ATLANTIC CITY — When local officials took over the city’s Weights and Measures operation from Atlantic County, Mayor Lorenzo Langford justified the action by claiming it would provide better and more responsive service.
A review of documents maintained by the city’s Office of Weights and Measures, which is staffed solely by Langford’s longtime friend and former business partner Mark L. Hamilton, shows that city residents are not getting what they were promised. The records review by The Press of Atlantic City found:
- The city has failed to provide monthly reports to the state Division of Consumer Affairs, as required by New Jersey law; Hamilton should have generated and maintained the reports. A documents request produced only handwritten notes briefly describing his daily activities.
- Fewer inspections than the county in a similar time period, despite the mayor’s claims that county inspections were “down severely.”
- Only one business was failed for short-weighting a customer — Langford had said lack of oversight was a major problem that Hamilton’s hiring would address.
The office is charged with ensuring that the devices measuring purchased goods are precise and accurate. An inspector commonly certifies gasoline pumps and supermarket scales, among other things.
State officials confirmed that monthly reports required by New Jersey statute have not been filed since the city division reopened in early December. They made that determination after being questioned by The Press.
“They’re going to get a letter notifying that they are not in compliance,” said Jeff Lamm, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Consumer Affairs. “There’s information that they have to provide by state statute.”
Lamm could not answer why the state had not issued a letter and forced compliance before The Press asked about the record keeping.
“I don’t know why it hasn’t happened,” Lamm said. “Certainly now we’re aware of the situation.”
Hamilton did not respond to requests to be interviewed.
Neighborhood Services Director Anthony Cox, Hamilton’s supervisor, said he was also unaware of the situation.
“It would be Mr. Hamilton’s responsibility to fill out that information,” said Cox, who described Hamilton as a good employee. “I cannot confirm or deny that those reports have not been submitted.”
Langford’s spokesman, Kevin Hall, declined to discuss Hamilton’s failure to report to the state office.
“The mayor would be unaware of that because he does not micro-manage his departments,” he said.
Hall also questioned why the inquiries about the city division were being made.
Business Administrator Michael Scott declined to comment on the city office.
Hamilton initially served as the city’s Weights and Measures superintendent for more than three years before the city abolished the division in 2006. Then-Mayor Bob Levy turned over the operation to Atlantic County’s Consumer Affairs Department, calling it a cost-saving measure. The county conducts the inspections free of charge. Opponents called it political retribution because of Hamilton’s close relationship with Levy’s rival, Langford.
After Langford regained the mayor’s office in 2008, he officially appointed Hamilton in November 2009 to re-establish the city’s Weights and Measures operation at a salary of $53,560. The mayor had claimed Hamilton’s reinstatement would help respond to “several residents” questioning the accuracy of local scales used to measure cold-cut orders.
But Hamilton’s own records from Dec. 7 to March 10 show that only one of his inspections — of a coin-operated laundry — resulted in a failed test, which caused the city to condemn several dryers.
That was far less than Sept. 9 to Dec. 4, when county inspectors condemned eight scales in Atlantic City and listed 11 more as problematic and in need of fixing.
Langford also previously justified re-creating the division because county inspections were “down severely.” However, county inspectors made more inspections than Hamilton, which came over a shorter period of time and was in addition to their inspection responsibilities throughout the rest of Atlantic County. The county registered 58 inspections between Sept. 9 and Dec. 4, an 87-day period. Hamilton performed 28 inspections over a 77-day period from Dec. 7 to Feb. 22.
After The Press of Atlantic City requested Hamilton’s reports, Hamilton nearly matched his previous inspection count with 26 in just 16 days, bringing his total to 54 inspections from Dec. 7 to March 10.
City officials delayed the release of Hamilton’s inspection records until those remaining two weeks had elapsed and the additional inspections were done. Officials said the reason for the delay was that they were seeking a legal opinion, which never materialized.
“We cannot confirm or deny that,” said Hall, when confronted with the findings. “That’s something we would want to research.”
Records provided by the city also do not include any specific reports of taxicab inspections, another one of Hamilton’s responsibilities. However, Hamilton does claim in his “daily activity reports” that mass taxi checks were performed, although no particular companies, vehicles or inspection results were specified. The county performed 62 taxi inspections from Sept. 29 to Oct. 6, all of which are documented in the county’s Consumer Affairs Office.
Cox confirmed that the daily activity reports are the only records the city requires Hamilton to submit. However, Lamm said specific state-issued forms are required to be used by all inspectors and kept on file by the office that performed the inspection.
The absence of the state-issued forms means there is no official record that any of the inspections were performed.
The state forms, also used by county inspectors, are accompanied by two copies. The hard copy is designated for potential review by the state. One copy is supposed to be kept on file with the local division, the other is supplied to the business being inspected.
Hamilton’s records are kept on what the city labels “daily activity reports,” a grid sheet requiring the name of the business inspected, its address, the inspector’s time of arrival and departure, the devices tested, the result of the tests and any additional comments.
