Lawless Matt Doherty, the mayor of Belmar, violated the civil rights of his borough’s voters last year with a “invalid and misleading” ballot explanatory statement regarding the $4.1 million bonding referendum for a beach pavilion, according to a ruling by Monmouth County Superior Court Judge Katie Gummer last week.
The ballot statement was not discussed and approved in public at a Council meeting, as is required. Rather, Belmar submitted the ballot question and statement to Monmouth County Clerk Christine Hanlon without any input from the public or from the citizens who challenged the bonding ordinance.
As a result of Judge Gummer’s ruling, Belmar taxpayers are on the hook for the legal fees of the citizens who sued to stop the Doherty, the Borough Council, Borough Administrator Colleen Connolly and Borough Clerk April Claudio from conning voters into approving $4.1 million of borrowing to rebuild the 5th Ave Pavillion.
Judge Gummer ruled last October that the statement, “This ordinance provides for the reconstruction of the 5th Avenue Pavilion, also known as the Taylor Pavilion, destroyed by Superstorm Sandy. The pavilion will be one-story and have the same functions and footprint as the prior building. This ordinance enables the Borough of Belmar to finance the project while obtaining reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The short term borrowing is expected to be repaid between 24 to 36 months. This Ordinance was unanimously approved by the Belmar Mayor and Council on July 7, 2015,” was misleading, invalid, contained extraneous information, and went beyond the explanatory purpose of an interpretative statement.
Judge Gummer ordered that the statement be stricken from the November 3 ballot, but not before it had already been published in the Asbury Park Press and had been included on Vote by Mail ballots. The referendum was passed by Belmar voters by 19 votes, after a similar referendum was defeated during the summer of 2014.
Last year when Judge Gummer order the statement stricken from the ballot, Lawless Matt scapegoated his then Borough Attorney, Michael Dupont, the former Red Bank Councilman. Focusing on the fact that the statement was crafted and submitted to the County Clerk without public action by the Council, rather than on the misleading and invalid language of the statement, Doherty asked for Dupont’s resignation.
“Had (DuPont) advised us that we needed to pass the statement by resolution at a meeting we would have done that,” Doherty told the Asbury Park Press. “We rely on our attorney for advice with how to proceed on how to govern the town.”
The publicity generated by Lawless Matt throwing Dupont under the bus, did not help the Red Bank Councilman’s failed bid for reelection.
Doherty is a candidate for the Democrat nomination for Monmouth County Freeholder in the June 7th primary, running on Hillary Clinton’s line. He is being challenged by Angelica Ashford, a Manalapan resident running on Bernie Sanders’ ticket.