Township Employee Files Suit Against Galloway for Eliminating Her Position

Jody Smith was the land use administrator/zoning officer until the positions were eliminated last year. She currently works in the Tax Assessor's Office.

A Galloway Township employee whose previous position was eliminated has filed a lawsuit against individuals who were representing the township at the time of her termination, with the intent to get her job back and recover lost wages over the past year.

Jody Smith, the township's former land use administrator/zoning officer earlier this year filed a civil lawsuit in state Superior Court against current Mayor Don Purdy, former Mayor Keith Hartman, Township Planner Tiffany Cuviello, former Township Manager Steve Bonanni and multiple other unnamed defendants on Feb. 3.

Smith’s attorney, Clifford L. Van Syoc, said that because of the complexities of the case, it would likely be between two and three years before the case went to court.

Smith’s position was eliminated at the council meeting on Feb. 22, 2011. This resulted in Smith being laid off, but through what is known as the “bumping process,” she retained her employment status with the township, and is currently employed in the Tax Assessor’s Office, where she has taken a pay cut.

In eliminating her previous position, she alleges that all defendants acted as agents of Galloway Township to participate in, aid or abet. She alleges they conspired and engaged in acts furthering the conspiracy.

In her lawsuit, Smith seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as a return to her previous position.

Smith further claims she has been deprived of due process right and continued interest in her position of public rights as a result of the defendants’ violation of the 2004 Civil Rights Act, and her rights under the state constitution.

Bonanni was not available for comment. Hartman and Cuviello did not return phone messages seeking comment late Thursday afternoon. Township Solicitor Michael Blee, who is currently on vacation, didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.

Purdy and Kleiner did not comment.

In the lawsuit, Smith states those who worked to have her position eliminated not only did so illegally, but that it is illegal for the township to not have a Zoning Officer, a point Smith made in public during the Feb. 22 meeting. At the time, Bonanni indicated her position would be split between three people, but Smith responded that only Cuviello, a part-time employee, was qualified to do that job.

The lawsuit contains an email shared between Councilman Dennis Kleiner and former Township Manager Roger Tees, in which Tees informs Kleiner that Smith’s position will be eliminated and no other layoffs were being considered at that time. The reasons given in both the email and in public referenced Smith’s department’s inability to sustain itself through inspection- and permit fees, and that it worked in a budget deficit that was supplemented by the general fund. During the meeting, Hartman estimated the township would save between $60,000 and $70,000, and Councilman Tony Coppola is quoted in the lawsuit as stating residential permits dropped from 372 to 28, a statement Smith disputes as false.

The lawsuit references a phone call from Kleiner to Smith informing her he was faxing her an email that showed her position was being eliminated, and that he believed Hartman and Purdy were acting illegally. However, Smith later references that same email as having been provided to her by Tees.

In the lawsuit, Smith claims Kleiner said he felt Purdy, who was Deputy Mayor at the time, had a vendetta against Smith.

The vendetta was an apparent reference to Smith’s actions in opposing what she believed to be unlawful conduct before both the council and the zoning board.

According to Smith, an applicant who was seeking a zoning variance and to have a street vacated was represented by an unnamed “head of the local Republican Party,” who was closely affiliated with many members of the council and zoning board.

In the lawsuit, Smith claims Purdy appeared on behalf of the applicant, and was heard to scream across the room that “neighbors should all get along,” allegedly being motivated by his close relationship with the applicant and those who supported them. This incident took place prior to Purdy's election to council in 2009.

In the lawsuit, Smith further claims that Tees told Smith during an encounter on July 18 that he would swear under oath that Purdy lied during the Feb. 22 meeting when he stated it was Tees who wanted to eliminate Smith’s position. She also alleged that Purdy and Hartman “secretly and illegally” met with Cuviello about transferring Smith’s duties to Cuviello.

In her lawsuit, Smith alleges that Bonanni’s salary was increased by $18,000 following Smith’s termination, which Smith says shows her termination was not related to financial matters. Smith also alleges several other township employees have received salary increases, at least two of which she believed to be $5,000 increases.

She earned $37,000 during her time with the township, which lasted 14 years. The township disputed her title as Zoning Officer, stating Construction Official Richard Roesch was the Zoning Officer. In Smith’s suit, she claims Roesch never acknowledged himself as the Zoning Officer.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of a turbulent year for the municipality, which includes separate tort claim notices filed by former Township Clerk Lisa Tilton, each for $3 million, but no lawsuits appear to have been filed relating to either complaint at this time.

