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Sexual Harrassment Allegations, Claims of Officials' Retaliation Highlight Tilton Lawsuit

Suit claims Bonanni made sexually explicit comments, and Kleiner sought revenge over her refusal to use his preferred engineering company as a member of the Planning Board.

Councilman Dennis Kleiner and former Township Manager Steve Bonanni are major targets of a filed Friday by former township clerk Lisa Tilton.

Tilton claims that a vendetta the “political allies and personal friends” had against her ultimately led to her dismissal from a township that had employed her for 10 years.

Tilton is seeking a rescindment of the Settlement Agreement and Release agreed to on and, she claims, later violated by the township, and a reinstatement to the township with back pay, benefits and all other emoluments of her employment, as well as compensatory damages, counsel fees, costs and interest, and any other future relief deemed “just and proper” by the judge.

Mayor Don Purdy had no comment. Deputy Mayor Tony Coppola had no comment. Tilton's attorney, Steven Srenaski, had no comment.

Bonanni could not be reached for comment. Kleiner, Township Solicitor Michael Blee and Township Manager Arch Liston didn’t return messages seeking comment.

In the lawsuit, Tilton touts her “exemplary employment” as a member of the township prior to the appointment of Bonanni as Township Manager in January, 2011.

As of Nov. 25, 2011, Tilton would’ve been up for reappointment and thus been eligible for tenure.

She alleges Kleiner had threatened this reappointment because, as a member of the Planning Board, she didn’t vote in favor of his preferred choice of engineering firm.

She claims that, following a meeting with Bonanni and Solicitor Michael Blee, an investigation was conducted into the matter. She claims that although her allegations were substantiated, no action was taken against Kleiner.

She also claims Bonanni subjected her to numerous and substantial sexually explicit comments, including comments about her body, her clothes and requests to engage in an extramarital affair.

She claims that Bonanni asked her to withdraw an OPRA request she filed against the He then told her she was not allowed to have contact with any members of council, she said, calling the command unconstitutionally overbroad on its face and as applied.

She says he asked council members to sign an acknowledgement of this policy, and although many members of council declined to sign, none attempted to prevent Bonanni from disciplining her.

She alleges Bonanni subjected to her to three disciplinary actions between May 24 and June 10 for “pre-textual reasons,” including:

  • a reprimand for filing OPRA requests and attempting to contact township officials, a reprimand Tilton calls “unlawful;”
  • a five-day suspension and removal from the Planning Board for having contact with a council member, a suspension Tilton calls “unlawful;” and
  • a suspension without pay, pending her removal for posting an unofficial redistricting map in Galloway for the June 7, 2011, elections.

She claims she was told if she didn’t resign from Planning Board, her five-day suspension would become a termination of her employment. She then resigned.

She also claims that between the second and third incidents, Bonanni asked her to tailor an advertisement for the Chief Finanical Officer’s position to meet Marilyn Dolcy’s requirements, which she said was improper and not in his power to do, as the appointment is reserved for township council.

She was issued a reprimand on June 13 for contacting Blee and former Mayor Keith Hartman, requesting a Rice notice for the upcoming township council meeting. The following day, Bonanni was asked by council to remain as manager through Dec. 31, 2012.

Bonanni’s approval of for Hodsdon, Chief Financial Officer Marilyn Dolcy and Deputy Clerk Carol Hackney are referenced in the suit, as well as allegations his appointment of Karen Bacon as acting clerk was illegal, his use of township-funded cell phone for personal calls, his time spent teaching at Rutgers University while being paid to be in Galloway and improperly signing off on his own vacation buyback.

The lawsuit also states Bonanni resigned effective March 31, but the township forced him to move his retirement up two months to .

She also states the July 18 special hearing was a “sham proceeding” designed to remove her from her position and publicly embarrass herself and Hartman. Her request to have Kleiner recuse himself was not granted, despite an independent investigation into her claims he was attempting to prevent her from achieving her re-appointment as Township Clerk.

She claims she went to Don Purdy, who was then Deputy Mayor, to conduct an investigation concerning these claims. She said he promised an investigation would be conducted, but one was never done by the township. Instead, Purdy informed Bonanni of the complaint in violation of NJLAD.

She asked Purdy also be recused, as there were enough council members present to make a decision, but neither was recused.

It was then revealed that Purdy and Kleiner had text messages they said would reveal an alleged extramarital affair between Tilton and Hartman. Tilton and Hartman have both denied an affair ever took place.

Tilton said she realized the process was biased against her, and was forced to reach an agreement with the township in which she would resign.

She claims the township later violated that agreement by releasing her personal information to the media and the public, resulting in the filing of her initial , last September.

She says Bonanni met with her following this notice, with no attorneys present, attempting to get more information, and when she refused to answer, filed another disciplinary action against her. This one came two days after her resignation from the township became official.

She has since filed two more with the township, and one against Atlantic County and the Board of Elections. Between the four notices, she is claiming $9 million, although she isn't seeking any money in the lawsuit filed Friday.

She references Kleiner’s accusations during a council meeting that she was having an alleged affair with Hartman. The comments came after Hartman withdrew a request to have a on his status as mayor after he missed four consecutive meetings and was in jeopardy of being removed from council.

After Tilton confronted him at the Dubliner following the meeting, he filed a complaint against her. The complaint was later dismissed.

She claims Kleiner continued to harass her by following her and taking pictures of her.

