GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — The township and Mayor Don Purdy are facing another lawsuit by a former employee, this time alleging misconduct, breach of contract, emotional distress and defamation.
The lawsuit was filed Sept. 26 by former township Manager Stephen Bonanni, who is represented by attorney Benjamin Brenner. It includes14 counts connected to the township’s refusal to pay Bonanni more than $50,000 in unused sick, vacation and compensatory time.
Additional allegations state that Purdy attempted to change the township’s bidding process in order to be awarded more work for his towing company, DP Towing.
Purdy said the claims are ridiculous and a ploy to get more money out of the township, and that the township manager and solicitor are dealing with these issues.
“Mr. Bonanni’s personal problems have now become ours. I think Mr. Bonanni has cost the taxpayers enough,” Purdy said.
In the lawsuit, Bonanni claims that in June 2010, Purdy told him to award certain township vehicle repair bids to the towing company owned by the mayor, changing the township’s bidding process.
“Everybody knows I cannot do work on township vehicles,” Purdy said. “The day and age that it is, I am not going to stand for frivolous lawsuits against the township. Mr. Bonanni has been gone for two years and now he’s coming back with this all of a sudden,”
Bonanni refused to participate in something he believed to be illegal and a conflict of interest, which upset Purdy, according to the lawsuit.
Bonanni also alleges in the lawsuit that Purdy ordered him to fire four employees without cause and reduce another employee from full-time to part-time status. The suit also says Purdy and an unnamed individual pressured Bonanni to release funds held in escrow for a sewer line installation on Route 30, even though the sewer lines were not properly installed or in working order.
Purdy said the township manager does all the hiring and firing and he has had no part in it.
“The only positions we can hire and fire are the township manager, the clerk, tax collector and tax assessor. In our form of government, the township manager has the most power. They run the day-to-day operations and it has nothing to do with council,” he said.
The lawsuit includes allegations that Purdy violated the Faulkner Act on several occasions by speaking with subordinate employees regarding township matters.
Purdy was very upset with Bonanni’s refusal to fire employees and demote another, release funds from escrow and also for his consistent warnings about violating the Faulkner Act, the lawsuit states.
Bonnani alleges that the Township Council’s decision to vote against paying out his accrued sick, vacation and compensatory pay was retaliation for his refusal to participate in activities he describes as illegal and unjust.
The township’s failure to pay Bonanni for his unused sick, compensatory and vacation time is alleged in the lawsuit as a breach of his contract with the township.
The township has not paid Bonanni $51,765 in unused sick, compensatory and vacation time. In February, council voted unanimously not to pay Bonanni, who was employed by the township from June 1979 until Jan. 2012.
Last month, the council voted to authorize to pay him, with one no vote being Councilman Jim McElwee.
The township issued a check Sept. 10 for $51,765, which was refused by Bonanni because he wanted an additional $28,000 for attorney fees and alleged public humiliation he suffered by the township not paying him in February, Purdy said.
In February, the township was still examining the terms of releasing the payout to Bonanni and validating his sick, vacation and compensatory time, Purdy said.
In February, Purdy and Deputy Mayor Anthony Coppola Jr. said the resolution to pay Bonanni would be revisited and the township was prepared to face litigation. In March, Bonanni responded by filing a tort claim against the township, mayor and council.
In the lawsuit, Bonanni alleges that the township’s refusal to pay “has interfered with his ability to find gainful employment and to care for himself.” It is also alleged that the denial by the township of the payment to Bonanni that was expressed to the media caused emotional distress.
Bonanni was previously named in a lawsuit filed in May 2012 by former township Clerk Lisa Tilton, who alleged that he sexually harassed her, kept her from speaking to council and forced her to resign from the Planning Board. The lawsuit was settled between the township and Tilton for $250,000 in December 2012.
Bonanni could not be reached for comment.
Contact Donna Weaver:
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