December 13, 2013 at 3:46 PM
SPARTA, NJ - A Sparta Township Council member has said she felt “threatened” and feared for her safety because of the actions of the community’s township manager. The story that began last August, regarding a verbal exchange between Councilwoman Christine Quinn and former Township Manager David Troast at a ribbon-cutting ceremony, continues to unfold.
Troast's and Quinn's statements about the exchange in the restaurant did not differ substantially. The difference comes in the perception of what was said. Troast indicates in his statement that "she had no particular response or reaction" to his comments, while Quinn felt threatened enough to contact the police. Quinn, Troast, Mayor Gibbs and witness Mary Ann Ryan all gave statements to the police about the exchange.
The following day the council met in a previously scheduled, executive session. By the next Township Council meeting, Troast had tendered his resignation.
With Troast's resignation came requests from reporters at the Sparta Independent and New Jersey Herald for the Incident Report regarding Troast. The township's attorney advised not to release the documents to the public, saying it was a personnel matter and was therefore excluded from the public's right to see. This denial of access led the New Jersey Herald and citizen Jesse Wolosky to file a civil complaint alleging a violation of New Jersey Open Public Records Act.
Subsequent to that, former council member Michael Spekhardt filed ethics complaints against councilwomen Quinn and Molly Whilesmith. His complaint alleges both "acted in their official capacity in a matter where she has a personal involvement that might reasonably be expected to impair her objectivity or independence of judgment. Additionally, they attempted to use their official position to secure unwarranted privileges or advantages for themselves."
Spekhardt explained he is relying on information available to the public as a foundation for his complaint including articles in the New Jersey Herald, meeting minutes and court brief that had been posted on-line.
The Civil Action Verified Complaint filed by the Herald against the Township of Sparta sought "access to public records relating to police incident reports regarding former Township Manager David Troast and related Voluntary Statements of Molly Whilesmith, Christine Quinn, Gil Gibbs, John Schon, Jerry Murphy and David Troast." Whilesmith, Schon and Murphy, however, had not made statements regarding this incident.
Spekhardt also cites the Superior Court ruling of Dec. 6 as rationale supporting his complaint against Quinn and Whilesmith. Judge Weisenbeck ruled against Sparta last Friday, Dec. 6 ordering the police report to be released by the following Monday, Dec . 9. Once the documents were released, it was apparent that Whilesmith had not made a statement, as had been conjectured by the Herald and others.
Spekhardt plans to follow through with the ethic complaints against both councilwomen, saying he would "simply like an outside agency to look at the matter to determine the appropriateness of their actions," regarding the separation of Troast from the township. He questions how Quinn could be fearful and feel threatened by the former township manager on Aug 15 and then be objective in a discussion about his employment on Aug 16.
The code of ethics pertaining to local goverment officers seems to be related to business dealings where there is a possible financial gain for the official. The language of the code, taken on its own however, could seem to relate simply to matters of conduct. The violations listed in the complaint fall under "NEW JERSEY STATUTES TITLE 40A:9-22.1 et seq. LOCAL GOVERNMENT ETHICS LAW; 40A:9-22.5 Provisions requiring compliance by local government officers, employees... subsections (c) (d)."
There have been no further actions from the Department of Community Affairs regarding the ethics complaint to date.
Quinn made the following statement; "As a result of events which transpired on August 15, I submitted a voluntary statement to the Sparta Police Department. If history were to repeat itself, I would make the same decision.
It's unfortunate that this incident has drawn attention away from positive community events and services which happen every day within Sparta Township. It is my hope that, with the reports now public, we can return our focus and energies accordingly."
Troast did not have any comment, citing the restrictions of the separation agreement.
Sgt. John Paul Beebe, public affairs officer speaking for the police department, said, "We are not a political agency. Mrs. Quinn is a citizen who also happens to be Town Council member. She did absolutely the right thing by coming to the police after feeling threatened. While the situation did not rise to the level of a criminal charge, the compliant was a legitimate public safety concern. Mrs. Quinn was advised, as are all citizens in a situation like this where the police have not observed the alleged offence, that she could sign a complaint at any time from one to three years, depending on the statute of limitations of the offence being charged."
"Additionally, the investigation did find that there was a firearm on township property without the permission of the Chief of Police and this is a violation of township policy."
"Further, the police want to continue to urge citizens to report anything that appears to be a threat or threatening situation. Public safety is the primary mission of the Sparta Police Department."
With the court ordered release of the police report many questions have been answered. Several more, according to some involved, have been raised. It is also apparent that the story will not conclude until the ethics complaints have been resolved.
This is the second in a two part article on this subject. For the first part can be viewed at http://thealternativepress.com/towns/sparta/articles/councilwoman-quinns-incident-statement-against-f.