FORKED RIVER – A dysfunctional MUA meeting over an anonymous letter that made accusations against an employee brought a rare public appearance from former Lacey Mayor John Parker, the chairman of the Ocean County Utilities Authority, who flung accusations at MUA Chair Jim Knoeller and issued an ultimatum to LMUA Attorney Jerry Dasti.
AUDIO of Parker’s remarks below:
Dasti said that he was directed to send a Rice notice to Troy Burton – who
was appointed as the LMUA’s water treatment & supply superintendent this past September – because the authority received an anonymous letter disparaging him and making accusations against him and LMUA Executive Director Ed Woolf. Rice notices must be sent to public employees when their employment is set to be discussed, and gives them the option to have hearings in public or behind closed doors.
“My strong recommendation is you just throw the anonymous letter in the garbage,” Dasti said. “That’s how I feel about anonymous letters disparaging other people,” he added, noting that a few have been sent about him.
Accompanied by family at the public MUA meeting, Burton said that the ordeal caused him a “month worth of stress and anxiety.”
Dasti said that 10 MUA employees signed a statement supporting Burton in response to the anonymous letter. LMUA commissioners took no action against Burton over the anonymous accusations at the meeting, following Dasti’s recommendation.
Parker, who “formed this authority many years ago” says he wants Lacey MUA attorney Jerry Dasti to have a sit-down meeting with George Gilmore to sort out his problems with the town and “get this matter straightened out.” (Editor’s note: this meeting took place prior to the date news of the Gilmore indictment became public).
“You all know what I’m talking about,” he said. Some commissioners weren’t clear on what the gravamen of Parker’s accusations were.
Parker said he is “heading up a group of men in the township that care about this township that have just run out of patience.”
Accusations of Conflicts
Parker accused Lacey MUA Chairman Jim Knoeller of being conflicted for presding over the hearing regarding Burton due to his involvement with the former Southwinds property, previously known as Latitudes, now Joey Harrison’s River House.
Knoeller denied having any current financial stake, only providing advice without compensation.
“And Jim you oughta be careful of conflicts of interests. That hearing tonight should have been headed by [LMUA Commissioner Frank] Masciale. Not you. You should have stepped down.”
Parker – who himself has come under fire for the hiring practices of the Ocean County Utilities Authority which he chairs – flung accusations of patronage hiring at LMUA Chairman Jim Knoeller.
“And as far as the young Burton boy Jimmy, you hired him,” Parker spat at Knoeller. “You hired him because you were a friend of Steve Burton’s,” Parker said.
“Hell, it’s a small town. We all know what’s going on.”
“And Jerry, You should write an opinion to this authority on who is in conflict and who isn’t.”
We Could Have Fired Hutler
Parker, noting his role as the Lacey Township historian, said that the anonymous letter concerning Burton isn’t the first anonymous letter of this nature sent to Lacey officials, laying blame with former Ocean County Jail Warden Theodore “Ted” Hutler for the last one.
“This isn’t the first letter. Knoeller knows that. It was Teddy Hutler, remember? Out of the warden’s office.”
“And [Pinelands Commissioner Alan] Avery and [Freeholder John] Bartlett and myself caught him. Could have fired him but we didn’t.”
“I don’t forget anything, especially when it comes to this township,” Parker said.
“I suggest very strongly that you get your act together and get this mess straightened out.”
“Hell, I love a good war,” Parker said. “But you boys have a problem and you better get it straightened out. If you don’t, I’ll have to straighten it out for you, and you won’t like that, Jerry. You know that.”
Parker said that he understood why Burton’s father, Steve was present at the meeting to defend his son. “I can understand that, because the same group got rid of my son,” Parker said. “Right? That’s a fact too.”
“What are you looking at me for? Casey?” Dasti quipped in response. “What are you looking at me like I had something to do with it? I don’t know, John, but I didn’t.”
As of September, 2017, Parker’s son retired as the head of Lacey Township’s public works department. Multiple township sources with firsthand knowledge of the younger Parker’s retirement claimed he sought a raise, and township officials wouldn’t budge.
“They made it so mean and nasty for him,” Parker said of the circumstances in which his son left as the township DPW boss.
“I can never decide in my lifetime of politics – which is 69 years – who’s trying to lock me up, my side or their side. So I have a trouble finding out whose side everybody’s on.”
After Parker left the meeting, LMUA Commissioner Jack Nosti, who is also the Lacey GOP municipal chair expressed his displeasure with Dasti. Nosti has been seen as being a part of the faction of the Lacey GOP loyal to Parker, but wanted to save his remarks for after Parker left the contentious meeting.
“Jerry you know from the last meeting that I asked you twice for legal opinions. And you said you would give them to me, okay, however we never did get them. I didn’t want to say anything when the other fellow was here.”
Dasti said he won’t provide legal opinions when a single commissioner asks for one “…because then you’re spending money.” He said that serves the entire MUA and only provides written opinions when asked by a formal vote of the MUA board.
Dasti said it would be unethical and wrong for him to provide individual legal opinions to commissioners, rather than the entire board. He also accused Nosti of going over his head and asking another attorney for a legal opinion.
“You went to another attorney who’s of counsel to the township attorney, and asked him, which I thought was – ” Dasti replied before being interrupted.
That was a reference to Jerry’s estranged son, Chris, who hung his own shingle and started his own law practice after leaving his father’s firm. Chris Dasti also recently became of counsel to the law firm of Gilmore & Monahan, having sat at the dais at Lacey Committee meetings in that capacity.
“No I didn’t, you don’t know who I went to,” Nosti said.
“Yes I do,” Dasti said. “No, you don’t!” Nosti fired back.
“I don’t know why all the sudden it’s my night in the barrel here,” Dasti questioned. “Now all the sudden I fired Casey Parker.”
Nosti continued to assert that Knoeller was conflicted at the end of the meeting. It was also revealed that the Lacey MUA commissioners have been going out together at the River House after public meetings.
“Why do we go there every meeting instead of alternating like you said we would do?” questioned Nosti.
“You mean after the meetings?” Knoeller replied. Dasti attempted to qualify those comments by claiming the private meetings of the LMUA commissioners were only “social” in nature.
As to the details of Knoeller’s alleged conflict?
“That’s probably going to come out another time,” Nosti said.
Dasti compared the back-and-forth with Nosti to arguing with his wife at home. “If you gotta get the last word in, you got it.”