JACKSON – A concerned resident confronted members of the Jackson Township Council after members of the council, Mayor Michael Reina and Jackson MUA commissioners were secretly recorded entering and exiting the Gilmore law offices for a closed-door meeting on December 3rd, 2016.
Jackson Township’s elected officials did not have much to say about the closed-door meeting they had with Ocean County Republican Chairman George Gilmore, who is now under federal investigation for unpaid taxes, among other things.
Elenor Hannum, a longtime Jackson resident, spoke out about the closed-door meeting during Tuesday evening’s meeting of the council. She first asked the council members when the last time a “political caucus” meeting took place between Jackson’s council members, but Jackson Council President Robert Nixon refused to answer.
Exemptions to the state Open Public Meetings Act allow officials to meet behind closed doors in the context of so-called “political caucus” meetings, so long as township business is not discussed and no official action is taken.
But since the meeting was held in secret at the Gilmore office, Jackson citizens are left with no choice but to take their elected officials at their word, which might not be worth very much these days.
Council President Nixon: Gilmore Has “Zero Impact” On Town Decisions
Hannum continued to press Nixon and the council to answer a question raised by Sheldon Hoffstein at the previous council meeting: how much influence does George Gilmore have on township politics?”
At the last meeting, Dr. Hoffstein, a member of the Jackson Republican Club, pointed to Gilmore’s influence in the selection of Paterson Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres as a previous Jackson business administrator, as at least one example of how Gilmore’s political pressure placed political needs above the town, considering the fact that Torres didn’t have the required college degree for the job.
“He has zero impact on the decisions made on this dais,” Jackson Council President Robert Nixon said of Gilmore in response to Hannum, despite the fact that the Gilmore firm provides legal representation to the township in addition to political support for the town’s “nonpartisan” elected officials. Councilman Nixon himself was photographed and filmed as a participant in the secret meeting among Jackson officials and county GOP leader George Gilmore.
“Then, I must ask you, was there a secret meeting on December 3rd, 2016?” Hannum asked Nixon.
“I’m not going to discuss the meeting,” the council president replied.
When Nixon wouldn’t answer her questions about the closed-door meeting, Hannum described what took place in the parking lot of 10 Allen Street.
“On December 3rd, 2016 there was a meeting that took place at Gilmore & Monahan’s office in Toms River,” she said. “Some started walking in at 10 to 11. With that, a viewer had witnessed the entire council go in, George Gilmore go in, the mayor go in, and three members of the board of the MUA.”
“I find this very disheartening,” she said. Hannum also alleged that the meeting could be violating the state Open Public Meetings Act, but in a back-and-forth, Council President Nixon maintained the position that the closed-door meeting with Gilmore was legally permissible.
“It’s legally not a public meeting, there’s no question about it,” Nixon said in response.
Hannum said that elected officials holding a meeting behind closed doors in Gilmore’s Toms River offices didn’t look good to the residents of Jackson from a transparency standpoint.
“You realize the optics and how this looks for the residents of Jackson Township,” she said. “As you say there is transparency in this town and that clearly was not transparency, when all of our elected officials are meeting with the township attorney at an undisclosed location.”
Council President Nixon said that Hannum’s concerns about the meeting were an “overreaction.”
Nixon likened the gathering at the Gilmore office to monthly meetings of the Jackson Republican Club, and how those meetings are not required to be opened to the general public despite the presence of many town officials.
“It is a political meeting exempted by the Open Public Meetings Act,” he said.
Ironically, Jackson Township is officially organized under a “nonpartisan” form of government in which members of the township council and mayor appear on the ballot without party labels, but members of the nonpartisan council and mayor are members of the Jackson Republican Club and aligned with Gilmore.
Mayor Reina MIA At Jackson Council Meeting
Jackson Mayor Michael Reina, who was among those filmed attending the closed-door meeting, and cracking jokes about Facebook when he spotted the cameras, was nowhere to be found at Tuesday night’s council meeting.