However, Hamilton often fills in those sections with comments such as “worked in office,” “lunch,” or noting meetings and other work-related activities, including notes that he:
- Noted four inspections, but reported no results of those inspections.
- Met with the state’s Office of Weights and Measures on Dec. 22. However, state officials say they have no record of such a meeting. Hamilton also claimed on Jan. 22 that he “canvassed city for business the state office wanted checked.” Lamm said there is no evidence of “requests made by the state OWM to Hamilton to perform specific inspections since December.”
- Referred to checking a scale at the city’s Police Athletic League for three and a half hours on Dec. 29, noting that he intended to return to test and seal the scale. However, Hamilton never recorded making any test or sealing the scale.
- Spent one hour and 15 minutes on Dec. 10 attempting to locate the owner of a coin-operated laundry on Arctic Avenue “so I could do an inspection.” There is no city record of any inspection or follow-up from Dec. 10 to March 10.
- Only noted that he “worked in office” and went to lunch on his daily reports for four straight business days, from Feb. 8 through Feb. 11. The only exception is one mention of attending a two-hour meeting of the state’s Division of Alcohol and Beverage Control, of which he is a member.
- Remained in his office for three hours on Jan. 26 waiting for members of the Public Works Department to deliver his filing cabinets. He followed that by spending an additional two and a half hours setting up the filing cabinets before going on his lunch break.
- Spent five and a half hours in his office on Dec. 15 “calling casino hard count managers.”
‘Justice being done’
Hamilton first served as the head of the city’s Office of Weights and Measures from April 2002 to early 2006. The city is required by New Jersey law to retain copies of all of the division’s reports for seven years, but the city failed to provide inspection reports during that time period because the documents could not be located.
When Langford lost re-election to Bob Levy in 2005, Hamilton’s city employment was cut short soon after Levy took office the following year.
Langford later insisted his hiring of Hamilton was “justice being done,” reinstating Hamilton after he had been removed for political reasons, as alleged in a $1 million lawsuit by Hamilton.
The superintendent pushed forward with his suit against the city despite his rehiring, but Superior Court Judge Nelson Johnson dismissed the claims in March, lumping the complaint in with other city employment lawsuits that are “the continuation of politics by another means.”
Hamilton’s relationship with Langford runs deep. Along with being friends for decades, the pair worked as partners in Oasis Sneak Preview, an athletic apparel and footwear store at 40 N. Kentucky Ave. The business folded in 1989. Hamilton has also worked for Langford’s past campaigns, including delivering absentee ballots.
After the mayor initially installed him as the chief of Weights and Measures in 2008, City Council balked because of concerns about the city’s bloated budget. Langford kept him on in the mayor’s office as a “volunteer” until the issue with council could be resolved. However, The Press later confirmed that the city continued to pay Hamilton as if he held the superintendent of Weights and Measures title. The mayor also ordered the Human Resources Department to give Hamilton immediate medical benefits, waiving the required 60-day waiting period.
Langford later said he mistakenly left Hamilton on the payroll and said he immediately received benefits because he had previously served as a city employee.
However, those developments have prompted a criminal investigation by the state Attorney General’s Office into Hamilton’s hiring, as revealed when the state subpoenaed Hamilton’s employment records last month. That probe is ongoing.
Bob Howie, the director of Atlantic County’s Office of Weights and Measures, declined to discuss the county’s past work in Atlantic City or if the city’s operation is flawed. He referred questions to County Executive Dennis Levinson.
The executive described the city’s decision to take over the operation as a “strange situation” because city officials never explained to him why they wanted it back. Regardless, Levinson welcomed the opportunity to avoid costly services during a difficult budget year.
“All of our departments are stressed, not just Weights and Measures,” Levinson said. “Last year, we were doing more with less. This year, we’re doing less with less. Any municipality that wants to take over a county responsibility, we’d be happy to talk with them about it.”
Mark Hamilton’s employment timeline
April 2002: Hired as superintendent of Weights and Measures during Mayor Langford’s first term in office.
February 2006: Hamilton laid off after Atlantic County takes over the city’s Weights and Measures operation.
February 2008: Hamilton files suit against the city for wrongful termination. The complaint seeks $1 million in damages.
November 2008: Newly elected Mayor Langford reinstalls Hamilton as superintendent.
December 2008: Langford confirms that he is putting Hamilton’s hire on hold after budget complaints from City Council, but Hamilton stays on as a ‘volunteer’ in the Mayor’s Office and continues to get pay and benefits, The Press of Atlantic City later reveals. The mayor terminated Hamilton soon after.
April 2009: Langford rehires Hamilton as a food service worker earning $20,300 per year.
November 2009: Langford appoints Hamilton again as Weights and Measures superintendent after a reallocation of budget funds allows him to avoid a council vote.
January 2010: An audit by the Office of the State Comptroller criticizes the city for Hamilton’s 2008 hiring. A criminal investigation is subsequently launched by the state Attorney General’s Office.
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