FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
From the Desk of Tom Critelli, Holmdel Township Committee
As many residents recall, on August 28, 2011 Hurricane Irene hit New Jersey. The Hurricane’s rainfall, which should have been routed safely through the storm sewers, instead inflicted devastating flood damage on my family’s home here in Holmdel. The cause of this flooding was due to Holmdel Township’s admitted failure to clean and maintain the storm sewers as confirmed by the Township’s own engineer.
By neglecting the storm water management obligation imposed by the Clean Water Act, our home suffered extensive flood damage from a clogged storm sewer. Instead of handling over 100,000 gallons of storm water that it was designed for, the failed system dumped devastating amounts of water, mud, garbage, and other pollutants into our home and surrounding property. A conservative cost to clean up and repair the damage was just under $79,000.
I immediately notified Holmdel Township of the damage on the date it occurred, as a private citizen, by email and again in person at the September 1, 2011 regular township committee meeting. My wife and I followed up with a letter to the Township on September 12, 2011 which summarized the issue. On September 21, 2011, I presented the Township’s claims adjuster with written evidence from our neighbors confirming that Holmdel was made aware of the drainage problem well before Hurricane Irene. We also filed the required Tort Claim Notice upon the Township on November 22, 2011 with proof of the damage suffered in support of our claim. In the interest of resolving the claim without the need for litigation, on January 6, 2012 my wife and I, still both private citizens at the time, made an offer to Holmdel Township to settle the claim for a payment of only half the cost of the damages we suffered. The amount was roughly equal the emergency clean-up costs of $37,950 billed by Danitom Development, Inc. back on September 29, 2011.
In early 2012, the Township admitted that it was at fault and agreed to settle the claim with us. In March of 2012, the claims adjuster for the Township’s insurance carrier offered $30,000. I spoke with the Mayor and advised that we would accept the settlement offer from the carrier if the Township agreed to pay the difference requested in our settlement demand. The Township agreed to this request, but only on the condition that we agree to be patient for the payment due to budgeting. While no timeframe was given it was our understanding that payment would be made sooner rather than later. Accordingly, and in my sincere desire to be a good citizen by making a good faith decision to work with the Township and its budgeting process, we sent a letter to Holmdel Township to withdraw our Tort Claim Notice and considered the dispute settled when we learned that the Township had agreed to make this payment.
In April of 2012, we did in fact receive payment of the $30,000 due from Holmdel’s insurance carrier.
Thereafter, my wife and I patiently awaited payment of the remaining amount due. In response to a subsequent request by the Mayor for an invoice with the remaining amount of the settlement agreed to during our discussions, in October 2012 I emailed him a statement from my company that performed the cleanup, Danitom Development, Inc., for $9,872.50. I was assured that the payment would be forthcoming as agreed once the statement was received.
As every Holmdel resident at the time was aware, the Township began dealing with massive devastation and power outages inflicted by Hurricane Sandy on October 29, 2012. Although I was not an elected official at the time, the Township’s sole focus was to recover from this disaster. This process took several months and consumed countless hours of the Mayor and Committee. My issue rightly took a back seat.
Due to my own experience suffering through a significant flood loss just one year prior, my sole focus upon taking office between January 2th and March 1st of 2013 was spearheading and organizing the Township’s charity event for the residents of Keansburg. With countless hours put in by myself as well as the many volunteers, the event was an overwhelming success that raised over $100,000 for victims still suffering from the effects of Hurricane Sandy. All of the then members of the Township Committee, including Mayor Buontempo, new first-hand of my commitment of time and energy to that worthy cause.
Unbeknownst to me, payment to my company was included among the 130 other bills payable on the consent agenda for the Township meeting held on February 5, 2013. At that time, it’s worth noting that the Township was operating without the benefit and guidance of our Township Administrator, Andy Katz, who had resigned shortly before I took office. Being brand new to public office and in only my third committee meeting, I relied upon, and expected, the Township Attorney to advise on matters of legal compliance and procedure; advisement concerning committee meetings, both as to my obligation voting on consent agenda matters as well as when I should recuse myself based on any actual or appearance of a conflict. Without such advisement, I regrettably voted in favor of the items included in the consent agenda. Had I been made aware of this being an issue, I now know that the procedure is to simply ask that the one item be pulled from the consent agenda and then abstained from voting on it.
Now, an astonishing seven years later, and despite all of this information being available at all times to each committee member, one or more elected officials saw fit to notify the Monmouth County Prosecutor of my vote on the February 2013 consent agenda in an obvious pursuit of a political vendetta. Given that my settlement was negotiated and resolved long before I ever became a public servant, it defies logic that I would ever risk jeopardizing the payment owed. However, since the payment was also approved by a unanimous vote of three other committee members at the time, any oversight in following procedure on my part amounted to no more than a harmless error.
I express immense gratitude to the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office for conducting a very extensive investigation of this issue. The final determination confirmed what I, and everyone else involved knew all along; I am innocent and there was no criminal wrongdoing by anyone. I also thank the Township Committee members serving in 2011, such as Deputy Mayor Serena DiMaso and Mayor Pat Impreveduto, who quickly responded after the disaster with a commitment to ensure that my wife and I would be justly compensated for the damages we suffered.
I welcome the referral of the matter to the Local Finance Board and look forward to being exonerated of any intentional wrongdoing once again. Until then, I will continue to focus my time throughout the remainder of my term representing the residents of Holmdel Township that elected me.
- Committeeman, Tom Critelli