The full list of defendants named in the suit is as follows: the Township of Galloway; former Township Manager Steve Bonanni, in his individual and official capacity; Mayor Don Purdy, in his individual and official capacity; Deputy Mayor Tony Coppola, in his individual and official capacity; current council members Tom Bassford, Jim Gorman, Dennis Kleiner; Brian Tyrrell and Whitney Ullman, each in their individual and official capacities; Township Solicitor Michael Blee in both his capacity with the township and the Law Office of Michael Blee; Township Clerk Thalia Kay, in her official capacity; Registrar of Vital Statistics Carol Hackney, in her official capacity; and former Acting Township Clerk Karen Bacon, in her official capacity.

jim daraklis May 15, 2012 at 12:03 AM
if any of this is true and any verdict but for the township is returned then those responsible should have to pay, not the citizens of galloway. We dont elect these people to act in this manner. Most of the council members have their own businesses and they should have to lose those to either the plantiff or the townships residents. If these charges are found to be true then the people involved should actually forfeit everything they and their families have.
Jim McElwee May 15, 2012 at 10:46 AM
Well we all know that isn't going to happen. I find it curious that EVERYBODY was named in the suit including members of Council who were not involved in anyway other than they sat on council. One name is conspicuously absent. Why is former Mayor Hartman not named? As Mayor you would think he could have had some involvement? I don't know who is wrong here, it will play out in court. But I do know it is going to cost the Galloway tax payers a ton of money. A township already in financial trouble. This could be the straw that breaks the camels back!
Stan Walker May 15, 2012 at 11:45 AM
Exactly. Otherwise, if there is no personal criminal liability for one's actions, holding a position on council ends up being a free pass to commit all sorts of crimes "acting on behalf of the township."
Samantha Siang May 15, 2012 at 07:52 PM
Wow, Peyton Place has come to Galloway!! What a bunch of low life politicial jerks! This clerk was fine for ten years and then all hell breaks lose? I think her lawsuit has a lot of merit. But, sadly, it will take years and the good taxpayers of Galloway will end up paying the bill for these rascals. Quite sickening.
Stan Walker May 16, 2012 at 09:38 AM
How about a class action lawsuit by the township to recover any amount from the plaintiffs if they are found to be guilty?
betsy May 16, 2012 at 11:39 AM
If the work environment is as intolerable for this employee as described, then why does she want her job reinstated to work with/for at least some of these same people again? And how would she expect to be hired in the future by other employers with her known proclivity for filing lawsuits?
smithvillian May 16, 2012 at 03:58 PM
Depending on the verdict of course. I agree with Stan that a class action lawsuit be organized and brought against those found guilty for their actions. This public display of gross misconduct, senseless disregard for protocol & overall irresponsibility needs needs to be dumped on those that put the financial well being and overall integrity of Galloway Twp. in jeopardy. Harry...to your knowledge has a case like this ever been implemented with similar circumstances? Realistically, it's the responsible thing to do here.
Michael Guenther May 16, 2012 at 05:53 PM
I don't know any of these people and I know very little about what has gone on beyond what I read online but reading these allegations and other things not mentioned here what comes to mind is the phrase "Self-will run riot" as being the real problem in the township government. While I wouldn't be surprised if it came out that Tilton was one of the biggest rioters, I was truly shocked when her personal life was bandied about in public during a council meeting last year and again I'm shocked to read that the township manager was going to put a repremand in her record TWO days after the council worked out a settlement with her. The thought occurs to me, that regardless of what the council members thought of her, that the manager was reneging on THEIR agreement and he should have been immediately read the riot act and Tilton made clear of this. They might have been able to avoid most if not all of the lawsuits, OPRA requests, and other allegations that have come to light and the manager might still be there. It grieves me to read that the people running my hometown have been sighing contracts without authority, approving their own overtime requests, living out of suitcases, missing so many council meetings they were sacked, allegedly having numerous extramarital affairs and that the cops were called to break up an argument in the bar after a council meeting and even more all while under the watchful eye of a council that I'm told was elected largely as reformers. Truly amazing!
betsy May 16, 2012 at 07:25 PM
Thanks for giving me the info about lawsuits in NJ. I've only lived in Galloway and NJ for a few years, but I can't fathom much of what I read goes on. Why would any informed young family choose to relocate here given the turmoil in local government and lack of support for public schools?
Diogenes May 16, 2012 at 08:52 PM
Betsy, it isn't just in Galloway. It's everywhere in NJ, both in big cities and in small towns. The problem with Galloway is that, as a group, this council is simply not competent to oversee the governance and administration of this trownship. The fault lies with the electorate, who put them into office. Of course this is the same electorate that came out in droves to defeat a referendum that would provide for necessary replacements to the elementary schools' roofs, but we won't get into that here. Might offend someone.
jim daraklis May 17, 2012 at 05:33 AM
lets just not pay our taxes if they are going to be used to pay for the misdeeds of our elected officials. we elect them to run the township in the peoples best interests not theirs.or just pay the portion of your taxes that go to the schools and let the two political parties that put these people before us pay the legal costs.
Stan Walker May 17, 2012 at 10:36 AM
Betsy, Despite what you may read, the electorate is not at fault. If the electorate votes on the basis of promised policies, and those policies are delivered but fail, then the electorate may bear responsibility. In this case, promised policies have yet to be delivered, politicians have allegedly violated the law and the public trust, and they are completely at fault and responsible for their actions.
smithvillian May 17, 2012 at 12:16 PM
Thanks for the insight Brian...I think it's clear there is a level of criminal activity above and beyond that of just rookie political shenanigans.
Ron Schreiber September 28, 2012 at 10:01 PM
bottom line ...what if anything will happen to guilty one's ..this is still a prolonged joke on the Taxpayers ..these crooks are deep rooted (been here a while ) and will continue to do so .when all is said and done .....

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