LOWER TOWNSHIP — Township Council is asking the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office to investigate events surrounding a Jan. 18 council meeting cancelled due to a lack of a quorum.
The resolution asking for the investigation, approved Monday night in a contentious 3-2 vote, specifically asks who gave the orders to send Township Manager Mike Voll and a police officer to a Republican political caucus that night to try and get an incoming council member who would have created a quorum and allowed the meeting to take place.
“It remains unclear who gave such orders, what the orders consisted of and under what authority such orders were given,” states the resolution, which asks the prosecutor to advise council whether any laws were broken.
The issue arose at the regularly scheduled meeting on Jan. 18 that left about 60 members of the public waiting for an hour before being sent home. The council has five members but Deputy Mayor Kevin Lare and Councilman Tom Conrad were on vacation. Walt Craig, however, was next door being selected by the Republican Party to take the council seat vacated by Erik Simonsen last year. The crowd was told to wait until Craig arrived to be sworn in to office and then a three-member quorum would allow the meeting to begin.
That quorum would have given Mayor Mike Beck and Councilman Glenn Douglass a 2-1 voting edge against Craig for a controversial appointment to the Lower Township MUA and possibly to replace Township Solicitor Mike Donohue, though Beck denies Donohue was a target.
Craig never showed up, though state statute requires an immediate oath of office, and the crowd was sent home. Craig took the oath the next day.
The resolution calling for investigation was proposed by Lare and drafted by Donohue. Beck, an independent, asked Lare to withdraw the resolution and then he made a motion to table it. It was seconded by Douglass, a Republican, but failed. Republicans Lare, Conrad and Craig then passed it in a 3-2 vote.
“It’s a shame. This town doesn’t need this right now,” Beck said.
Conrad accused Beck of using the Jan. 18 meeting for political reasons.
“Somebody gave an order to authorize this. Let’s let an outside agency investigate,” Conrad said.
Douglass said he has contacted several state agencies to investigate. Lare then questioned Douglass voting on union contracts that involved his brother, Public Works Superintendent Gary Douglass.
“Is that a violation?” asked Lare.
Douglass said nobody ever questioned it before. Gary Douglass then spoke, telling council to fight each other but leave the rest of the Douglass family out of it.
Craig said the purpose of trying to hold the meeting was to make an LTMUA appointment and “take out the solicitor.” Donohue is the Cape May County Republican Party chairman.
Douglass said he “reached out” to other law firms to see if there was any interest but no proposals were presented. Beck said Donohue could not be replaced because an earlier request to seek proposals from law firms was nixed by council.
Beck questioned whether Craig has the right to vote on the resolution calling for an investigation. Donohue said this is uncharted territory.
“Everybody up there is in conflict of one sort or another as far as what happened on Jan. 18. Under the doctrine of necessity, if everybody has a conflict, everybody can act. I didn’t make this up,” Donohue said.
During the public portion several speakers criticized council for wasting time on the issue but one, Frank Majane, drew laughs when he tried to get council to do a group hug.
First Assistant Prosecutor J. David Meyer on Tuesday said he had not received the resolution or any other documentation on the request. He said the Prosecutor’s Office would typically do an initial inquiry to see if the subject warrants an investigation. Meyer said there would have to be criminal wrongdoing for an investigation. A violation of administrative regulations would not be investigated.
Contact Richard Degener: