Government

Raritan Township Committeeman Accused of $5 Bribe Over 9-11 Clock Flap

The township's 9-11 memorial clock is in front of the Municipal Building on Municipal Drive. Credits: Curtis Leeds / TAPinto Flemington-Raritan
The memorial clock is located at the end of the Municipal Building, at the opposite end from the court entrance. Credits: Curtis Leeds / TAPinto Flemington-Raritan

RARITAN TWP., NJ – Last year, officials agreed that the township’s commemorative 9-11 clock needed service. But much of the rest remains in dispute, including how they will pay for the $6,000 repair.

Township Committee approved the repair at an Oct. 18, 2016 meeting. At its meeting Tuesday, the committee introduced an ordinance to pay for the work by re-appropriating unspent funds from a $6.1 million bond ordinance it authorized in July last year.

The 2016 borrowing plan had been approved to pay for a variety of capital expenses, including police body cameras, a dump truck, pickup trucks, municipal building improvements, computer software, a phone system and a jail cell toilet.

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Mayor Karen Gilbert said the money was left over from the bond ordinance because the toilet and sink replacement weren’t necessary and state rules allow the funds to be used to pay for the clock.

Committeeman Craig O’Brien said the Township Committee had agreed the clock expense was to be paid from the township’s regular budget, not by borrowing money under a bond. The Oct. 18 meeting minutes reflect that decision, O’Brien said.

But Gilbert said the meeting minutes can’t be found. As a workaround, she said Township Clerk Lisa Fania used an audio recording of the meeting to transcribe the discussion verbatim.

That transcript uses the word “budget” four times, O’Brien said, but never references a bond or borrowing.

Committeeman Lou Reiner agreed with the mayor that the clock expense was to be paid from the bond ordinance, not the budget.

O’Brien said that if Reiner really believes the clock was to be paid under the bond, “Here’s five bucks. I’ll give it to anybody on this Committee” who can show the repairs were to be paid under the bond.

For emphasis, O’Brien placed a $5 bill on the top of the dais. A heated discussion followed.

“It is inappropriate for you to be making wagers with another committeeman on the dais,” Gilbert said.

After O’Brien said he’d withdraw the five dollars, Reiner said, “He’s trying to provoke a situation.”

It’s “completely inappropriate,” said township attorney Jeffrey Lehrer to O’Brien. “In all of my years I’ve never seen someone take out money and try to bribe another committeeman.”

“That wasn’t a bribe, please,” O’Brien answered. “That was a wager, a friendly bet.”

“Maybe a Boy Scout wouldn’t be able to tell the difference,” Lehrer said. “But I can tell.”

O’Brien said he has a copy of the “missing” Oct. 18 minutes. “I will happily produce them again,” he promised.

The dispute wasn’t completely resolved. As it stands, a public hearing on the re-appropriation will be held at 7 p.m. Nov. 6 in the Municipal Building.

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