CREST HAVEN - Freeholders approved two resolutions which censured Freeholder E. Marie Hayes July 9.
According to Lauren Fogarty, assistant county counsel, “a censure, in a general sense, means that the governing body disapproves of conduct" resulting in the censure. "Essentially, it is a formal statement of disapproval,” she continued.
The censures were the result of a six-month workplace investigation into allegations of retaliation against Elizabeth Bozzelli, clerk of the board and administrator, as well as violation of the county’s conflict-of-interest policy.
The all-Republican board voted 3-2 to send the investigation to the state Department of Community Affairs’ Local Finance Board, for a state ethics investigation. Hayes and Freeholder Will Morey abstained pending further review.
Hayes said the investigation, which was conducted by an independent law firm, was biased, and has “caused the freeholders to spend tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars for nothing more than a grudge match between those who voted differently than the director (Gerald Thornton).” Hayes was referring to an Oct. 23, 2018 vote, which sought to appoint Bozzelli as administrator. The vote was 3-2, with Hayes and Morey voting no.
Hayes said her vote stemmed from a concern with combining the two positions (clerk of the board and administrator), not with Bozzelli.
Bozzelli said she brought the claim of retaliation against Hayes after the meeting Oct. 23.
According to a previous Herald report, Bozzelli, at the Oct. 23 meeting, said Hayes voted against her (Bozzelli’s) appointment because Bozzelli would not move Hayes’ family member to another position.
“The only reason that I feel Ms. Hayes is using this opportunity to publicly vote against me in a job I have been doing for six years is that in conjunction with the freeholder director and director of Human Resources, I have been directly involved in decisions to document, discipline and not move a family member, a county employee, to a fourth position,” said Bozzelli. “Ms. Hayes has requested this of us but we cannot do it yet again. While Ms. Hayes has supported the decision to hold other county employees accountable, she as an elected official and one of my superiors is retaliating against me for doing my job.”
Hayes said Bozzelli’s mention of a family member was in reference to Hayes’ son, who is a county employee. He works as a laborer and makes just over $30,000 per year.
“Her (Bozzelli’s) innuendos that evening could not be further from the truth,” said Hayes. “In fact, it is obvious by her (Bozzelli’s) comments that my son is now placed in a precarious position as a county employee.”
Hayes recommended freeholders establish a nepotism policy. “The public might be interested in knowing how many positions in the county are taken by freeholders’ friends and families,” she said.
Hayes pointed out that County Counsel, who heads the Department of Law, and former Director of Human Resources, Jeffrey Lindsay, is Thornton’s stepson. Thornton said he has abstained on votes that had a direct benefit to Lindsay.
It was also mentioned during public comment a family member of Bozzelli works in the Surrogate’s Office.
Hayes said she was asked questions regarding open positions, which her (Hayes) son inquired. “My conduct was no different than any other freeholder and administrator for friends and family,” she said. “I did not insist on my son being transferred to any positions.”
Members of the audience, made up of mostly Hayes supporters, urged freeholders to put their differences aside, and find a way to work together, without censuring Hayes.
“You people don’t even look like you like each other,” said Mary Ann Nespoli, former president of the Ocean City Republican Club. “You guys should all be together up there, not tearing each other apart.”
“You have to pull yourselves up out of the muck and mire, and I don’t know after a meeting like this, how you all sit down and have donuts and coffee, but it’s going to have to happen, and we can’t waste month after month for all of you to get on board to work together for the county good,” said Suzanne Callinan, a former employee of the Surrogate’s Office, now retired.
Thornton suggested releasing the report to the public, with names redacted, “so they (the public) can decide the merits of this investigation.” Lindsay advised against it.
Releasing the report “would be contrary to county policy. Our policy is to maintain the confidentiality of those reports to the fullest extent possible,” said Lindsay.
The goal of the investigation was never specifically to go after Hayes, said Thornton. “An accusation was made and due diligence had to be performed, which we would do with any county employee that makes a formal complaint against any senior official in the county.”
Bozzelli said, “This continued public defamation affects me personally, my job, my family, and my livelihood. Moving forward, I continue to keep my options open, as I have since these actions against me began over one year ago.”
Bozzelli said a second workplace investigation was underway, involving Hayes and Morey.
In support of a motion made by Morey to table the censure vote, Hayes said, “This used to be a really good board. We all worked together. We moved things forward in Cape May County.
“As a matter of fact, we’re a shining star in the state from what we do. We’re on the map now. Trenton hears us, and they’re responding to us.
“It’s time to move forward. And I’ll second that (motion), because I think that if we go to a mediator, we at least all try to sit back and talk together again, and air it out, and get it all together, I think it will work.
“We’ve all been friends at one point in time, and then things changed drastically, and it shouldn’t change because of votes,” Hayes continued.
The motion to table the vote failed 3-2. Thornton, Desiderio, and Pierson voted against tabling the censure resolutions.
The retaliation censure passed 3-2. Thornton, Desiderio, and Pierson voted for the censure. Hayes and Morey voted against it.
The second resolution, a conflict-of-interest censure, passed 4-1, with Hayes voting no.
Prior to the vote, Morey said he believed Hayes stepped beyond the line of the conflict-of-interest policy, but that a vote of censure was “over the top” and “inconsistent with any prior practice” in the county.
Hayes is running for re-election in November, along with Thornton. Democrat challengers are Elizabeth Casey and Stephen Barry.