It is now in the hands of Superior Court Judge Nelson Johnson to determine the status of the mayor’s seat in Galloway Township.
Mayor Keith Hartman and township officials will appear before Johnson at 1 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 26 in Atlantic City.
The hearing became a necessity Tuesday night when Hartman withdrew his request to have eight weeks and four council meetings worth of absences excused by the council. The request was withdrawn following an executive session that lasted just under an hour.
And after Hartman withdrew his request, Councilman Dennis Kleiner dropped a bombshell: He alleged that Hartman had an extramarital affair with former Township Clerk Lisa Tilton.
As for Hartman's absences, according to state statute and a statute adopted by the township in 2010, the seat of the mayor or any member of the governing body becomes vacant when the representative filling that seat is absent for eight weeks. Hartman was absent from every council meeting since Aug. 23 until his appearance at Tuesday night’s meeting.
At the council’s previous meeting, Councilman Jim Gorman called for an investigation into Hartman’s absences. The investigation uncovered the fact that, as a result of his absences, Hartman’s seat was automatically vacated at 11:59 p.m. on Oct. 18.
Hartman issued his request to have his absences excused on Oct. 14, but Township Solicitor Michael Blee stated that it was impossible to call for a special hearing on the matter before the seat expired. He stated that Hartman could request a hearing for the Oct. 25 meeting, and if the council excused his absences, it would take effect retroactively.
Last week, Hartman filed for an injunction against the township to prevent it from appointing a new mayor until a hearing, which was scheduled for Oct. 26.
Galloway Township responded to Hartman’s request for an injunction on Monday, Oct. 24, and on Tuesday, Hartman filed an official response with the courts through his attorney, Douglas Steinhardt.
Tilton denies Kleiner's accusation
Two agenda items set for Tuesday night’s meeting addressed the situation, and they were to be discussed in executive session. When the request was withdrawn, Kleiner wasn’t at a loss for words.
Calling the withdrawal of the request another one of Hartman's "political games," Kleiner railed on several issues involving the mayor.
He said he was disappointed that in court papers, Hartman revealed that Kleiner and Roy Foster, a local union official, are the subjects of an investigation by the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office concerning threats Hartman said he received.
Blee stated Tuesday night there was a request to have those papers sealed to the public, but that Johnson denied that request as of 2:45 Tuesday afternoon.
Kleiner denied that he and Foster threatened the mayor.
Hartman has said those threats were the reason he dropped his re-election campaign and has missed eight weeks of township business. He said the threats were related to the July 18 special hearing on the suspension of Tilton.
Kleiner said Deputy Mayor Don Purdy has text messages to prove Hartman and Tilton had an extramarital affair. Purdy was absent from Tuesday’s meeting because he was in the hospital.
Tilton said she and the mayor have a longstanding family relationship that goes back 11 years.
“It doesn’t constitute anything additional,” Tilton said of the relationship.
The texts are mentioned in the minutes of the special hearing of July 18. They were never submitted into evidence, and Tilton claims they were expunged as part of the settlement between herself and the township.
“It’s unsubstantiated,” Tilton said of the allegation of an affair. “It’s false and it’s slanderous."
Kleiner pointed to a recent investigation of Hartman’s pharmaceutical company that Hartman blamed on him. Over the summer, Hartman had stated that he later learned Kleiner wasn’t to blame. On Tuesday night, Hartman submitted a copy of an OPRA request filed by Kleiner asking for all wage and hour violations by Jersey Shore Pharmacy, partially-owned by Hartman.
Kleiner said Hartman was also to blame for an investigation into threats he made against Tilton while Tilton was the clerk, but Tilton stated that she didn’t set out to file her complaint against Kleiner.
“Kleiner doesn’t know what occurred,” said Tilton, who said she made comments during a meeting she had with the township solicitor and the manager, and was told the matter needed to be investigated. “The mayor didn’t spear anything.
“The result is that he admitted he made the comments and he settled because he didn’t want it to go back to the council.”
"No one's paying attention to the issues"
Hartman left Tuesday night’s meeting without comment, and didn’t respond to requests for comment later Tuesday night.
“I’m disappointed it came to this,” Gorman said. “When I asked for an investigation, I didn’t want all this to happen. There’s an election this year, and no one’s paying attention to the issues; just the dirt.”
Hartman and Gorman are both up for re-election, as is Tony Coppola.
Gorman is the council’s lone Democrat, and is running alongside challengers Kevin Krumaker and Jim McElwee. Coppola and challenger Brian Tyrrell are both running on the Republican ticket. Hartman, who was elected as a Republican, is running an independent campaign.
