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Retired Cape prosecutor says freeholders retaliated against him

CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — Retired Cape May County Prosecutor Robert Taylor says county officials are withholding his health benefits in retaliation for disagreements he had with members of the county freeholder board, according to a whistleblower lawsuit filed last week.

Legal representatives from the county, however, said Taylor’s lawsuit is a “baseless and frivolous” attempt to get lifetime benefits to which he is not entitled.

The allegations came to light after Taylor, who stepped down in September, filed a complaint Nov. 20 in Superior Court.

In the document, he claims the freeholders, and specifically Freeholder Director Gerald Thornton, told him to use outdated drug statistics to downplay the extent of opioid addiction in the county.

Taylor also said officials pressured him to fire a longtime assistant prosecutor who was leading contentious contract negotiations with the county.

The County Counsel’s Office denied the allegations and vowed to fight Taylor’s lawsuit.

“It is disappointing but predictable that Mr. Taylor has chosen to attempt to try to bully his way, with frivolous and untruthful personal and political accusations, to a benefit he is statutorily ineligible to receive,” the office said in a statement.

Taylor said in the complaint the freeholders told him not to use accurate and updated data about the drug problem “so as to directly portray to the media and indirectly portray to the citizens of Cape May County a false sense of control over said epidemic.”

Taylor said he told officials he did not want to use the stale numbers, but the freeholders threatened to stop additional funding for opioid-related initiatives within the Prosecutor’s Office.

“They’re not seriously doing anything effectively to fight this problem,” Taylor said in an interview.

Attorneys for the county said Taylor’s lawsuit misrepresents the relationship the freeholders have with the Prosecutor’s Office.

“In a feeble attempt to support his baseless accusations and secure lifetime, taxpayer-funded health benefits, Mr. Taylor has even gone so far as to take advantage of the opioid epidemic to mask his selfish attempt to claim taxpayer-funded retirement benefits,” the statement from the county reads.

Taylor said he had to fight tooth and nail with the freeholders to get funding for increased staffing and resources.

“It’s been a battle with the freeholders the whole 13 years I was there,” he said.

Representatives from the County Counsel’s Office said the county increased funding for the Prosecutor’s Office from about $2.7 million to $7.1 million during Taylor’s 13-year tenure. The county also added 32 positions, according to the statement.

Taylor said those increases were mandated by a judge following contentious negotiations between the county and the Prosecutor’s Office in 2008.

In another section of the complaint, Taylor states negotiations between the assistant prosecutors union and the county became so heated in 2016 and early 2017 that Thornton and county Human Resources Director Jeffrey Lindsay suggested he fire the union’s lead negotiator.

The negotiator is not named in the complaint, but Taylor confirmed in an interview she was former Assistant Prosecutor Christine Smith. Gov. Chris Christie nominated Smith in June to become a Superior Court judge.

Taylor said county officials tried to prevent Smith’s nomination after the contract talks concluded.

He said those issues — the alleged use of outdated opioid use data and the attempt to get rid of Smith — were not factors in his decision to retire. Taylor, 70, reached the maximum age for the position and decided to retire instead of applying for a temporary extension.

The complaint said Taylor is seeking to have his retirement benefits restored and receive punitive and compensatory damages.

Taylor said he is eligible to receive lifetime health benefits because he worked in the Prosecutor’s Office for more than 34 years, 13 of them as prosecutor.


News
North Wildwood locks out Hereford lighthouse managers, claim conspiracy to loot items inside

NORTH WILDWOOD — A dispute over the management of the Hereford Inlet Lighthouse has led city officials to change the locks on the lighthouse’s doors to keep out the current operators.

On Monday, North Wildwood Solicitor William Kaufman sent a letter to the nonprofit Friends of Hereford Inlet Lighthouse, informing them the facility would remain locked until a professional curator could take inventory and determine what items inside belong to the local government or the nonprofit.

The curator is scheduled to begin taking inventory Monday.

“It is clear that there is a disagreement between the Friends and the City regarding ownership of items within the lighthouse,” the letter said. “Therefore ... the locks on the lighthouse will be changed and no persons other than employees or State of New Jersey personnel shall have access to the interior of the lighthouse until each and every artifact, document or item of personal property that presently is within the lighthouse has been inventoried and cataloged and ownership of each item is definitely established.”

Steve Murray, chairman of the Friends of the Hereford Inlet Lighthouse, said city officials, particularly North Wildwood Mayor Patrick Rosenello, are “petty” and the move was just a power play to take over the lighthouse.

“This was a punch in the gut,” Murray said. “It’s as low as you can get.”

