More questions continue to be raised by accusations surrounding the property tax assessment reduction given to the home of Little Egg Harbor Township Committeeman John Kehm, with the ongoing controversy now involving a nasty spat between Township Administrator Garrett Loesch and Little Egg Harbor Tax Assesor Joseph Sorrentino.
Barely a week after an Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office detective’s lawsuit named top Little Egg Harbor officials – including Mayor Gene Kobryn – as targets of corruption investigations that were allegedly shut down for political reasons, township committee meetings in Little Egg Harbor Township continue to deteriorate into raucous shouting matches, as accusations of wrongdoing continue to fly in all directions.
Previously, the reduction given to Kehm’s property was publicly questioned by Deputy Mayor David Schlick, who claimed that the reduction given to Commiteeman Kehm’s property at the time Kehm was mayor was unusually large compared to neighboring Sandy-damaged homes, some of which received assessment reductions in the neighborhood of 50% while Kehm’s totaled 90% after a successful tax appeal.
This week’s meeting saw local resident Richard Longshore speak out during the public comment portion, where after criticizing the 2016 budgeting process overseen by Township Administrator Garrett Loesch, he revealed the contents of a letter obtained from the township through an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request. The document obtained in the request was a letter sent from Little Egg Harbor Tax Assessor Joseph Sorrentino to Committeeman John Kehm regarding his property tax assessment, tipping him off that people were digging for information. Other unnamed individuals were also “tipped off” to the public records request – despite property tax assessment information being public record – open for anyone to inspect under state law.
Little Egg Administrator Claims Tax Assessor Is A “Liar”
The letter was quite similar to the one we published last week, aside from this one mentioning Mr. Longshore and his request by name. The letter claimed that Loesch made a verbal request to the assessor’s office for Committeeman Kehm’s 2014 tax appeal information on Longshore’s behalf.
Mr. Longshore was steaming over the letter to Kehm mentioning him by name as having requested public records about Kehm’s property. “My name has somehow become enmeshed in ethically questionable activity in this township,” Longshore declared.
Mr. Loesch contends that the tax assessor is not telling the truth in the letter sent to Kehm, and publicly accused him of lying.
“The author of that letter – absolutely is a liar,” responded a visibly agitated Loesch. “An absolute liar.”
“The question is what is his [Sorrentino’s] motive for putting it in there,” later opined Loesch.
The back-and-forth continued, with Township Attorney Robin LaBue weighing in and stating that after speaking with both Loesch and Sorrentino, and the “he said, she said” nature of the accusations, it would be impossible to ascertain who is telling the truth in this situation, a sentiment that was echoed by Mayor Kobryn.
Mayor Kobryn repeatedly interrupted Longshore as he was attempting to make his public comment, even going so far as to remark “you’re never finished” when asked by the citizen if he could finish his statement. Kobryn’s comment – and his attempt to seemingly brush concerns under the rug – provoked shouting and jeers from the audience against the mayor.
“What is clear to me is that there is a significant difference of opinion between two highly compensated officials of Little Egg Harbor government,” replied Longshore. “I am personally very offended that my name is linked to this chain of events that has taken on a life of its own.”
He further alleged that the chain of events showed that township’s elected officials have failed to properly exercise oversight over the township administrator or tax assessor.
John Kehm Says Tax Accusations Are “Retaliation”
While refusing to address the substance of the revelations Deputy Mayor Schlick brought forth at the previous meeting, Committeeman John Kehm asserted that recent claims surrounding the tax board’s judgement in his favor from the last meeting were nothing more than “retaliation.” Mr. Kehm did not say what it was in retaliation for, adding only “On these accusations and everything, I will not comment fully.”
“This is up to the higher authorities that have been investigating this and we’ll see what happens,” concluded Kehm.
It should be noted that Commiteeman Kehm declined to comment regarding the allegations on the night of the meeting they were first made public, waiting until this meeting to issue a response.
Responding to the back-and-forth, Committeewoman Stevens added “If the boys want to play, let the boys play.” She added “I am tired, and I am done with it.” Citing the number of resolutions that end up getting tabled, the committeewoman added that she believes the bickering seen at recent meetings has prevented the governing body from getting work done.
Deputy Mayor Schlick also responded to Longshore’s comments, sharing in his concern that it “boggles the mind” why the tax assessor would throw in Mr. Longshore’s name when the request for records on Kehm’s property was originally made by himself and not Mr. Longshore.
“I think somebody is misleading you so that you do come up here and make a scene,” Schlick remarked. “It just doesn’t make sense.”
Earlier in the meeting, Deputy Mayor Schlick remarked that he has provided information to outside law enforcement agencies related to the accusations. Thus far, nobody has been formally charged with any wrongdoing stemming from the accusations. In his letter to Kehm, the tax assessor additionally defended the tax board’s judgement in Kehm’s favor.
“If it’s wrong, it’s wrong,” concluded Schlick.