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Raritan Township Employee Quits After Car Dealer Kalafer Complains

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Flemington Car & Truck Country Chairman Steve Kalafer shows the notice of alleged zoning violation to Township Committee at its Feb. 7 meeting. Credits: Curtis Leeds / TAPinto Flemington-Raritan file photo
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RARITAN TWP., NJ – The township’s Zoning and Property Maintenance inspector quit his job after Flemington Car & Truck Country’s founder and Chairman Steve Kalafer complained that the inspector threatened his automobile dealership chain with fines for alleged zoning violations.

Michael Pessolano wrote that the company could be fined for the allegations, which include “more than 100 dealership vehicles stored on unpaved areas,” contrary to the dealership’s preliminary major site plan.

“I get a certified letter in the mail that I will be fined if I don’t do certain things,” Kalafer told Township Committee Feb. 7. “That’s not how I do business.”

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Kalafer added that, “If this town continues on the path that it is, I have great fear for me being able to continue to do business here,” as TAPinto Flemington previously reported.

Other than Pessolano’s resignation, it isn’t clear what else has happened since the notice of zoning violation was sent.

Kalafer and his attorney asked officials to adopt an ordinance that would “allow us to temporarily park on property that we own ... a common sense solution.”

Such an ordinance would first be submitted to the Planning Board for approval, but Mayor Karen Gilbert – who sits on the Planning Board – said the board hadn’t taken any action on it. The vehicles that drew Pessolano’s attention remain parked on the property.

In a letter to township officials, Pessolano said that although he “was informally briefed the next day” after Kalafer’s remarks, he didn’t “fully understand” what happened until he watched TAPinto’s coverage of Kalafer’s remarks after hearing some people “having a good laugh over it at Town Hall.”   

Pessolano said Kalafer was given “free reign to lambaste me at length ... apparently convincing the Committee that he had been unjustly and disrespectfully treated.”

Township Committee members “effectively agreed” with Kalafer that it was the zoning inspector’s fault, Pessolano wrote, and not Kalafer himself.

“I feel humiliated, demoralized, professionally discredited and angry,” Pessolano wrote, “over the absence of any attempt  ... to give fair consideration to their employee who was not present to defend himself for doing precisely what he was hired to do.”

The matter should have been discussed behind closed doors in “executive session,” the inspector wrote.

In the letter, Pessolano said the notices to Kalafer and to other car dealerships in the township were “fully vetted internally” prior to being issued. Other dealerships responded “with a plan of corrective action, rather than attempt to use their influence ... to get special treatment.”

It isn’t clear whether Kalafer paid any fines or who the other car dealers were. Township Engineer Antoine Hajjar, who was assigned Pessolano’s responsibilities in the wake of his resignation, didn’t return several phone messages left for him last week.

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