SPARTA, NJ – More than a year after the issue first surfaced, the Sparta Township Council's report on Councilman and candidate Jerard Murphy’s residency has been made available to the public. According to the investigation done by attorney Edward J Buzak, Murphy is found to be a “Statutory Resident of the Township of Sparta.”
The 30-page report obtained by TAPinto Sparta through an Open Public Records Act request, was dated July 19, 2016 and has not been reported on at a public township council meeting.
The council hired Montville attorney in March to determine “whether Council Man Jerard J. Murphy is a legal resident of the Township of Sparta for the purpose of holding elective office.” Murphy’s residency was called into question by former councilman Michael Spekhardt, when he approached the council on another matter.
The standard requires the person to be domiciled in the town to hold the elective office. Buzak’s report said “one’s domicile…is largely a matter of intent combined with a multiplicity of objective factors.”
The report enumerates “many documents supplied from a variety of sources.” Additionally, “interviews were conducted with various persons.” Buzak also visited both the Glen Road, Sparta residence and Sugar Maple Lane in Hardyson where Murphy’s mother lived.
Documents noted to have been provided by Murphy included:
- motor vehicle documentation,
- an Eastern Propane bill and a hand written note that described work as “unlocking tanks, checking for leaks and firing up the boiler,”
- JCP&L bill for auto deduction of $30 a month,
- gasoline charge receipts from service stations in Sparta
- Payroll check from Sparta Township
- Bank statements from two banks
- Various pieces of mail
Documents supplied by Spekhardt included:
- TAPinto Sparta articles,
- Photographs of 191 Glen Road taken on three different dates
- Print out New Jersey Electric Rates and Consumption
- Murphy’s Financial Disclosure statements to NJ ELEC
- New Jersey Herald articles
Additional documents included:
- Sparta Township Council meetings from five dates
- “Tax Account Maintenance from Township of Sparta for property at 191 Glen Road”
- “Tax Account Maintenance for refuse charges” for three quarters of 2015 and all of 2016
Buzak interviewed Spekhardt on June 8, then followed up with email. Spekhardt discussed the origin of the inquiry in the interview.
Speckhardt had approached the council members at a public meeting in October 2015 asking that they consider amending township ordinance regarding abandoned properties to require that they be maintained. Spekhardt gave a packet of photos of properties overgrown with weeds and in disrepair. He included an ordinance on the issues from Vernon.
The photos, Spekhardt said, were of residences he passed on his commute each day. One of the properties turned out to be Murphy’s. After the topic had been discussed at several meetings, including Spekhardt polling each member about their residency, the council announced they would hire the attorney to investigate the issue.
In response to the report Spekhardt said, “The issue of whether or not then Mayor Murphy was living at the property he owns in Sparta for the last few years was resolved in April of 2016. At that time Mr. Murphy and his attorney in another matter, informed the New Jersey Herald that Mr. Murphy was not occupying his home in Sparta for the past few years due to Mr. Murphy taking care of his mother in another town.”
Prior to the investigation Murphy had claimed in an interview that he did reside on Glen Road but spent some time taking care of his mother in Vernon. He also claimed to “work nights” and to access his property thought the neighbor’s yard when the snow covered the entrance to his driveway.
A call to JCP&L confirmed Spekhardt’s assertion that the utility company considered the house to be “abandoned” because the electric bill was only $9 per month.
Buzak’s investigation reports property taxes had not been paid for part of the first quarter and all of the second quarter of 2016. Additionally, “the refuse charge was outstanding for two quarters of 2014, three quarters of 2015 and four quarters of 2016 even though we have only been through two quarters.”
The report notes, Spekhardt pointed out Murphy was driving “in a different direction” from his house when he was charged with driving while intoxicated on Route 517 in Ogdensburg, Feb. 13, 2016.
There is not a mailbox at the Glen Road property and Murphy’s mail is forwarded to a Post Office Box in Sparta, according to Buzak. Murphy said the mailbox had been “destroyed by a snow plow.”
Murphy’s interview lasted “about two and a half hours” according to Buzak. The narrative contains many personal details including family matters and his divorce. It discusses Murphy’s mother in detail, including her residency, personal habits and medical history. Murphy explains the need to spend the night there was for her safety.
Buzak said they received fax notification that Murphy’s mother had moved to an assisted living facility on July 18, 2016.
Murphy’s next door neighbor was interviewed. She said “she sees him periodically.” She also said there was a pathway through the hedgerow that divides the properties but that she “did not verify that he had done so recently.” Murphy claimed to use the neighbor’s driveway when the snow was deep in response to Spekhardt’s question about not seeing any footprints or tire tracks in the driveway throughout the winter of 2015.
The weeds had been removed before Buzak’s home visit, it is noted in the report. He also confirmed Murphy’s mother’s home in Hardyston was listed for sale.
In presenting the relevant law, Buzak points out N.J.S.A. 40A:9-1.11 to 1.14 defining resident as a “person having…a place of abode which has not been adopted for any mere special or temporary purpose, but is his ordinary and permanent domicile.”
Additional consideration was given to finding in an appellate decision 423 N.J. Super.190, 207 that says, in part, “Factors relevant in determining domicile include billing address, residence from which tax returns are filed, mailing address, membership in local clubs, driver’s license, place where a person spends the greatest amount of time, newspaper subscriptions and the like…”
Proposing “Murphy has two residences,” Buzak states since one is listed to be sold, combined with other factors the Sparta property “represents Mr. Murphy’s Statutory Residence,” making him eligible “to run for elective office” in Sparta.
Incumbent Murphy running for reelection to town council. He is on the ballot for the Nov 8 election running unopposed with Mayor Christine Quinn. This will be Murphy's fourth term on the Sparta Township Council and Quinn's second. Under an ordinance passed in June of 2014 the range of salary for a township council member can range from $3,000 to $3,600. The Mayor's salary can range from $3,050 to $4,050.
According to Spekhardt, “There is only one issue left not resolved. Why, starting in October of 2015 when then Mayor Murphy was asked why his property in Sparta was engulfed by three foot tall weeds, having abandoned cars and no visible sign of any inhabitants for years, did he choose to spend the next six months churning out several ridiculous lies to the public and bizarre statements to the press?
“Instead of claiming he was there almost daily he should have simply stated the truth and said that he is dealing with a personal matter. Unfortunately for the township of Sparta this report has shown that Mr. Murphy, for whatever reason, does not possess the ability to tell the truth.”
Murphy and Quinn declined to comment.