VTPat February 17, 2012 at 10:43 PM
Who's immature?? Coppola, Purdy, Kleiner, Blee, Tees all of them so well heeled and so immature. This is a small town and these guys are petty and vindictive over what?? Who gets to fire who for what reason?? Who gets to payback perceived petty slights?? You might think we live in the big city with millions of dollars in patronage at stake! It does not matter who I believe is right or wrong the bottom line is this town needed change and voted to send the petty, vindictive, and well healed people back into leadership positions so, the people of galloway are even more immature, how's that!
BruceSefton February 18, 2012 at 12:24 AM
Kleiner is an unethical union thug. The sooner they boot him the better.
VTPat February 18, 2012 at 04:01 PM
Just finished reading the lawsuit and despite the obvious conclusions have one more thing to offer. This gang from Cooper Levenson... better watch out for them. I cannot say what I do know out of fear of retaliation from these thugs. I cannot afford a high priced attorney to defend myself against what they will do but know this, they are bad news. Don't let the pretend facade of philanthropy fool you these guys are greedy and ruthless. They have no care for taxpayers or employees, their goal is to shake every cent out of every entity they encounter and further enrich themselves. They are predators of the highest order. Fools are those who voted on council to have anything to do with these greedsters. Check out their activity in AC for a sample. Big mistake Galloway, BIG mistake!
smithvillian February 18, 2012 at 04:32 PM
In the process of getting my exit plan together. Galloway Twp. is not the place for me and my family to live any longer. After following the antics the last few years and wiping the egg from my face week after week with the rest of us here in Galloway all of our conversations have led us to the simple conclusion of leaving. The dark cloud that has been looming for years over Galloway is just about to settle and anchor itself unleashing the shitstorm that has been brewed up by the clowns, self serving/back pocket deal drones and crooks that have been destroying this community. I suggest the smart ones follow....
ccj February 18, 2012 at 10:18 PM
It sure does seem apparent that Harry has some vested interest in Lisa or in her suit. Probably a long time friend or maybe she was a good source of info to him over the years and he's simply looking to have her back. That's honorable i guess, but it does come across as being done in almost a high school way. In terms of his constant insistence and feet stomping that her suit has merit and I believe he once made a ridiculous comment that it could actually cost the town tens of millions....well lets just say it's clear there are not a lot of well trained and successful lawyers that decide later in life to become bloggers with 100 or so monthly uniques or whatever tiny audience Harry is writing for.
dan richards February 19, 2012 at 12:54 AM
Well I guess we have to wait and see how much merit Lisa actually has to her case, You seem to revolve a lot of your time to a town you don't have nothing to do with.
ccj February 19, 2012 at 02:27 AM
Anyone other than me think Harry and Brian are the same person and that in both cases they should possibly find some professional help? They sure seem to focus in an obsessive way about Ms Tilton....almost in a stalker like fashion. Ok, Harry writes for some very low traffic'd blog that looks like a high school web publishing project that a freshman might hand in so it's not like we should expect a professional journalists comments like he's a Washington Post or NY Times reporter. The Brian character.......not sure where that one comes from, but the two certainly seem to be in lock step as if they are finishing each other's comments and backing each other's credibility. Unfortunately, no one else on the board seems to back up either of the two.
dan richards February 19, 2012 at 02:39 AM
First of Brian I am not harping on Mr.Sheeler's connection to Lisa Tilton, he becomes very defensive when it comes to her case. I personally think it's frivolous and will be thrown out of court. And yes I am a tax payer of Galloway and the reason I joined the GAlloway Patch is to voice my opinons whether you are Mr. Scheeler approve of them or not!
dan richards February 19, 2012 at 02:48 AM
CCJ did you take notice that Mr.Scheeler bashes just about everyone who works for Galloway Township, with the exception of Lisa?
dan richards February 19, 2012 at 02:51 AM
Harry how would you know? I have lived here for 30 years how long have you lived here for?
dan richards February 19, 2012 at 02:54 AM
And you better recheck your tax records I was just assessed 400.000 for my property.
dan richards February 19, 2012 at 03:29 AM
Brian, you wouldn't happen to be one of the small buisiness owners with too many trucks in your yard, would you?
dan richards February 19, 2012 at 03:59 AM
Not sure of what questions you are referring to that I haven't answered?
dan richards February 19, 2012 at 04:21 AM
