual at meetings of the Democratic Club — something in the neighborhood of 70 people. Roughly half of that number were from Ocean Grove, and the great majority appeared to be Democratic voters.

“I was appalled,” said Joan Cruz of Ocean Grove. “I’m a lifelong Democrat. I really wanted to join this club and do some good here. I’ve never felt so unwelcome.”

After the meeting was adjourned, many others from Ocean Grove also remarked on the hostile reception. “Our voices were squashed,” Joy Norton said. Barbara Burns called the meeting “distinctly undemocratic.”

The issue that brought out these Ocean Grovers was the recent decision of the Neptune Democrats’ district leaders to replace Jahn with Nicholas Williams on the June 5 primary ballot.

Although a  majority of those party functionaries had voted on March 24 to endorse Williams rather than the incumbent Jahn, their decision could be overturned by the County Democratic Party and its chairman, Victor Scudiery. And in fact, Scudiery has already let it be known that he intends to do just that. The Neptune democratic organization has been gathering names on a petition and lobbying in other ways, hoping to change Scudiery’s mind, but at this point Jahn’s supporters seem confident that Jahn rather than Williams will end up as the party’s chosen candidate.

James Mowczan, the party's municipal chairman

James Mowczan, chairman of the Neptune party, said on Tuesday night that the issue will be decided for certain on Thursday. That, he said, is when Scudiery must turn in the official list of the party’s endorsed candidates to the County Clerk of Elections.

Joan Cruz said that she and her husband have just recently made Ocean Grove their primary residence and registered to vote here. She said that at the start of Tuesday night’s meeting she paid the $10 membership fee to join the Democratic Club, as many of the other newcomers did. But after the cold words she heard from the club’s president, she went to Mowczan after the meeting, withdrew her membership and got her $10 back.

“I intend to call the county Democratic Party tomorrow and complain,” she said.

The Neptune Democrats have never given any public reason for their decision to reject Jahn as their candidate. Jahn has said the problem is her refusal to go along with certain job appointments. In particular, she has said, Mowczan has pushed for the Township Committee to appoint former mayor James Manning to the position of township business administrator. Jahn has maintained that Manning is not qualified for that job.

Since it became known that the local Democrats were trying to oust Jahn from the Township Committee, Ocean Grovers have been especially vocal in supporting her. This is partly because Jahn is very well known in Ocean Grove but also because the intra-party dispute has hardly been publicized anywhere except in the Grove. Area media have pretty much ignored the story. However, that could change. A reporter from The Coaster was present at the Tuesday night meeting.

Nicholas Williams, who hopes to replace Jahn on the Township Committee

NOTE: For background on the Jahn-Williams dispute, go here. To read an editorial on the issue, go here.


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