At last week’s township committee meeting, Deputy Mayor David Schlick brought forth shocking revelations about Little Egg Harbor government, claiming that he’s found “corruption throughout this town,” after he looked into the concerns of taxpayers.
Last November, despite receiving no help from the Ocean County Democratic organization, Democrats David Schlick and Lisa Stevens won in what was perhaps the biggest upset victory to occur in southern Ocean County in recent times, with Schlick & Stevens having deposed incumbent Republicans Art Midgley and Ed Nuttall on the township’s governing body.
In the 2015 race – which was characterized by vitriolic and polarizing rhetoric – the Schlick team prevailed against all odds, with the deputy mayor receiving multiple threats demanding that he drop out of the race – and having his house burn down shortly thereafter.
“I ran to lower taxes, have more transparency and to fix what I see as shady and crooked actions. I have done the first two, and I am working on the third one everyday,” Schlick said at the meeting.
Undeterred, after just a few months of being in office, Mr. Schlick came out swinging against what he claims is widespread corruption that he has uncovered at highest levels of the Little Egg Harbor administration, as his fellow committee members watched on in silence. Schlick’s investigation was prompted by an anonymous email that detailed specific allegations, which you can read here.
And after he obtained stacks of documents and did his own research, Schlick said those allegations are “all true.”
“Numbers just don’t add up” On Mezzina County Land Deal
Mr. Schlick said that after hearing the pleas of Mathistown Road property owner Lori Aceto at a public meeting earlier in May, he began digging into issue surrounding the tax assessments and whether or not those with political connections were getting special treatment.
Consulting public records, the deputy mayor did additional research into the issues. Here’s what he found:
“I found out that her taxes are $17,000 a year for 10 acres, that comes to $1,700 per acre,” he said.” But just down the road, he found out that Mezzina – the same company that got building approvals Mrs. Aceto’s family was denied for – was paying the fire sale price of $598 per acre in property taxes.
That same property was recently given approval by the freeholders to be acquired by the county as open space, and had an assessed value of $2.2 million, but for whatever reason the county ended up buying the land for over double that price, giving Mezzina $5.45 million, according to the deputy mayor.
“The numbers just don’t add up,” Schlick said.
Legality Of John Kehm’s Giant 90% Tax Cut Questioned
Concerns over shady property tax assessments led an anonymous resident to tip off Schlick (and OCP) about one of his fellow committee members, Republican John Kehm.
In 2013, many of Little Egg Harbor’s residents filed property tax appeals on their homes that were ravaged by Superstorm Sandy, with many not being able to live in them due to the severity of the damage.
But Committeeman (then Mayor) Kehm’s huge tax reduction stood out from all of the rest.
“If you see the reduction one house got, all the other reductions that the houses around it got are not even close, and it’s really disturbing.”
Kehm got the following judgement from the Ocean County Board of Taxation after filing a tax appeal for 2013:
Here’s Committeeman Kehm’s home as seen in 2013 by Google Street view:
Residents familiar with the property said that Kehm has been living in the house the entire time since Sandy, which is corroborated by the above picture from 2013.
Here is the home’s property tax assessments going back to 2004:
Mr. Schlick may have just hit the tip of the iceberg, as his requests for public information on tax assessments prompted Little Egg Harbor tax assessor Joseph Sorrentino to mail letters at taxpayer expense notifying Kehm and others that Schlick was requesting information on the assessed values of their properties.
George Gilmore’s son Michael Gilmore defends tax appeals in Little Egg Harbor and many other Ocean County municipalities. We last saw him defending tax appeals in Lacey Township, where he vigorously fought appeals filed by residents.
With how we’ve seen Gilmore defending tax appeals, it just begs the question: how could Mr. Gilmore have let something as big as Kehm’s reduction get through? Kehm wasn’t even represented by an attorney for his tax appeal, records showed.
Committeeman Kehm chose not to respond to any of Schlick’s allegations at the meeting, but did take notice of the Ocean County Politics camera recording the meeting, stating “That’s a nice camera you’ve got there,” to this reporter before scurrying out to a closed-door executive session meeting.
Keith Davis’ “Shady” Contract
Another point of contention brought forth by Schlick was the hiring of Atlantic County Republican chairman Keith Davis’ law firm. Mayor Gene Kobryn – who was kicked out of the Little Egg Harbor Republican Club for being bipartisan – wanted to hire a law firm with no political ties to investigate accusations made by employees.
Instead, with the help of LEHT Republicans John Kehm and Ray Gormley, Atlantic County GOP boss Keith Davis has crossed the Mullica River into Ocean County, breaking from his usual routine of country club fundraisers in Linwood to get another public contract in Little Egg Harbor.
Deputy Mayor Schlick said that although the contract was awarded legally, the fact that it was rushed through at the last meeting in December before the holiday season was “shady.” Schlick, siding with Kobryn criticized the hiring of Davis, as the outside lawyer that Mayor Kobryn wanted to hire not only had no political ties to the area, but also had an hourly rate $115 less than Davis. Even over those factors, Davis still got the job.
Thus far, over $5000 have been spent with the Davis firm, with no findings being presented to township officials, despite mounting legal bills.
As Atlantic City Burns, Gilmore & Friends Profit
Chairman Davis’ surrogates in Atlantic County have rewarded Ocean County’s Republicans well. Interestingly enough, the Ocean County GOP’s political director, Chris Filiciello, is both an officer of the Little Egg Harbor Republican Club in addition to serving as GOP Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian’s chief of staff.
Over in Atlantic City, where part-time lifeguard have received pensions, the Gilmore firm received a lucrative contract to defend the city against casino tax appeals, which have become increasingly costly and controversial in light of PILOT legislation proposed in the state legislature. Other Ocean County GOP professionals received contracts in Atlantic City as well.
“I will take this as far as I have to,” Deputy Mayor Schlick Says
Promising to continue rooting out corruption in Little Egg Harbor, Schlick promised not to give up.
“Since my inquiries a lot of people are scared and they’re running,” Schlick added. “People are trying to cover up now because I’m onto something.”
“It absolutely is corruption, hands down,” he said. “The numbers don’t lie there is corruption and it needs to stop.” We will have much more to come out of Little Egg Harbor, as our sources continue to apprise us of all the sleazy details.