You make absolutly no sense, I think this question needs to go to Mr.Scheeler! All I was saying was I felt she had no bases for her lawsuit, but then again that's just my opinon.
dan richards February 19, 2012 at 05:20 AM
Look I do not know Ms Tilton or Ms Smith personally. I was just stating my opinon.
dan richards February 19, 2012 at 01:44 PM
Then again that is your opinion not mine. You seem to get allfully upset for someone who has no connection to Ms.Tilton's lawsuit.
ccj February 19, 2012 at 02:43 PM
Harry...no offense as I respect most all entrepreneurial minded people....but 56,000 hits over 3 months (18,000 per month) is indeed incredibly small. If you strip out all of the bot activity from search engines and other third party site scanners, you're probably left with a quarter of the traffic you're reporting as being actual people visiting your site --- something like 6,000 PVs per month. I ran a family of blogs similar to Gawker Media concept, though the blogs were all focused on specific business industry segments, targeting people working in those industries - basically trade publications. We opened over 50, closed many that showed no legs and ended with 14 that could attract an audience of 50,000 Unique Visitors a month. And that Unique Visitors. The PV numbers were about 1.4 MM given the visitors propensity to return a couple of times a week and view a couple to few pages upon each visit. My point is I understand the online media as built a company in that space that was sold to a large trade publication company for a nice profit and as such I can very quickly determine what you're up to in terms of attracting an audience, etc after spending about 2 minutes on your site. I wish you the best, I truly do, I just wish you would stop with the Lisa Tilton obsession as well as what almost seems like harassment of the Galloway town itself. I mean by the shear number of OPRA requests it seems clear you're just trying to make things difficult for them. That's sad.
ccj February 19, 2012 at 02:52 PM
Definitely a strange situation. I just get annoyed when people go so far out of their way to cause difficulty to others. Whether it's through frivolous law suits.....one of my biggest pet peavies....or over running small towns clerk offices with OPRA requests simply to make a point. Those actions cost these small towns real money and it my opinion it's wrong. I don't know this Harry guy but apparently he does run some low level blog covering Galloway. It doesn't seem to have any real advertising (his only way to monetize) so he seems to be spending a lot of time reporting on Galloway more out of hobby than profession. Not sure his background but virtually no results on his name that would leave one to believe he was once a professional journalist for a legitimate news org. When I read your common that you've lived there for 30 years I have to admit a sense of sympathy hit me. You seem like a reasonable person living in a town that is at times insane and petty in the way it operates. The stories going around re. Lisa and the mayor were unbelievable. It's like a modern day Peyton Place. I hope it get's better as I assume there are more good reasonable people like yourself versus the nutty residents that seem to make the most noise.
ccj February 19, 2012 at 03:01 PM
I can't speak for Dan, but my interest in Lisa Tilton is tied into my disgust for where our society has gone as it relates to lawsuits. People have become so trained to think....I've been harmed....I'm suing. It's a terrible place for our society to have gone and in most cases there was no true harm caused. Often it is simply in the mind of the plaintiff, but with the incredible overabundance of underemployed lawyers we have, there's often someone willing to take the case. It's like a lottery fix for them. Low chances that we win, but you never know..... Then they convince plaintiffs, often people in distress or lacking an avg degree of intellect or common sense that they have a case and it could be worth a lot of money. These not too bright plaintiffs fall for it and are 99 times out of 100 left collecting nothing. You add this to the stuff that goes on in the class action ranks and it really is a disgusting way for supposed professionals to operate. I employ lawyers constantly in the course of my business. They are deal lawyers working on acquisitions or divestitures, contract lawyers dealing with partnership and larger vendor agreements, etc. I respect what they do as they are professional performing a valuable and necessary service. But the bottom feeders, which seem to make up the majority of the industry are a disgrace.
ccj February 19, 2012 at 03:06 PM
Per Brian/Harry...." but opinions are interpretations of facts." Not a very good definition of "opinion". Here's the definition from the dictionary: "a view or judgment formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge" In fact B/H's definition is almost the opposite of what the experts say. And that's from a supposed lawyer and journalists. Two word guys working together. Uh oh.
dan richards February 19, 2012 at 05:38 PM