Blee explains in a copy of the township’s response to Hartman, provided to Galloway Patch by the Atlantic County Courts, that it was a state statute that mandates Hartman’s seat be vacated automatically after the eight weeks elapses, not an action by council. Council had the option to give Hartman a hearing, but is not required to do so by law.
In his complaint, Hartman states the township never issued him a Rice notice—a notice of the right to a disciplinary hearing—but Blee states in the township’s response that Rice notices are issued to township employees, not elected officials.
The township’s response includes affidavits from Purdy, councilmen Tony Coppola and Kleiner, and Township Manager Steve Bonanni.
Purdy, Coppola and Kleiner stated that Hartman had never indicated any physical threats to himself or his family. The also denied in their sworn statements that they would force the mayor to remove himself from the public eye.
“I did not trust telling other individuals on the council of my suspicions about Mr. Kleiner or Mr. Foster considering Mr. Kleiner is a fellow councilman,” Hartman said in a copy of his response, also provided to Galloway Patch by the Atlantic County Courts.
He also indicates in his response that over the course of the last weekend, he had to call Galloway Township Police twice for incidents which he deemed threats, which he said forced him to relocate his family. He was unsure of the source of the threats.
Galloway Township Police Chief Patrick Moran had no comment on the possibility of these threats Tuesday night.
While Hartman said threats were the cause of his inability to attend council meetings since Aug. 23, the township responded with a list of reasons Hartman gave for missing council meetings at the time, including:
- the need to secure his condo against the approaching Hurricane Irene in South Carolina in late August;
- attendance at a Monday night Dallas Cowboys football game in Dallas, in which he was unable to return in time for the ensuing night’s council meeting;
- attendance at a medical conference in Nashville, which Hartman was attending in his capacity as part-owner of a pharmaceutical company;
- and a meeting prior to the Sept. 13 council meeting in which Hartman discussed at length with Purdy the nature of the threats against him, and indicated he was “out,” which the township interpreted to mean he was out of politics in Galloway, altogether. Later that night, Hartman briefly suspended his campaign for re-election, which he has since unsuspended.
Hartman stated that on Sept. 13, Purdy told him Foster would be at the meeting, and that he was planning to do something that would make Hartman angry. Purdy further said he would “handle Foster,” according to Hartman’s response.
“After Sept. 13, 2011, I became increasingly concerned about my public appearances because Mr. Foster was attending council meetings,” Hartman said in his response.
In his discussions with Hartman concerning threats, Hartman never referenced physical threats against he or his family, Purdy stated in his affidavit.
According to Purdy, Hartman said the threats were a threat to expose his personal life, “including extramarital affairs he had within the community,” which if made public, “would embarrass the children at their school.” Hartman told Purdy the threats served as a demand for Hartman to remove himself from council. Purdy said he wasn’t sure if the demands asked him to resign or not run for re-election.
In his response, Hartman stated those making the threats were attempting to coerce him politically, and he didn’t know what lengths they would go to accomplish their goal.
Purdy also stated Hartman no longer lives at the address listed on his certification, but that Hartman never told him where he had moved.
“Although I don’t stay there on a full-time basis, I still own (that home) and it is and has been at all relevant times my primary address,” Hartman said.
Mayor defends performance
The township stated Hartman has missed several other commitments he made as mayor throughout the township, including attendance at a food drive at ShopRite, a joint meeting between the township and the school board concerning the failed school budget, and Atlantic County’s 9/11 Ceremony.
For many of these events, Hartman said he was either unaware of they were taking place, or he feared Kleiner or Foster would be in attendance.
For the 9/11 ceremony, he states he was the guest speaker at Mainland Baptist Church in Galloway, and he felt it was important for him as mayor to stay in the township on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center. He provided a letter from Mainland Pastor Dean Bult, thanking him for being with the church for the 9/11 services as part of his response.
Hartman has said he participated in other council activities, including agenda meetings, which the township not only deemed non-essential, but also disputed that he attended.
Part of the duties Hartman said he performed included:
- four conference calls with Gov. Christie concerning preparation for Hurricane Irene;
- visiting shelters in Galloway during Hurricane Irene;
- signing documents;
- lunch with a potential township developer;
- attendance of a Zoning Board meeting on Sept. 8;
- agenda meeting on Sept. 23;
- a phone conversation with Purdy concerning various township interviews; and
- an interview with Patch conducted on Oct. 1 concerning his absences and his continuing problems with fellow members of council.
In his affidavit, Coppola claims he believes Hartman lost his passion to govern Galloway following a failed attempt at a state assembly run.
Hartman responded by writing: “Be advised that although I may have been disillusioned with my political party at that time, I never at any time became apathetic regarding the Township of Galloway or my responsibilities there.”