Former Stafford Township Mayor John McMenamin

Bill Gross

STAFFORD TOWNSHIP - When John McMenamin ran for mayor in 2009, he said township residents wanted a change.

Almost two years later, McMenamin was removed from office, after a short term during which he was accused of interfering with the operations of the Police Department, barred contact between township employees and council, ordered the township video camera that recorded council meetings turned off and canceled multiple council meetings.

McMenamin was stripped of his $10,000-per-year position last week by the council, after they discovered he no longer lived in the township. Councilman Stan Rutkowski will serve as acting mayor, and the council has 30 days to appoint a new mayor.

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In February, McMenamin purchased a home on North Third Street in Surf City and listed the address on the deed and mortgage as his principle residence. The home was purchased for $757,500, and he sold his township home on Mimi Place for $450,000 last month.

McMenamin was elected in May 2009 after defeating longtime mayor Carl Block. That night, he told The Press of Atlantic City that his win, "just goes to show you that people wanted a change."

McMenamin received 3,538 votes, the most of any individual candidate. He defeated Block by about 15 percent of the vote.

He attributed the Stafford First Team's victory to the slate's promise to examine the township's spending, employee salaries and taxes.

McMenamin was elected alongside council members Rutkowski, Stephen Fessler, Robert Kusznikow, Kathleen Corbett and Joanne Sitek.

During the campaign, Fessler said he asked McMenamin to give him his word that he would not go after the Police Department. Fessler's son, also named Stephen, is a patrolman in the department.

Before taking office in July 2009, McMenamin launched an operational audit of the Police Department.

"Right when we got into office, John went right after the Police Department. It was a vendetta. He gave me his word, and what he did wasn't honorable," Fessler said.

McMenamin, a former township police lieutenant, sued the township in November 2005 for $8.6 million, alleging he was passed over for the chief's position because he was a whistle-blower. He retired from the force in 2006.

In the lawsuit, McMenamin alleged corruption, abuse and misconduct within the department. He settled the suit for $177,000 in December 2007.

In the first three weeks of McMenamin's term as mayor, he was accused by local police chiefs and residents of illegally meddling with the Police Department. Former police Chief Thomas B. Conroy later filed a lawsuit against the township and McMenamin.

McMenamin issued directives that included repainting undercover police cars, requiring a dress code for officers, providing overtime to administrative police personnel and requesting confidential files. He said he hoped the changes would result in a more efficient Police Department.

"I noticed the mayor spent a lot of time being involved in the Police Department. He was involved with dictating to the former Chief Thomas Conroy of what should be done in the department. And instead of sitting down and trying to resolve it, he became a dictator. I lost all respect for the mayor during this time," Fessler said. "This was a man who ran for office with an agenda and a chip on his shoulder for not becoming the chief that he thinks he should have been. Thank God he never became the chief of police in Stafford Township, because he was undeserving of it."

In November, members of the Stafford First Team began to distance themselves from McMenamin and at times were vocal critics of his decisions.

When asked what happened to the unity of the Stafford First Team, Corbett said, "Two words: John McMenamin."

McMenamin still faces an ethics complaint filed in December with the state Department of Community Affairs by Councilmen John Spodofora, Kusznikow and Fessler.

The three said they have met with investigators from the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office for an investigation against McMenamin.

Spodofora said McMenamin is being investigated by the Prosecutor's Office for his connection to improvements made on Fairview Terrace, a township street where McMenamin owns a home on 2 acres valued at $395,700, property records show.

Without disclosing that he owned property on Fairview Terrace, McMenamin voted during a council meeting Aug. 3 to introduce a bond ordinance for $1.9 million for improvements to the street, Spodofora said.

"By law he had to disclose that he owned property there," Spodofora said.

But last week, McMenamin said his former campaign teammates and Spodofora - the lone councilman from the Block regime - would do anything to get him out of office.

"This is all pure, vindictive politics," McMenamin said Tuesday.

McMenamin could not be reached for comment Sunday.

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