Ocean County Politics

Inside Ocean County Government

Berkeley

State Probes Berkeley Fire Prevention

BERKELEY – State officials reviewed records and asked questions about the Berkeley Township Fire Prevention Bureau as part of a Tuesday morning visit to town hall.

One of the state officials who was present was wearing a jacket with a shield indicating they were from the Division of Fire Safety within the state Department of Community Affairs (DCA). The affiliations of the other state personnel were not readily identifiable, as one investigator was dressed in plain clothes and arrived in an unmarked black SUV just after 9:00 a.m. Tuesday.

“We have some questions”

Ocean County Politics overheard the investigators talking through how they would approach Berkeley Township officials while they were in the hallway of the municipal building. They said that they would begin by telling the Berkeley officials that “we have some questions” but it was tough to decipher exactly what they were planning to ask.

State officials walk to the Berkeley council chambers to review records

One of the investigators told a colleague that they had a letter prepared “listing some of the problems that we’ve found” regarding the township. The letter in possession of the state officials was not yet signed, according to their conversation. We filed a request under the state’s Open Public Records Act (OPRA) to obtain a copy of the letter.

“As far as finances, their numbers looked okay,” the unidentified official added. Further discussion on finances was muffled and unintelligible.

As they were waiting for Berkeley Township Fire Official Jack Wiegartner to arrive, they were speaking of past issues, one of which involved a referral made to the state Division of Local Government Services, an office within the DCA that supervises the activities of local government around the state. Nothing became of that past referral, they said.

“Well, we’re in Ocean County, so…” one of the investigators quipped after discussing the unsuccessful referral.

We caught up with the state officials and asked them what the purpose of their visit was as they were heading into the Berkeley council meeting chambers and closing the door.

The state officials that visited Berkeley town hall on Tuesday morning

When asked if Wiegartner was involved, one of the investigators downplayed the significance of their visit and replied that it was only a “routine audit” and denied that the Berkeley fire official had any involvement, despite being overheard mentioning his name and when he would arrive in their conversation.

The statement made by the investigator was quickly contradicted by Wiegartner’s subsequent arrival at town hall. He was observed entering the municipal building through a back entrance after the investigator who claimed it was a routine audit exited through the front and made a call on his cell phone.

Jack Wiegartner arrives at town hall to meet with the state officials

Rumors of trouble in the fire prevention bureau have swirled in recent months as multiple investigations have encircled Berkeley’s administration. Ocean County Politics has been working to confirm some of them and was tipped off in advance regarding the visit from state officials this morning, allowing us to be present and document it.

The OPRAmachine public records database includes several recent requests for records regarding Fire Prevention Bureau expenditures that have drawn scrutiny, including payments for jackets made to a Beachwood company.

It is currently unclear what “problems” the state has identified with the bureau or whether any of the payments listed in OPRA documents are at issue.

A phone call and multiple text messages to Wiegartner seeking comment for this story were not acknowledged.

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