Little Egg Harbor Township Dismisses Special Investigator’s FindingsLoesch and Buzby Exonerated
An investigation into allegations of financial misconduct by Little Egg Harbor Chief Financial Officer Garrett Loesch and Police Chief Richard Buzby ended last Thursday night with a narrow decision by the township committee to take the allegations off the table.
Because of the suspected large turnout, the township had moved the Sept. 8 township committee meeting to a larger venue, the “cafetorium” at the Frog Pond Elementary School. Approximately 200 people filled the seats including 30 police chiefs from the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police who came to support Buzby. Buzby is the second vice president and serves as chair of the Training and Education Committee of the NJSACP.
After the regular township meeting, the committee heard the second half of special conflicts attorney Salvatore Parillo’s report. The Atlantic County attorney was asked in December 2015, by the then sitting committee of Arthur Midgley, Ray Gormley, John Kehm, Gene Kobryn and Ed Nuttell, to look into two allegations of employee misconduct. Since then, Democrats Lisa Stevens and David Schlick won Midgley’s and Nuttell’s seats on the committee and were there on the dais with Gormley, Kehm and Kobryn.
The public heard the first allegation against Loesch during the Aug. 11 municipal meeting, when Parillo said it was his opinion that Loesch did not have the authority to sign off on two checks totaling $25,000 for then Public Works Superintendent Patrick Donnelly. The extra pay was for extra work Donnelly did administering shared services contracts with other municipalities in 2014 and 2015.
Parillo was back to read the rest of his report, focused on Buzby and Loesch.
Parillo said that on Sept. 11, 2015, Buzby turned in a voucher for cell phone usage totaling $2,764 that was approved by Loesch. Cell phone reimbursement is not included in the police chief’s contract, noted Parillo.
Parillo said after he requested information from Loesch, he was given documents attached to the voucher with an AT&T bill for a period from March 2014 to July 2015 for $1,631.58 plus a handwritten request for reimbursement of $919.42 for service between Sept. 10, 2013 and April 2014 and an additional hand-written request from December 2012 for $213.
The agreement between the township and the chief for his five-year contract, dated Dec. 30, 2013 to Dec. 31, 2018, contains various allowances for clothing, weapons and equipment but not cell phones, said Parillo. In addition, he said the PBA contract for all other police officers includes a $200 voucher allowance for incidentals needed in the performance of duties but no reference for cell phones or cell phone usage.
Since 2015, Buzby has not submitted any more vouchers for the cell phone.
Buzby said as chief of the Office of Emergency Management, he was instructed to get a cell phone because of a problem communicating with other emergency responders after Superstorm Sandy. “I had an older flip phone and it was told to me to get a smart phone. I agreed to provide the phone and pay the monthly charge.”
His lawyer, Gina Mendola-Longarzo, asserted that there were no cell phone reimbursements before 2014.
Mayor Gene Kobryn said Kehm had negotiated Buzby’s 2013 contract.
Parillo said he was not suggesting that there was anything improper in the agreement between the township and the chief but that there was no reference for reimbursement of cell phone usage in the contract.
He also said he was not hired to attack anyone’s character or investigate Buzby and Loesch but to investigate their conduct on the particular actions to see if there were violations of the administrative code in state statutes.
Throughout the public hearing there was overwhelming support for both Buzby and Loesch.
Raymond Hayducka, police chief of South Brunswick and a former president of the NJSPCA, said of Buzby, “He’s a very hard worker. He’s worked for 40 years in Little Egg when he could have retired without dealing with this aggravation and attacks.
“Did anyone think to ask Chief Buzby about the reimbursement?” Hayducka continued. “In this day and age, you have to ask him about cell phone usage? Every police chief from Bergen County to Cape May is here tonight and they all have cell phones that their towns reimburse. You hire an investigator and spend between $12,000 and $18,000 over a cell phone reimbursement? Why didn’t you ask him about it or write a report? Do what you want, but to attack him and his integrity and honesty, a man who has served this township, it’s just not right.
“Our association is prepared to put our resources behind him. And to think this could have been resolved in a conversation,” Hayducka added.
Mendola-Longarzo said, “I believe the public needs to know that the citizens and taxpayers of the township are funding a personal vendetta against my client by Mr. Kehm and Mr. Gormley and their buddy, Mr. Fromosky.”
Michael Fromosky is now a Little Egg Harbor code enforcement officer after leaving his post as assistant business administrator to take a county job that never materialized.
“My client is well respected and well loved, and not just by people in the town, by the Chiefs of Police Association, and has a vote of confidence from the entire police department,” said Mendola-Longarzo. That’s something to take note of.
“Also this very council was present when Buzby was awarded a high honor with the Chiefs Achievement Award. All of a sudden he’s been the target of a ludicrous investigation, solely because he is a whistleblower in every sense of the word. That’s when all this changed, when he started exposing that he did not want to do favors for Mr. Gormley and hire certain people that Gormley wanted in his (police) department. And when he asked for an investigation into Mr. Kehm’s property and when he participated in the investigation of his friend, Mr. Fromosky’s cousin Dawn Kelly’s embezzlement.”
Loesch’s attorney, Christopher Gray, also suggested the night’s proceedings were retaliations by Kehm for Loesch’s “whistleblower” actions and there were pending investigations with the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office against Gormley and Kehm. A call to the prosecutor’s office on Monday was not returned as of press time.
Attorney Jean Cipriani of the Toms River firm of Gilmore and Monahan was on the dais instead of the township’s attorney Robin LaBue that evening. Cipriani said she was not aware of any pending criminal complaints in the county prosecutor’s office against Gormley or Kehm.
Gray said he had documents proving that on March 17, 2015, the office of Gilmore and Monahan had reviewed a letter from Buzby about improper, undue influence by Gormley.
Cipriani said she could not speak for LaBue, but she suggested both Gormley and Kehm recuse themselves from any action stemming from Parillo’s report.
Both Gray and Mendola-Longarzo said they still did not have copies of Parillo’s report and it was hampering their defense of their clients.
Cipriani said, “There is no infraction by Chief Buzby. There is no evidence that the chief knew he was doing anything improper. There’s no specific evidence he knew what he was doing was improper.”
Correct ‘Some Missteps’
Kobryn said the township must correct “some missteps of how we do things in the township.”
“We have no clear policy on cell phones, and we need to adopt that. This operational climate would be difficult for an administrator. We need to give him guidelines,” said Kobryn.
Stevens said there should be no future action against Buzby, but the previous matter against Loesch could be forwarded to the state.
Kobryn then said, “We need to end this now and go forward to save us from more attorney’s fees.”
Schlick then made a motion to take no further action against Buzby and Loesch.
Many in the audience stood and cheered. Kobryn seconded the motion, and more applause erupted. As it went for a vote, Gormley and Kehm abstained on the advice of the attorney, and Stevens abstained because she said, “I cannot find in any records that the governing body approved that (bonuses paid to Donnelly). I don’t feel we need to take disciplinary action against Mr. Loesch, but we should have the state review it at the very least.”
Kobryn said he did not agree because it could take months for the state to look into the matter and “in the meantime he’s hung out to dry.”
Kehm voiced his opinion that Loesch knew the procedure for approving the extra money for the Public Works superintendent and should not have approved the requests. “It has to go to the Division of Local Government Services.”
People started chanting “vote, vote.”
Schlick and Kobryn voted to end the examination into Loesch’s and Buzby’s behavior and although Stevens abstained, the vote carried.
The room erupted into jubilation, and as people filed out they stopped to hug or shake hands with both Loesch and Buzby.
— Pat Johnson