Murray added several members of the Friends have put personal items in the lighthouse for decoration, including his great-grandmother’s dining room table, an antique rocking horse and an old train set that goes around the Christmas tree.

North Wildwood leases the lighthouse from New Jersey. Friends of Hereford Inlet Lighthouse, however, operate the property through a contract with the city.

Rosenello said there have been issues with the Friends over how they run and maintain the 143-year-old lighthouse. The city’s issues include the group’s leadership not turning in annual reports and bungling a state Department of Transportation grant application that cost the city $17,000, he said.

After locking up the lighthouse, Rosenello said, city officials discovered a list of items Murray planned to take from the lighthouse illegally, including an old tax map that belongs to the city.

“Our decision to lock them out was absolutely the right thing to do,” Rosenello said. “(Murray) was planning to loot the lighthouse.”

Murray disputed the claim, saying the list is an inventory list of every item in the lighthouse that he compiled for the professional curator.

“It’s just one lie after another with this guy,” Murray said of Rosenello. “He’s gone completely off the wall.”

Murray also has disputed the other claims the government made, saying he turned in annual reports every year and the Department of Transportation came back five years after the grant application to say there was an issue. At that point, the man who had written the application was retired and seriously ill. By the time they hired another firm to fix the application, the Department of Transportation skipped a grant payment of $17,000, he said.

Murray said the Friends have contacted a lawyer and are waiting for advice on their next steps. The city intends to take over operations Jan. 1.


Breaking
As a caregiver during the holidays, 'It's OK to let go of some traditions'

Holiday traditions, such as planning meals, shopping for gifts, making travel plans and hosting company, can be cheerful, but stressful.

For Barbara Mulholland, who is the primary caregiver for both her elderly parents, she and her family have had to adjust to the progression of illness and age, letting go of some traditions and making new plans so everyone could enjoy the holidays.

As the senior citizen population grows, experts say people such as Mulholland and the other estimated 43.5 million caregivers in the United States must find ways to navigate the changes in their lives and mitigate ongoing stress, especially around this time of year.

“Last year, it was just too many people, and (my mom) didn’t want people to know (about her dementia),” Mulholland said. “But we’re going to make it smaller this year with our family. I’ve been taking her out to visit my brother and sister, too, which gets her used to being around more people.”

Family caregivers are often adult children, siblings, spouses and parents who take on the responsibilities of helping their injured or ill loved one with daily tasks. Some of their loved ones live independently with additional care, but others depend on their caregivers 24/7, every day of the year.

It’s why many caregivers say it’s important to find support within their communities. On a recent Wednesday, Mulholland and her mother, Patricia Conlan, went the Alzheimer’s Association Memories in the Making program, held monthly at Royal Suites Healthcare and Rehabilitation in Galloway Township.

There, Mulholland, of Mays Landing, attended a caregivers support group where she and others were able to talk about how their loved ones were progressing, how things were changing and the emotional roller coaster of grieving for what their lives used to look like.

“You have to adjust, adapt and alter what you do,” said Diane Conover, program director. “There’s a lot of stress about how the day will go and the expectations you have at the family table, but you need to create new traditions. Ask, ‘What’s a tradition we can start today?’”

Lisa DiTroia and Joanne Hankin know these concerns all too well as director and coordinator, respectively, of the Center for Family Caregivers at Shore Medical Center.

“Holidays are not the same as what they used to be,” DiTroia said. “Maybe they usually made dinner for 20 people or baked 10 dozen cookies. They struggle with, ‘How am I going to do all that while taking care of my husband or mother?’ It’s OK to let go of some traditions and make new ones.”

The two women, along with four caregiving coaches, are often available at the new center to help people go over their concerns and worries. Open to the public, the center was designed to help people relax, with a living room atmosphere, calming music, low lighting and educational resources.

DiTroia and Hankin said caregivers may feel guilty about giving up some of the things they have done in the past around Thanksgiving and December holidays, but both said changes may lessen the stress on caregivers and make sure their loved ones enjoy the time, too.

“They also want to make sure to share with their family about what it’s been like at home and how they may see changes when they visit this year,” Hankin said. “That way, other family members can step in and help, maybe even by offering to host or bring more things to dinner this year.”

Alysia Price, administrator and director of social services at Seashore Gardens Living Center in Galloway Township, focused on some stress-relieving tips and discussion at a recent Alzheimer’s disease support group for caregivers.

Group members talked about cutting down on traveling long distances, looking at alternative meal options, such as ordering dinner from local markets or hosting a brunch or luncheon instead, and suggestions for gifts of comfort, such as clothes, blankets, photo albums and other helpful things.