I think what matters the most to Harry and Brian is that the only opinions that count is the ones that agree with them. Well I got news for you, not every one sees things the same way. Whether if it is a fact or not. With your optimism let's hope Lisa suit don't go to a jury trial cause there are defintly differnt opinions there. I just served on a trial and let me tell you there was evidence and still not every one agreed!
dan richards February 20, 2012 at 04:26 AM
I would like to set the record straight, I am a tax payer who owns his home in Galloway Township, I do not know nor have I met CCJ as you keep referring that we are the same person. You seem to get a lot of pleasure at putting people down. Reguardless if they are quilty of something or not... I do not know your motive since I was told you don't even live in this town. I think it took a lot of nerve cheking to see if I live here when you don't even live here. Are you that bored you have to focus on another town or is it your town is that perfict it does not need fixing?
ccj February 21, 2012 at 05:22 PM
Harry....One thing. I disagree with your view on this and I'm not a fan of your tactics in terms of OPRA request after request which "appears" to be more about stirring the pot than getting access to important public information. That said, I made some not great comments about what you do as a profession and that was wrong of me. Anyone that does an honest days work deserves more respect than I showed and I apologize for that. We won't agree about the merits of the suit or the motivation for Lisa filing it, but that doesnt mean I have any right to knock what you do for a living. I'm sorry I did.
ccj February 21, 2012 at 08:34 PM
Understood Richard. My main point was to apologize for making what seemed in hindsight to be childish comments about your work, blog, etc. I don't like when others do that and need to expect the same from myself. I've been involved, from the outside, in local politics in my town and have been frustrated by some people that have created lots of unnecessary work and often cost (mostly legal) for the town and I think I took that frustration out on you inappropriately. I always believe there are typically at least three sides to most stories, so I know I don't have all the info or answers. I sometimes comment as if I do, which is wrong on my part.
ccj February 21, 2012 at 08:35 PM
Meant understood, Harry..
58yearGresident February 24, 2012 at 04:59 PM
Harry, if someone looks into the money spent on Overtime in the last couple years, they will find the majority allways went to the same few "Liked" labor employees and the same SUPERVISORS for the majority of the projects in Bonanni's Public Works Department. Especially the $900,000.00 Over budget Lean 2 shed that turned into a Garage to store old equipment, a small Sign shop 95% of the time is unmanned, and the Private Companys garage that maintains the city equipment, and the $1,000,000.00 (final cost price) old VFW purchase which is to be the New Senior Services building. Ask why did 3 Supervisors quick retire in the spring? One left (whom was Bonanni's Friend and fellow Florida Vacactioner and Retirement Property Hunter of which both did repeatedly on various occasions), and suddnly was allowed to collected unemployment (On the Taxpayers) til he reached 65 to get his Full Pension and then Galloway hired hs nephew to replace one of the Terminated employees. Another retired with his Full Pension and was brought back this past summer to work as Summer+employee? The 3rd was smart and got out. Interesting???
smithvillian February 24, 2012 at 06:05 PM
Well.....sure there will be an exodus of sorts. The rock has been lifted exposing all that has been reported on by various press sources, including Harry, for all to see. Only those that have been benefitting from or are personally connected with the key individuals and the rampant abuse of their positions, the corruption, the nepotism, the back room back pocket deals....the list goes on and on....are their supporters. I look at it this way.....any $ being spent on administration costs for processing OPRA requests is a bargain compared to the massive mismanaged spending, any/all pending lawsuit payouts....unwarranted overtime....etc....because these people who think they are doing the residents of Galloway a favor for "working" for the Twp. will think twice because just a few people are tuned into watching.....the bottom line is those in the queue to succession thought they were going to have it made like the ones before them but the rock is not there anymore and it's ugly under there....I like seeing the weak ones crack. It's like taking a bottle from a baby.
Jason Walter February 24, 2012 at 06:57 PM
So crazy
Jason Walter February 24, 2012 at 07:06 PM
I wonder why that indiviual would resign if there was no wrong doing...... Just doesn't make sense why an employee who did NOTHING wrong would resign their position then go on to sue.........
Sean Conneamhe November 25, 2012 at 12:24 PM
"Some say that any town which gets rid of its Zoning Officer is corrupt."


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