When most people think about email scandals, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is often the first thing that comes to mind. But Ocean County may have an email scandal of its own, as Stafford Mayor John Spodofora’s leaked emails reveal that he used his Navy account to manage political affairs unrelated to his public job’s duties at NAES Lakehurst, which he has since retired from in 2011.
A Stafford GOP insider currently within Mayor Spodofora’s inner circle has leaked a trove of emails to Ocean County Politics that were sent between the mayor and other key players in local politics, including Ocean County Administrator and longtime Stafford Republican Club member Carl Block (on his private and county accounts) along with council members Sharon McKenna, Paul Krier and others.
Spodofora Used Navy Email Address To Coordinate Political Affairs
Despite his previous civilian job at the US Navy’s Lakehurst center having nothing to do with his political career in Stafford, Mayor Spdofora’s Navy email account has been used to further it, with many political communiqués being sent out from the account during the morning and afternoon hours, presumably during the work week.
Headers of emails we obtained showed Spodofora’s account identified him as “Spodofora, John CIV NAVAIR, Code 4.2” in messages sent from his U.S. Navy email account, email@example.com, to Stafford GOP officials. Emails originating from the Navy account had time stamps of mid-morning and afternoon times, potentially signaling that they were sent from the workplace. Mr. Spodofora is currently a civilian employee at the Lakehurst Naval Air Engineering Station. The emails offered a look inside the Spodofora camp in their past feud with former Stafford Mayor John McMenamin, who was referred to as “McMinimum” by Spodofora in an email to those involved with his campaign while a councilman in 2010.
The GOP source said that while Spodofora sometimes makes use of other email addresses in handling political affairs, the usage of the official US Navy email address to conduct political business has continued, despite it possibly being a violation of workplace policy, a question that has been raised privately among those connected to the Republican establishment in Stafford.
Other salient details found within Spodofora’s emails included the accounts of clashes that Township Administrator James Moran had with former Township Attorney Kevin Starkey, whose Democrat-aligned firm represented the township before the Dasti, Murphy et al. firm took over under Spodofora’s administration.
“Just had a call from [Business Administrator] Moran,” wrote Spodofora in a summer 2010 message sent to a group of GOP confidants included in the email dump. “He and Starkey had a major fight in town hall this morning because the Mayor [McMenamin] wrote another letter attacking me.”
The emails further said that Moran was fearful of losing his job due to possible political shakeups preceding the fall of McMenamin.
Other emails sent from the Navy account saw Spodofora sending instructions to Carl Block on what to tell Republican Club members on the mayor’s behalf when he could not make a meeting.
Another message saw Spodofora heavily criticize an article written by Asbury Park Press reporter Erik Larsen about the mayor’s “stolen valor” accusations, and ask another APP employee about having a favorable editorial written about him or at least a letter to the editor. Spodofora and other Republicans also heavily criticized a talk radio host who interviewed a political enemy of the mayor.
Spodofora Has Foot In Mouth Over Earl Galloway
While the revelation that the mayor used his work email account for personal purposes is far from groundbreaking (plenty of people do it), it offers the outside observer a look at how the actions of politicians can sometimes contradict their words, and how public officials can fail to live up to what they preach – and what could be construed as a potential violation of workplace policy if the emails were sent while Mr. Spodofora was on the clock at his government job.
Mayor Spodofora was already no stranger to controversy. Dogged by accusations of “stolen valor,” the embattled mayor still managed to win re-election despite both Democrats and many of his fellow Republicans left shocked and disappointed at the allegations surrounding the mayor’s exaggeration of his military honors. The evidence clearly contradicted the mayor’s statements, and for that readers nominated him as one of Ocean County’s “worst public officials.”
The careful reader will recall that during the height of the controversy surrounding the police investigation launched into resident Earl Galloway, a political foe of Spodofora’s, the mayor repeatedly alleged that Galloway used his Navy computer to criticize Spodofora and make allegations of “stolen valor.” The mayor’s usage of the Navy email account could be putting him in similar territory, though it’s not something Spodofora would likely admit publicly.
During his defense – both in the court of law and the court of public opinion – Mayor Spodofora and his legal team continually attempted to shift blame over to political foe Earl Galloway, specifically by emphasizing the allegation that Mr. Galloway used a Navy computer to criticize the mayor. Spodofora’s lawyer even tried to convince a judge that it was violation of the Hatch Act on Galloway’s part.
However, unlike Spodofora, Mr. Galloway was simply making the accusation of stolen valor in his personal capacity, not using his computer for partisan political activities, something that the Hatch Act makes a clear distinction between.
Navy IT Rules Forbid Political Usage Under Hatch Act
Mr. Spodofora’s lawyer, Peter Van Dyke, made sure to draw special attention to the allegation that Earl Galloway purportedly used a U.S. Navy computer to create parodies of Mayor Spodofora, and also alluded to potential violations of the Hatch Act by the mayor’s political foe. But all the while, Van Dyke’s client was using his official Navy.mil email account to coordinate his outside partisan political dealings in Stafford.
However, federal guidelines have made on thing abundantly clear: using government-owned email accounts to send partisan political orders and strategies during work hours is a big no-no.
According to a directive issued by the United States Navy’s Chief Information Officer, the following prohibitions are in place for both enlisted and civilian personnel in the course of their duties, due to the Hatch Act, a federal law prohibiting certain types of political activity among most executive branch federal employees. The law was put in place to ensure fairness to the public and prevent public officials from using their titles to procure unwarranted privileges.
Federal law gives exclusive jurisdiction for prosecuting violations of the Hatch Act to the US Office of Special Counsel. On that agency’s website exists a series of frequently asked questions regarding the law’s requirements for federal employees. Violations of the Hatch Act are adjudicated by the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, and are administrative in nature, not criminal. If found liable, violators could face penalties including removal from their government position at the board’s determination.
In Spodofora’s case, this portion of the Special Counsel Q&A would be relevant:
Q: “May a federal employee—while on duty or in the workplace—send or forward a partisan political email from his government email account or his personal email account to others?”
A: “No. A federal employee cannot send or forward a partisan political email from either his government email account or his personal email account (even using a personal device) while at work.”
In order for Spodofora to have violated the provisions of the law, the emails must have been sent during work hours, which based on the time stamps appears probable. Thus far, we have been unable to obtain any confirmation of Spodofora being formally reprimanded for his use of the account.
Perhaps he used it for the prestige of having communications come from a military email address to woo members of the press and his fellow politicos, or maybe he did it simply for the sake of “convenience” as Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton claimed.
Despite all of that, the wounds of the Stafford Township Republican organization don’t appear to be showing any signs of healing, as a growing contingent of Stafford Republicans continue to be concerned about the spectacle the mayor’s scandals have created for the township, even with their standard-bearer having been narrowly reelected in 2015.
Since he retired in 2011, it would most definitely be too late for the mayor to be held accountable for any such past violations.