HAMILTON TOWNSHIP — A committeewoman banned last month from Township Hall during business hours is suing to get back inside.
Aline L. Dix, 68, filed suit last week against Hamilton Township, its administrator, Michael S. Jacobs, and others, including Mayor Roger Silva and Deputy Mayor Amy Gatto, both fellow Republicans.
Dix’s suit claims civil rights violations as well as whistleblower protection, and involves what Dix claims is usurpation, alleged retaliation and just plain bad behavior over the past two years by Jacobs and other defendants.
“We do not believe there is merit in the suit, and we believe we will be able to establish that as soon as the matter is presented to the court,” said Randolph C. Lafferty, an attorney the township hired for this matter.
Dix, a Republican, previously served on the township’s Board of Education and Municipal Utilities Authority. She was also a frequent and outspoken presence at committee meetings, making points by citing a near-encyclopedic collection of township records and recalling meetings from prior decades.
She beat the township Republicans’ favored candidate in the June 2011 primary and handily won election to Township Committee that November. Since taking her seat, Dix has been a probing, inquisitive, sometimes grating presence on the township’s governing body, using her seat for continued advocacy. At Monday’s committee meeting, she recalled losing sleep when she could not trace the history of a 14-year-old township bond.
Dix plans to run for reelection in November as an independent, after township Republicans this spring again passed her over for an endorsement, in part due to intra-committee difficulties that include run-ins with Gatto, the current Hamilton Township Republican chairwoman.
In an email last November cited by Dix’s suit, then-Mayor Gatto told Dix and township Solicitor Robert Sandman that she would talk with Dix only if Dix scheduled a meeting with Jacobs. Gatto warned she could file a hostile work environment claim if Dix directly contacted her again. Gatto wrote, “She is physically making me ill, and I cannot endure the stress of her behavior any more.”
The litany of incidents Dix cites culminated in the committee apparently deciding in a March 13 executive session, using language from the Americans with Disability Act, to give Jacobs “reasonable accommodation” for unspecified disabilities by shutting out Dix.
Sandman said Jacobs’ disability was “absolutely confidential.” However, Lafferty said Wednesday that “I’m not going to acknowledge a disability by Mr. Jacobs or anybody. I think that is probably not in compliance with federal law.”
Dix was present for the entire meeting and subsequent executive session, she said in her suit. Jacobs’ request for accommodation was mentioned, she wrote, but the committee never voted.
Instead, Dix first learned that she was not permitted to talk to township employees from a March 19 memo signed by township Human Resources Director Mary Kelly. The memo also banned her from Township Hall on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., except for when her “actual presence was required.” However, even that required a minimum of 24 hours’ notice to Lisa Marcolongo, Jacob’s executive assistant. The committee generally meets the first and third Mondays at 6:30 p.m.
Superior Court Judge James P. Savio will hear a motion to have the restriction overturned May 30. Dix wrote in her certification, “Leaving these restrictions in place would essentially be a signal to defendants that their de facto coup d’etat of my elected position is acceptable in a democratic society.”
“I don’t know how she can be an elected official without being able to talk to township employees,” Dix’s attorney, Sebsastian Ionno, said Monday. “But that’s just me being a reasonable person.”
Jacobs, Silva and Gatto did not return calls seeking comment and did not address the suit at Monday’s committee meeting. When a township resident criticized Dix for suing the township, Sandman advised the committee not to respond.
Dix only obliquely referenced the suit during the meeting, at one point telling Gatto, “You know I’m not supposed to talk to township employees.”
None of the named parties has listed attorneys. Sandman is not named in the suit but said he expected to be called as a fact witness and referred questions to Lafferty.
In her suit, Dix laid out some of the small and large issues she allegedly faced while in office.
In May 2012, for instance, Dix’s suit says she found that three property owners had been charged affordable-housing fees, even though they should have been exempt as “tear-downs.” The property owners, identified as “R.A., G.D. and A.E.” were owed more than $5,700 by the township.
When she told Silva, however, she wrote he “yelled” at her for looking at affordable-housing issues. An attempt by Dix to get the fees refunded found Jacobs asking her why they should hurry if the property owners did not know they were owned money.
It is unclear from the suit who the people were and whether or not the money was returned to them.
In another interaction, Dix cites a memo by Jacobs, who writes, “Upon my return to the office on Nov. 19, 2013, I received multiple verbal complaints, two written complaints, a documented example of an employee reduced to tears and multiple comments that some employees may be considering filing a joint lawsuit as a result of Committeewoman Dix’s statements.”
Jacobs’ memo did not reveal what Dix said, and as of this week, Dix faced no litigation from township employees.
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