Price said the important thing is for caregivers and families to learn how to communicate and connect with their loved ones and create new plans that will allow everyone to have a good time.

“Sometimes there’s guilt. A lot of caregivers try to take on so much, and it’s kind of a loss for them when they aren’t able to do something,” she said. “But there are things they can change a little bit and still keep the important components.”


Dale Gerhard / STAFF PHOTO  

The Hereford Inlet Lighthouse has a gift shop on the first floor and award-winning English gardens with 200 plant varieties surrounding the building.


PRESS ARCHIVES 

Former Cape May County Prosecutor Robert Taylor, seen in 2016, has filed a whistleblower lawsuit alleging Cape May County freeholders retaliated against him. The County Counsel’s Office denies the allegations.


Top_three
Middle Township football coach's life saved with AED at game

EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — One minute, Matt McAnaney was standing on the football field sideline, going over a play with his 11-year-old son, Micah, during halftime.

The next minute, McAnaney, 43, of Cape May Court House, hit the ground on his knees and his world went black.

At a Saturday youth football game earlier this month, Middle Township Panthers junior varsity assistant coach McAnaney suffered a heart attack on the field at Egg Harbor Township Veterans Memorial Sports Complex. An automated external defibrillator and nearby medical professionals saved his life.

Heart attacks and sudden cardiac arrest, when the heart malfunctions and stops, are the leading causes of heart disease deaths among Americans, according to the American Heart Association, but national reports show survival rates are slightly higher than before.

National and local experts attribute those higher survival rates to growing education about AEDs and their increasing availability in schools, businesses, sports venues and other public places.

“I was one of those people who didn’t really know the importance of them,” McAnaney said. “We were all trained as coaches, but what were the odds we’d have to ever use it?”

An AED, a small portable device, has electrodes that are attached to a victim’s chest and can deliver a shock to the heart when it experiences fibrillation, or a quivering or irregular heartbeat.

The AtlantiCare Foundation’s Heart Heroes program recently donated the medical device, with matching funds from the Ocean City Police Benevolent Association Local 61, used on McAnaney to the Egg Harbor Township Youth Organization.

An AED can cost as much as $1,400 or more.

McAnaney said he has little family history of heart disease and he had no other risk factors such as high cholesterol or blood pressure, which is why he didn’t think the mild tingling in his arms during the Nov. 4 game had anything to do with a heart problem.

“I had no warning. You wouldn’t think of a heart attack when you’re 43 years old,” he said. “At halftime, my arms felt weird, but it was an exciting intense game. Then I remember hitting the ground and the next thing I remember was looking up at the EMTs in the ambulance.”

Dave DeMara, an assistant coach for the Eagles team, was in the announcer booth when he saw McAnaney go down. He knew, as a physician assistant at the Heart Institute at AtlanitCare Regional Medical Center-Mainland Campus, the Panthers coach was probably having a heart attack.

DeMara ran to the sidelines, where Kristen Davis and Katrina Warren, two off-duty medical technicians, had already started CPR on McAnaney. Dr. David Kenny, an AtlantiCare radiologist and an Egg Harbor Township Youth Organization varsity coach, ran over from another field.

An AED hooked up to the coach analyzed McAnaney’s status and delivered three shocks. Medical officials said McAnaney soon after woke up and was transported to AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center’s Mainland Campus in Galloway Township.

“It all happened so fast,” McAnaney’s wife, Sarah, told AtlantiCare officials. “The other coaches didn’t leave Matt’s side while he lay on the field. After Matt was in the ambulance, the entire complex went to the 50-yard-line to pray and have kind thoughts for Matt. It was nice how the two teams came together.”

Dr. Howard Levite, of AtlantiCare Physician Group Cardiology, performed an emergency cardiac catheterization. Doctors also stented two of McAnaney’s arteries to open blood flow to the heart.

McAnaney was released from the hospital Nov. 7. The assistant coach returned to the same field last week to watch his son, the quarterback, and his Panthers teammates win a championship game.

Although he was relegated to the stands during his recovery, he was able to communicate with players and coaches with a headset.

“Dr. (DeMara) was the first one I saw in the hospital after and I just kept thanking him, but he kept saying that without that (AED) there, you might not be here,” McAnaney said. “It’s definitely been eye-opening.”

McAnaney said the Panthers are now fundraising to buy an AED that would be accessible at any time to players, coaches and spectators on the Middle Township fields.

“When it happened to me, people didn’t run away from the situation, but ran toward to help,” he said. “The team and community really pulled together, I hope there are more stories of survival like mine that show how important this is.”