Lawsuit: Manchester Mayor Palmer’s Campaign Manager Says Toms River Officials Retaliated Against Him for Speaking Out

TOMS RIVER – Michael Schwartz, the campaign manager that ran Manchester Township Mayor Ken Palmer’s 2014 campaign is suing Toms River officials in a federal civil rights lawsuit filed earlier in 2016. In court documents, his attorney alleges that Toms River Mayor Tom Kelaher along with Councilwoman Maria Maruca, Public Works Director / Assistant Business Administrator Louis Amoruso, Police Chief Mitch Little, and other officials retaliated against him for voicing concerns at a town council meeting regarding downtown parking issues.

In court filings, Schwartz’s attorney, Joseph DiRienzo, alleges that the Toms River township officials “conspired to deprive [Schwartz] of his civil rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. §1983 by punishing [him] for exercising his rights under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution” after he spoke out at a 2014 council meeting regarding parking concerns in Downtown Toms River.

It started in March of 2014 when Mr. Schwartz, who runs the “Hometown Heroes” nonprofit, along with two of the group’s employees contacted the Toms River mayor’s office to discuss parking issues which resulted in the issuance of tickets to employees of the tax-exempt organization. Unable to reach Mayor Kelaher due to him reportedly being in a meeting at the time, Schwartz later organized a group of business owners to attend a public township council meeting the next month to voice their concerns.

The Toms River resident’s quest to resolve concerns related to parking would lead to allegations of retaliation and the filing of the federal civil rights lawsuit against the township and its officials.

Maruca: “Don’t Beat Me Up” Over Downtown TR Parking Problems

In April of 2014, Schwartz’s attorney alleged that Councilwoman Maria Maruca told Schwartz he should not “beat her up” over the parking issue by speaking during the public comment section of council meetings, because she “did not need this” while she was serving as council president.

Maria Maruca

Maria Maruca

Alleges Police Report Prepared But Never Filed To “Chill” His 1st Amendment Right To Freedom Of Speech

After that meeting, he alleges that Toms River Police Chief Mitch Little then told Schwartz that the police department generated a report that stated Schwartz was “causing problems” as a result of his visit to the Toms River mayor’s office to share his concerns related to parking, but Little told Schwartz, who is also an auxiliary police officer, that the report was never filed, a statement that Schwartz interpreted as a retaliatory threat.

little

Chief Little

Schwartz’s attorney contends “This ‘report’ was an attempt on behalf of the Township of Toms River, the Toms River Mayor’s Office, the Toms River Town Counsel, and/or the Toms River Police Department to chill Plaintiff’s right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

The Toms River man’s attorney alleged that he faced additional threats and retaliation, including the loss of his position as an auxiliary police officer after he claimed a police investigation was opened into his March, 2014 visit to the mayor’s office regarding downtown parking concerns.

Attorney: Amoruso Offered Deal In Exchange For “Silence”

Schwartz further alleges that after his interactions with Chief Little, he was later approached by the township’s assistant business administrator / public works director, Lou Amoruso. According to court documents filed by Schwartz’s attorney, Mr. Amoruso questioned Schwartz on why he did not instead bring his concerns to the office of the business administrator, Paul Shives, instead of going to the mayor’s office as he did. Schwartz’s attorney alleged that this showed that Amoruso directly offered a resolution to his concerns about parking, “in exchange for his silence.”

The lawsuit claimed that shortly after he filed a tort claim notice with the township in July of 2014, the retaliation turned to his charity, Hometown Heroes. A tort claim notice is a legal notice that is  required to be filed as a precursor to lawsuits against a public entity. It was at that point that the Toms River officials began telling donors to Hometown Heroes to “steer clear” of Schwartz and the charity due to the then-impending lawsuit against the town.

TR Mayor Kelaher Accused Of Derailing Manchester Patronage Job

Mayor Kelaher

Mayor Kelaher

Mayor Palmer

Mayor Palmer

According to the lawsuit, shortly after the election of Ken Palmer as mayor of Manchester Township in 2014, Palmer offered Mr. Schwartz, who managed his 2014 campaign, the position of being the township’s business administrator. but Toms River Mayor Tom Kelaher started calling up Palmer to complain about the hiring of Schwartz.

In February of 2015, when he was set to take the job, Manchester Mayor Ken Palmer told Schwartz that he was “…receiving phone calls from employees of the Township of Toms River and that they were attempting to interfere with Plaintiff’s higher [sic] as the Manchester Township Business Administrator by complaining about his potential lawsuit against Toms River, and falsely accusing plaintiff of criminal misconduct.”

At least one of the people alleged to have been attempting to put the brakes on Schwartz’s hiring was Toms River Mayor Tom Kelaher, according to court documents filed on behalf of Schwartz.

“Defendant Kelaher has been identified as one of the individuals who made the phone calls objecting to Plaintiff’s appointment as Manchester Township Business Administrator,” according to attorney DiRienzo.

In March of 2015, Manchester instead hired Donna Markulic as the township’s new business administrator, not Schwartz. Mr. Schwartz’s attorney attributes the hiring of Markulic over Schwartz to political pressure from Kelaher, “…based on complaints received from Defendant Kelaher and other complainants who are as of yet unidentified.”

After stopping him from being hired in Manchester, Schwartz’s attorney alleges in a defamation claim that Mayor Kelaher made “false and disparaging” remarks about his client to a member of his charity’s board of directors. He claims in court documents that Kelaher accused Schwartz of embezzling money from Hometown Heroes, along with claiming that the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office was “building a case” against him.

