LACEY – An attorney from Ocean County GOP Chairman George Gilmore’s office shut down discussion of a controversial deal involving the township committee paying for a water line extended to a private restaurant. She claimed that no funds have been expended on the highly controversial project, which was approved in late 2018 and the subject of criticism since then.
Shawn Judson, a former Democratic township committee candidate, spoke out about the deal at the meeting. She questioned Lacey elected officials – who touted themselves as “fiscally responsible” earlier in the meeting – about whether it is typical for the township committee to finance the construction of water lines for private establishments.
“I saw that this township committee approved a water line down to Joey Harrison’s. Has the township ever paid for a private citizen to have water lines put in?” Judson questioned.
Judson’s line of questioning was quickly shut down by Lauren Staiger, Esq. an associate of the firm of Gilmore & Monahan. Staiger and Lacey elected officials previously declined to comment on the indictment of her boss, Ocean County GOP Chairman George Gilmore, whose firm holds municipal contracts throughout Ocean County and New Jersey.
“I am actually going to comment on that because I have instructed the mayor and the township committee not to comment because this is a matter related to litigation,” Staiger interjected. She did not identify what specific litigation the deal pertained to in her comments from the dais.
“I do want the public to be aware, however, that there has been at this point in time no expenditure of any public funds for that installation,” Staiger added. “I am currently reviewing everything and nothing will move forward, in fact the agreement has not even been signed.”
Documents provided by the Lacey MUA in response to a request made under the state’s Open Public Records Act showed that Lacey MUA commissioners voted to approve the deal at the October 3rd MUA meeting, following the Lacey Township Committee’s earlier approval of the agreement in a resolution passed in September.
The documents provided by the MUA included a letter dated September 28th, 2018 sent by Lacey Township Clerk / Administrator Veronica Laureigh that requested the MUA execute the interlocal services agreement with Lacey Township, which will see over $72,000 taken out of the township’s 2019 budget to pay for the 8″ water line serving Joey Harrison’s River House in Forked River. Under the terms of the agreement, the MUA will oversee the work on the line and the township will reimburse them the costs. The agreement indicated that the line was for the purposes of “fire protection.”
One month after the MUA voted to approve the deal, LMUA Commissioner Jack Nosti, who is also the GOP municipal chairman, retroactively changed his vote from yes to no at the November, 2018 MUA meeting, according to meeting minutes.
John C. Parker, a former Lacey mayor and chair of the Ocean County Utilities Authority slammed decisions made by the MUA and township at the December MUA meeting.
“Hell, I love a good war,” Parker said at the time. “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 [Dasti]. You know that.”
Staiger said that “nothing will move forward until I give the go-ahead” on the water line deal. She said that there will be another resolution regarding the deal presented to the township committee to vote on at a later date, despite their earlier votes to go ahead with the deal in 2018.
Former Candidate: Water Line Deal An “Undue Burden”
Judson remained highly critical of the Lacey governing body’s approval of the expenditure of public funds for the water line on private property amid concerns about how the closure of the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station may impact Lacey taxpayers in the future. She hoped that Lacey officials will reject the deal when they vote on it again in the future.
“That is not fair putting an undue burden onto our taxpayers when we already have not gotten any answers about the power plant shutting down and what’s going to happen with the taxes there and this is coming up that we’re going to pay for a water line,” she said.
Ocean County Politics previously criticized the deal in an editorial. The editorial drew pushback from LMUA Attorney Jerry Dasti, who called it “scurrilous” before inaccurately claiming that OCP failed to state that MUA chairman Jim Knoeller recused himself from the vote in the editorial (we did). Dasti attempted to deflect blame away from the MUA in his response, arguing that they “did nothing wrong.”
A Facebook profile for the South Winds Marina, where the water line is set to be installed, indicates that the facility is managed and operated by Knoeller, who has denied having a financial relationship with the property at MUA meetings.
The Lacey MUA board is set to meet tonight for their regularly scheduled monthly meeting, where the deal is again expected to be an item of discussion.