NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ – Problems continue to mount for embattled New Providence Mayor Brooke Hern as police reports allege domestic problems, his recent bankruptcy filing shows that he failed to pay taxes for a period of time, an ongoing public battle between his girlfriend and a local business owner continues unabated, and it has come to light that the New Providence Republican Committee had requested his resignation several months ago due to many of these issues.
Hern, meanwhile, says it’s unfortunate that his personal life has been made public but says that’s a part of being in public office.
Earlier last year, Hern, then a councilman, narrowly defeated former mayor Al Morgan in a hotly contested battle for the Republican nomination that also unseated Mayor John Thoms. As the Republican nominee, the New Providence Republican Committee endorsed Hern and vigorously campaigned for him, including New Providence Republican Committee Chairman Morgan.
The mayor’s problems have gradually come to light in the months since the election, spurring the New Providence Republican Committee to send Hern a letter in the spring of 2011 requesting his resignation.
The letter spells out concerns that the committee members have about issues in Hern’s life they feel should have been brought to their attention before he took office.
“A lot of information came to light after the election,” said Al Morgan, who was mayor of New Providence from 1999-2006. “And the Republican Committee sent the mayor a letter addressing our concerns, and he was asked by unanimous vote to consider resignation and stepping down.”
Another Republican committee member said the letter specifically called into question Hern’s contentious divorce from his wife, Stephanie, which has resulted in two calls to police; and the fact that he filed for bankruptcy in 2010, on which was listed $1,167 in unpaid state taxes, and $21,900 in unpaid federal taxes.
Hern said the motives of the committee in general, and Morgan in particular, are political.
“Al Morgan wants to be mayor again,” Hern said. “That’s the whole reason behind his attacks on me.”
He added that the influx of media outlets into New Providence in recent years have given the residents much information about what’s going on in their town, making it impossible for those on the Republican Committee to stay in control.
Members of the Republican Committee dispute Hern’s claim that it’s political, and say the issue is that Hern was not forthright with them about the circumstances in his life. Committee members said although Hern did call them together at one point and tell them of his impending divorce, he made no mention of his bankruptcy filing and back taxes.
Hern’s personal life became even more public in December 2011 when a person who identified herself as “sugarmagnolialmf” posted a comment on NJ.com calling for a “boycott” of NP Fuel, where she said she paid for $20 in gas she didn’t receive.
That issue boiled over at the New Providence Business and Professional Association meeting last week, where Hern was scheduled to give his State of the Borough address. Residents have rallied around Don Murphy, the longtime owner of NP Fuel, and Hern has since said he called Murphy later in an attempt to smooth things over, although Murphy has said he did not return the mayor’s call. Lisa Sherry has since publicly identified herself as sugarmagnolialmf and Hern’s girlfriend. She and Hern were both attorneys at Budd Larner, a legal firm in Short Hills, although neither is employed with the firm anymore.
Two reports on file with the New Providence Police Department show that officers were called to Stephanie Hern’s residence, where she lives with two of the couple’s children. A third daughter is away at college. Both incidents involved Hern having trouble with the children sometimes not wanting to go places with him on his visitation days, allegedly being in fear of him, and the reports indicate that Hern refused visitation rights in the past. However, no orders are on file that would keep him from seeing them.
Hern said he is upset by the fact that his children have been brought into the spotlight.
“My kids live in this town,” he said. “And they have to hear people in this town saying disparaging things about their dad. It’s despicable.”
Hern contends that his former wife has teamed up with his political foes in an attempt to discredit him and force him out of office.
“There are thousands who voted for me,” he said. “This little group used to control New Providence, and they don’t anymore. I am in office because I truly want what’s best for New Providence. They’re trying to create news, they’re trying to throw obstacles in my way as I work for this town and its residents. And it’s not going to work.”
A member of a Borough committee, who asked not to be identified, disputes Hern’s claim that the problems that have come to light are politically motivated, and says the issue is that Hern was not forthright with the circumstances in his life just prior to the mayoral election, or in the months since.
"I've read the public records and found it very misleading that Mr. Hern completed the required credit counseling course just days after the Nov. 2 election,” he said. “To me, people would have voted differently had they known a candidate hadn't paid his taxes and was declaring bankruptcy. It's apparent that the filing was conveniently timed as to be concealed from the public so as not to affect the outcome. For someone who has expressed a desire for transparent government, that transparency didn't apply to his personal finances. Many like me would have questioned his ability to take care of our community knowing his inability to tend to his own personal finances."
“This is not a political vendetta,” the Borough committee member said. “It’s a shame that his personal issues have become very public. And many residents such as myself are concerned that it can’t help but impede and impair his ability to govern this community. This is a very conservative town. What’s being discussed publicly right now is embarrassing from a number of standpoints. I’ve voted for this man and he’s not what I thought he was.”
The Borough committee member went on to say that he doesn’t know how Morgan is at the center of the issue. “Mr. Morgan is not the cause of his financial situation or the collateral,” he said. “It’s a major distraction within the community.”
Hern told TheAlternativePress.com that he had been in “a bad marriage,” and that there had been mishandling of the family finances during the marriage, and that when the dust settled and he found himself in a bad financial situation, he filed for bankruptcy. He said his unpaid taxes were not cleared in the filing. He said as part of the divorce judgment, he was put on a repayment plan for the back taxes, and that he has been making the payments. Stephanie Hern was contacted for this article but declined to publicly comment on the advice of her legal counsel.