December 12, 2013 at 3:37 PM
SPARTA, NJ – A Sparta Township Council member had said she felt “threatened” and feared for her safety because of the actions of the community’s township manager.
It is a story that began last summer at a now infamous ribbon-cutting ceremony of the then newly constructed beer garden at Arthur's Mt. Moritz restaurant in Sparta. Those in attendance for champagne and a photo opportunity were Mayor Gil Gibbs, Deputy Mayor Molly Whilesmith, council member Christine Quinn, Township Manager David Troast, “Hello Neighbor” Mary Ann Ryan, Ernest Hofer from Lake Mohawk Country Club and Tammie Horsfield of Sussex County Chamber of Commerce.
It is a story, while consistent in most respects, that is perceived vastly differently by those in attendance, centering on a brief verbal exchange between Quinn and Troast. Most involved agree that Troast told Quinn that he had seen or followed her on the way to the restaurant. Also not disputed is that Quinn asked why he would have been traveling from that direction, that Troast responded he was doing an errand, that Quinn asked what the errand was and Troast's response had something to do with a gun.
According to Quinn's statement, Troast said he had picked up his gun. Ryan says he only said "he was having a gun repaired," but not whether or not he had dropped off or picked up the gun. Gibbs’ statement says he did not "know if he said he was dropping off the guns or picking up the guns." Troast statement indicates, “I went to a sporting goods store to pick up my .22 rifle that was repaired." Despite Troast's own admission, Ryan insists he did not say that he picked up the gun and she was "standing right next to him."
While there are subtle differences in what people report they heard, there are major differences in the responses to that verbal exchange.
Leaving the ceremony together, Quinn drove Whilesmith to her home where Whilesmith had a family event to prepare for and host. Quinn then reached out to the police department to discuss her interpretation of the conversation.
Back at the beer garden, Ryan and Troast remained for lunch, with Gibbs staying for a short time.
After lunch, Troast returned to Town Hall and Ryan went to an appointment in town.
After she left the restaurant, Quinn contacted the police department to tell them about her experience at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, according to the Supplemental Narrative of the Incident Report made by Lt. Schetting. She then went to the police department and made her statement. She discussed feeling threatened and "fearing for her safety, the council member's safety and the safety of the Sparta Township employees."
No one involved denies that Quinn may have felt threatened. Even Michael Speckhart, former councilman who has filed an ethics complaint against Quinn and Whilesmith, is adamant that he “would not try to tell someone how to feel." Ryan concurs, but takes it further, saying ,"She (Quinn) may have felt threatened by his comments, while I didn't feel the least bit threatened. And I was standing right next to him. She probably felt threatened because of her actions towards him over the past eight months."
Quinn indicated in her statement that there was a meeting scheduled for the next day, Aug. 16, regarding the township manager. Ryan said during lunch Troast related he was probably going to be fired the next day. According to the supplemental narrative, in his discussion with the lieutenants, Troast stated, "Do you know what is going to happen on Friday?" Continuing, he stated, "I am probably going to be terminated. That's what's happening."
Township Clerk Mary Coe confirmed that Troast had received RICE notification that his employment was going to be discussed in an executive session.
After Quinn made her statement, the police contacted Ryan and Gibbs asking that they too give their version of what they saw and heard at the beer garden ceremony.
Schetting contacted the Prosecutor's Office and the Township Attorney, Tom Ryan (no relation to Mary Ann Ryan) to inform them of the accusation that Troast had a gun on township property. Schettling and Lt. Spidaletto went upstairs and met with Troast to discuss the statement made by Quinn. Troast did confirm his .22 rifle was inside his vehicle.
Without having received permission from the Chief of Police to have a weapon on municipal property, Troast was in violation of "prohibited behavior" according to the section of the employee handbook regarding "workplace violence." Troast stated he was aware of the policy.
According to the statement, Troast became agitated over the course of the interaction with the police. He made statements that included, "I know things about this town. It would make you sick to work here if you know. Employees fondling," but would not elaborate on the “fondling” statement. He made other statements about the police's allegiance to Quinn. "You know, I know that all of the police who live in Sparta signed the petition to get Chris Quinn elected." He continued, "...I know the Chief did. I saw his name. He shouldn't be involved in political activities."
Because Troast was initially unable to produce his firearms identification, having left it at the repair shop, Schetting took and secured the rifle. Troast later returned with the card and the rifle was returned to him.
Troast's and Quinn's statements about the exchange in the restaurant did not differ substantially. The difference comes in the perception of what was said. Troast indicates in his statement that "she had no particular response or reaction" to his comments, while Quinn felt threatened enough to contact the police.
PART TWO TOMORROW