LONG BEACH TOWNSHIP – After her residency was unsuccessfully challenged by incumbent Commissioner Joseph Lattanzi, candidate Danielle Hagler says the involvement of the township attorney in Lattanzi’s unsuccessful challenge was wasteful. At issue was Lattanzi’s use of a confidential legal opinion prepared at taxpayer expense in support of a personal residency challenge he filed against Hagler, a political rival of Lattanzi in this year’s hotly contested race.
Documents obtained this week showed incumbent Long Beach Township Commissioner Joseph Lattanzi used a confidential legal opinion – which was prepared by township attorney Tennant Magee at taxpayer expense – in support of a residency challenge he filed against Dannielle “Danni” Hagler, who is running along with Don Myers and Tom Beatty challenging incumbents Joseph Mancini and Ralph Bayard, who are running along with Lattanzi in the nonpartisan race to determine who will represent Long Beach Township on the three-member Board of Commissioners.
Lattanzi alleged that Hagler’s primary residence was actually in Manahawkin as a result of mortgage documents he obtained that stipulated that the Manahawkin home must be the borrower’s principal residence in order to be eligible for the loan. The incumbent commissioner alleged that this showed that his rival, Ms. Hagler was actually residing in Manahawkin – and not in Long Beach Township where she is running for office.
After an investigation by the Board of Elections, which included a visit to Hagler’s residence and her Manahawkin property, Hagler was cleared as being qualified to vote in Long Beach Township and the residency challenge was tossed.
Township Attorney Showed Up To Residency Challenge Hearing
While the residency challenge against Hagler was swiftly dismissed, the involvement of the township attorney – and cost to the taxpayers – regarding the matter has come under fire from the candidate who was the target of the challenge.
“If the incumbents had a question, they could have just asked,” Hagler told Ocean County Politics in an interview. “This is my whole issue with the way things are running in our town. Why did the Township waste taxpayer money on this issue?”
Hagler said that the hearing before the commissioners of the Ocean County Board of Elections was over in a matter of minutes, but the township attorney even showed up to the hearing, in his official capacity.
“The evidence in my favor was so overwhelming that it only took minutes, but the details are quite eye opening,” she said. “Not only did the allegation come from one of the incumbents, but they had the law firm representing Long Beach Township write a letter as well, and that same attorney attended the meeting.”
Ms. Hagler tells us that Mr Magee attempted to object to the disclosure of the legal opinion by the board of elections, but a commisioner told him it was public record since it was provided to the board of elections for the purpose of adjudicating the challenge.
“This was a clear waste of taxpayer money since I am a resident of LBT and have been for my entire life,” Hagler said of the township attorney’s involvement in the affair. “I would have welcomed the incumbent making the accusation or anyone else who had questions to come to me and ask. Instead, tax dollars were wasted and that is something people should know.”
We offered Commissioner Lattanzi, who filed the challenge, an opportunity to explain the use of the Long Beach Township attorney in what appears to be an outside political challenge, but the incumbent elected official did not return a request for comment.
In a previous email to OCP, Commissioner Lattanzi was critical of an opinion piece penned by Barnegat Republican Chairman Frank Santolla, in which Santolla alleged a “culture of corruption” has become institutionalized under the Mancini administration. At that time, Commissioner Lattanzi also offered to provide documentation to this reporter about rival candidate Don Myers, but never followed through.
We still have yet to ascertain the full cost of this exercise to the taxpayers, as Long Beach Township Clerk Lynda Wells indicated that the October legal bills are not yet in, and she refused to provide copies of existing legal bills via email unless we paid a paper copying fee in advance for records requested electronically, in violation of the state Open Public Records Act and established precedent regarding public records requested via email.
In September alone, the following charges appeared on the legal bills related to the challenge:
The Legal Opinion
The Board’s Findings