Next Court Appearance In November

At this time, the lawsuit remains in the pretrial phase. Toms River is being represented by Jared J. Monaco of Gilmore & Monahan, and a scheduling conference has been set by Judge Lois H, Goodman on November 16th, 2016 at the United States Courthouse in Trenton. Mr. Monaco has filed an answer with the court in which he denies the allegations and included a counterclaim against Schwartz for the township’s legal fees.

 

 

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Gavin Rozzi

Gavin Rozzi

Gavin Rozzi is the editor of Ocean County Politics and a lifelong Ocean County resident, residing in Lacey Township. Gavin's work centers on the intersection of money and politics in Ocean County, with a focus on public corruption. He can be reached via email at editor@politicsoc.com or via phone at (848)-667-0840 or on encrypted phone / text app Signal.

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  • East Dover

    Toms River…..a political cesspool. Their past problems are all catching up to them. Just a few of
    the choice articles here indicate they have major problems with their leadership, the guy that runs the club ,TR Utilities Authority doesn’t even live in town, their Republican Club is falling apart, from top-down is a complete mess. Thought

    Anthony Benypla was the director of Public Works, you know the gentlemen that had some issues a few years ago. His wife is the secretary to the executive director, the former mayor of Brick, of the Toms River mua. Tell you one thing, these guys keep it close to the vest when they hire each other. Just seems that the chickens are coming home to roost in Toms River politics. It may take a little while longer but the proverbial poop is hitting the fan around River city.

    • I do not live in TR, so I went off of what was on the Township website. The website currently has Lou listed as both assistant business administrator and director of public works.

      • guest

        Correct, the other gentleman mentioned is second in command.

  • HenryHudson

    Surprise surprise Gilmore and the puppeteering of ocean County again

  • guest

    This town really has no election this year. Wait till next year when , I think, The Mayor and council are up for re-election.

    • The appointed GOP Councilman, Kevin Geoghegan, who replaced Sevastakis, is up for reelection this year. He is being challenged by Democrat Daniel Rodrick.

      • Hazmat

        I think the poster was correct in stating. The town really has no election this year. Rodrick has lost , what twice already in prior elections? However, with the majority up next year. Maybe the Democrats can focus on picking up a few seats. The chicanery that has been going on the Toms River Republican circle , when brought to light , at the very least is embarrassing.

        • I won’t disagree on the likelihood of the GOP winning as they usually do, but hey, at least they have somebody on the ballot in Toms River. In my town we couldn’t even get two “placeholder” candidates to put their names on the ballot this year, all but guaranteeing a win for the Republicans.

          • Hazmat

            I think the best bet for next year in Toms River it would be the Democrats putting up solid people that could maybe pick up a seat or two. One way is to constantly bring out some of the cronyism, nepotism, and other Shenanigans going on around town. Hey, just take a look at the hiring of friends and family around the municipal government in Toms River. Or the family hiring plan they have over at the Toms River MUA. I think if those points are kept out there in front of the public at some point it may catch on. .

          • All valid points. I would only add that the hiring plan is not confined just to the MUA…. look at what’s going on in town hall and over at Oak Avenue as well. It’s kind of funny how many of the people on the hiring plan also happen to be in the ELEC reports as financial backers of the pols that gave them their job. What a coincidence.

      • Elks

        Correct, and Mr Sevastakis was the nicest and most approachable of all of them.

  • Cuddy

    Maybe she meant “she did not need this” because Councilwomen Maruca is busy running the Toms River DMV also? The good folks that run Toms River pass out jobs like tic-tacs.

    • Telex

      DMV, I thought she was Pizza Pizza..

  • Nuclearprogram

    Significant, in the fact that Hometown Heroes’ offices have burned to the ground twice in the last few years…makes you wonder.

    • guest

      What is equally amazing is that the person they hired. Gets a full-time taxpayer-funded pension of close to $100,000 a year, and on top of that makes $90,000 a year in a taxpayer funded job.. That’s double-dipping.. At its finest.

  • guest

    The gentleman has quite a biography on Wikipedia.

  • psk715

    It appears that Mayor Palmer didn’t want to ruffle the Gilmore machine’s feathers;which is why he probably didn’t hire Schwartz for the position (although that would have also been a patronage hire).Perhaps the mayor wants to attain higher office,in the county,or wants work sent his law firm’s way.Isn’t also just great,that Gilmore’s law firm is representing Toms River,& even more tax-payer dollars,will get to pay their high-priced rate.The cronyism never ceases.

  • psk715

    It appears that Mayor Palmer didn’t want to ruffle the Gilmore machine’s
    feathers;which is why he probably didn’t hire Schwartz for the position
    (although that would have also been a patronage hire).Perhaps the mayor
    wants to attain higher office,in the county,or wants work sent his law
    firm’s way.Isn’t also just great,that Gilmore’s law firm is representing
    Toms River,& even more tax-payer dollars,will get to pay their
    high-priced rate.The cronyism never ceases.Since Schwartz is a Repub,I wonder what he did,to upset the Gilmore Gang.

    • guest

      Doesn’t take much to upset those guys. Ask a question or two, go against the grain, make a wave here or there.

    • Crusty begger

      This guy along with Mr Novy probably has a few tales to tell about the Toms River Political Org. Dominoes are falling in the local scene there.

  • guest

    What are these players thinking when they try these stunts? Toms River is just ridiculous.

  • Beachwood

    Mr Schwartz used to run the campaigns with the current Toms River GOP chairman years back. Why the backlash against him?

    • guest

      The old adage “beware of unguarded talk”.