HAMILTON, NJ -- The license of Mayor Kelly Yaede's top health officer has been revoked by the State Department of Health for several violations that placed the "public health, safety and welfare at risk." Following multiple investigations, the state agency alleges that Hamilton Township Health Officer Jeffrey Plunkett "grossly failed to discharge (your) duties as a health officer."
In a six-page letter to Plunkett obtained by TAPinto Hamilton/Robbinsville, the Department cites Plunkett's failure to comply with mandatory inspections of the Hamilton Township Animal Shelter and Adoption Center as well as retail food establishments over numerous years. After an extensive set of investigations, the Department informed Plunkett "that for an indeterminate period of time that likely includes several decades, you did not ensure annual inspections of retail food establishments prior to issuing the establishments their yearly licenses, thereby violating public health laws."
The agency opened an investigation into allegation filed with the state Office of Local Public Health (OLPH) on September 27, 2018 and claimed that Plunkett had violated state law after failing to "annually inspect or certify that another entity inspects the Hamilton Township Animal Shelter & Adoption Center (the Hamilton Animal Shelter) prior to annually issuing a license for the facility to operate as an animal shelter."
The state Department outlines numerous conversations and emails between the Department and Plunkett regarding the lack of mandatory inspections of the animal shelter. The letter paraphrased Punkett's assertions that “the inspectors from Hamilton refuse to inspect our shelter due to this conflict which has been confirmed by our Township Attorney.” The Department further asserted that during its investigation it found that Plunkett "admitted to the Department’s Veterinary Public Health Program staff, on more than one occasion, that the Hamilton Animal Shelter had never been inspected by the Hamilton Township Division of Health."
In a separate matter which also contributed to Plunkett's license suspension, the Department received a complaint in February 2019 claiming that failure to properly inspect food establishments, namely Rosa's Restaurant, was possibly a contributing factor in the 2015 Hepatitis A outbreak.
The agency conducted an investigation which included visiting several Hamilton restaurants where license and sanitation reports asserting that an inspection had taken place were "conspicuously displayed" and signed by Plunkett.
However, when the state agency spoke with staff at the Hamilton Township Division of Health, Office and Environmental Health Services, the regarding annual inspections, the letter stated, they replied that they did not have enough "personnel to inspect all the restaurants in Hamilton Township, so annual food safety inspections were not conducted prior to annually issuing retail food establishment licenses." The letter further stated that Mr. Plunkett "admitted (he) did not ensure annual inspections of all retail food establishments prior to annually renewing their licenses" and "did not have enough staff to keep up with the inspections and that your retail food establishment program had not been able to annually inspect all restaurants in Hamilton for “forty years.”
In the wake of the Hepatitis A outbreak, Plunkett held a press conference with Mayor Kelly Yaede at which time he claimed that every restaurant in Hamilton Township had been inspected twice per year. The investigation findings state that this assertion "proved to be false as your online records, as well as (your) own admission, demonstrate that the restaurants in (your) jurisdiction are not inspected yearly, let alone twice a year."
Plunkett had been licensed as a health inspector since August 27, 1987. Under state regulations, he has 30 days to contest the suspension and seek a hearing to oppose the allegations.
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