Sunday, September 25, 2016

Released documents claim that former Commercial Township Mayor used racial slur against fellow Township Committee member.

A harassment complainant, whose name has been redacted in accordance with a court's order, claimed that former Commercial Township (Cumberland County) Mayor Judson Moore said that he couldn't rely on Township Committeeman Fletcher Jamison's support in resolving a "horrible union contract" because Jamison would "get in his ni**er mind frame and does not know how to make any decisions."  Moore flatly denied using the slur against Jamison, who is African-American, and said that if the complainant "made that allegation, then he's lying."

Committeeman Ronald L. Sutton, Sr. then interjected his recollection of Moore having said "that the black was coming out in" Committeeman Jamison because Jamison was opposed to buying a snow plow.  When asked by Township Solicitor Thomas Seeley whether Sutton's comment was accurate, Moore is quoted as saying "I don't know what he's talking about."  After this exchange, Jamison said that he thought Moore did use the racial slur and that because of it "our friendship changes and I just don't, I'll be honest with you, I don't feel comfortable around you."

This candid exchange is taken from sixty-three pages of redacted closed meeting minutes that the Township was ordered to disclose in response to an open government organization's June 6, 2016 Open Public Records Act (OPRA) lawsuit.  The minutes are very detailed and provide insight into not only the political machinations within this close-knit, rural community that borders the Delaware Bay, but also into the personal relationships among Township officials and employees, many of whom have known each other their entire lives.

By way of background, Libertarians for Transparent Government (LFTG), a New Jersey non-profit corporation, filed suit against the Township on June 6, 2016 in order to learn the nature of four harassment complaints that caused Mayor Judson Moore's abrupt resignation on March 12, 2016.  On September 1, 2016, Cumberland County Assignment Judge Georgia M. Curio ordered the Township to disclose two sets of closed minutes and a Memorandum of Understanding between the Township and Moore.  In addition to compelling disclosure of these documents, Curio also required the Township to pay the attorney fees of LFTG's lawyer, Hackensack attorney CJ Griffin.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MUA) is straightforward.  It prevents Moore from seeking public office or employment in the Township and forbids him from making "excessive or multiple OPRA requests" or visiting the municipal building except for "general business as a township taxpayer."  The MUA, which was signed by each of Moore's harassment complainants, specifically forbids Moore from harassing the complainants, as well as their friends and relatives, and establishes mediation if Moore violates any of the MUA's provisions.

The Township Committee's February 25, 2016 and March 11, 2016 closed meeting minutes are more meandering and are more difficult to follow because a significant number of words and phrases have been redacted from them.  At its February 25th closed meeting, at which Mayor Moore was not present, Committee members Sutton and Jamison and Township Clerk Hannah E. Nichols and Solicitor Seeley discussed the harassment complaints that four Township employees brought against Moore.  At the March 11th closed meeting, Sutton, Jamison, Nichols and Seeley were joined by Mayor Moore and Moore's attorney James Schroeder to discuss the allegations.

Other than the allegedly uttered racial slur, two complainants said that Moore pressured Township staff to create a list of residents' names and addresses (as opposed to the property owners' names and addresses) so that a flyer concerning the Laurel Lake Emergency Medical Services (EMS) could be mailed out to those residents.  Moore allegedly wanted the residents' names and addresses downloaded into an Excel file that could be e-mailed to a local printer so that the residents' addresses could be printed on the flyers.  When the complainant told Moore that the information could not be downloaded in that manner, he became disagreeable and allegedly sent an "upsetting e-mail."   The complainant alleged that Mayor Moore said that the file of residents' names and addresses could be used for "such things as the fire company, township calendars, and his campaign."   

One of the two complainants said that Moore's request "really made [her] uncomfortable" because she didn't believe that it was right to do work for the EMS during Township time and because Township resources should never be used for an election campaign.  The other said that Moore told her that the project was a priority and that they were "under strict deadline to move ahead with the mailer."  She said that she "was upset over the email because Mr. Moore was aware of the work load of the office [and] was aggravated that his project was not made an immediate priority over other required office and township duties."

At the March 11, 2016 meeting, Moore neither confirmed nor denied that he ever told the complainants that he wanted the list for his campaign.  His attorney, however, offered that if the word "campaign" was used, Moore likely meant it in the sense of the EMS squad conducting "a direct mail campaign."

One of the complainants said that Moore, only a week after the complainant was hired, called her into a conference room to persuade her to accept a $5,000 cash buy-out instead of receiving Township-funded health insurance for her family.  She said that because her "family was in desperate need of benefits" she felt "rather bullied" by Moore's persuasion attempt.  Moore's response to the allegation is Clintonesque.  He admits that he did talk to the employee and tried to convince her to give up her health insurance in exchange for the $5,000 buy-out but that he "didn't do it deliberately."

Another complainant said that Moore pestered him about getting divorced and marrying someone with whom the complainant had been in a two-year relationship so that the Township's health insurance premium would be reduced. Moore admitted to having spoken to him regarding marital status on "maybe four or five occasions" and said that if he made such a comment in public, it was done "in a joking manner."  Moore admitted that he "was quite concerned" about the savings that would have been realized had the complainant adjusted his marital status.

Still another complainant said that she was asked by Moore to retire even though she wasn't old enough to collect social security and could not afford to retire.  The complainant said that Moore falsely told her that another similarly-situated employee was going to retire and that he had spoken with both Sutton and Jamison about the complainant's retirement.  In response to Seeley's question of whether he made comments about the complainant retiring, Moore's answer was less than clear:  "If I did, and I won't say that I didn't, but she was up for that job and we would talk about the time that she would retire and all the things that [redacted] would change and do in that office, so [redacted] was looking forward to retiring, but [redacted] was [redacted] and she stayed until she wanted to retire."

By the end of the March 11, 2016 meeting--which ran for three and half hours--Sutton expressed that he didn't feel that the Township could risk keeping Moore on as Mayor any longer. "The only resolution I see is Jud Moore needs to resign and not seek public office in Commercial Township . . . Let's take care and put this to bed for the sake of the employees and the taxpayers," Sutton said. On the last page of the March 11th minutes, Jamison made a motion to turn the harassment complaints over to the Joint Insurance Fund for a formal investigation.  Sutton and Jamison voted in the affirmative and Moore abstained.  Moore resigned the following day.

Postscript:

1. There are several confusing references in the March 11th meeting minutes to Moore allegedly referring to himself (or perhaps being referred to by others) as "Lucifer."  Commmercial residents are invited to open up the minutes file and do a word search on "Lucifer."

2. There is presently some ambiguity regarding the Township's responsibility to disclose the Committee's March 14, 2016 closed meeting minutes. I will update this article when that ambiguity is resolved.


3. Other less important documents that Curio ordered disclosed were a March 1, 2016 letter and a March 3, 2016 letter.

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