Members of the newly-installed Republican majority in Sea Bright are hoping to land Joseph Oxley, their party’s Monmouth County chairman, as borough attorney, redbankgreen has learned.

If they succeed next month, it would mark the second such plum for the former Monmouth County Sheriff, who took the reins of the county GOP last June, succeeding Adam Puharic.


Oxley (shown at left) would replace Scott Arnette, a Democrat who served as Sea Bright’s attorney for 16 years and, before that, four years as a councilman.

Thought Oxley was not formally nominated at Saturday’s annual borough government reorganization, newly-chosen Council President Jack Keeler confirmed that the 5-1 majority is seeking Oxley, who served as sheriff for 12 years prior to becoming party boss.

The idea to bring in Oxley “just came out of the interaction between the five Republican members,” Keeler told redbankgreen. “We asked for ideas and suggestions and that consensus evolved in the process of negotiations.”

Mayor Maria Fernandes called the move “purely a poor choice.”

Keeler said partisan politics played no role in the decision to switch attorneys and pointed to Oxley’s full-time job at the law firm of the Lyndhurst-based Scarinci Hollenbeck as proof.

Though known largely for its Democratic leanings, Scarinci Hollenbeck employs attorneys of various political persuasions, Keeler said.

“I’m told that they’re recognized neither as a Republican or Democratic firm. They’re more non-partisan,” he said.

But replacing Arnette with Oxley reeks of partisanship and cronyism, said Fernandes, who along with Councilwoman Dina Long, is now part of the Democratic minority. The mayor votes only in the case of a council deadlock.

“It’s pay-to-play at its worst,” Fernandes said after the meeting.

Fernandes’ motion to re-appoint Arnette failed to garner a second.

Without Arnette in the attorney’s chair, borough residents will lose an advocate who has dedicated himself to protecting the town he calls home, Fernandes said.

“It’s going to be a huge disservice to the residents of Sea Bright to remove someone with Scott’s experience and knowledge of the town and to replace him with Joe Oxley,” Fernandes said. “This is purely a poor choice for Sea Bright.”

Although Oxley, of Middletown, has been sheriff and a municipal prosecutor, he lacks sufficient experience as a municipal attorney, Fernandes said.

“I would have no problem with someone who had as much experience as Scott,” she said.

Oxley most recently served as municipal attorney in Highlands — a post that he lost, to Arnette, earlier this week after just one year of service when that borough’s governing body experienced a shift in political power, Fernandes noted.

But Oxley is no stranger to Sea Bright, having once served as attorney to the borough’s combined planning and zoning board. He has also been a mayor and committeeman in Middletown.

Despite his Democratic affiliation, Arnette was continuously re-appointed to his job over the years by numerous mayors, including Fernandes’ immediate predecessor, former GOP mayor Jo-Anne Kalaka-Adams.

For now, Arnette remains on board until the first council meeting in February, when the full governing body is expected to vote on his replacement.

After new GOP Councilmen Read Murphy and Jim LoBiondo were sworn in, Fernandes’ motions to appoint Kathleen Sheedy as municipal prosecutor and Nicole Sonnenblick as alternate prosecutor also died for lack of seconds.

Though Sheedy served last year as alternate prosecutor, the GOP majority would rather bring back another of their own, John Lane, who served as municipal prosecutor from 2004 to 2007, Keeler said later. Lane last held the prosecutor’s job while Kalaka-Adams was in office.

The GOP majority in Wall Township is also considering naming Oxley as municipal attorney when its township committee re-organizes on Wednesday, according to a report in the weekly Coast Star.

Like Sea Bright, Wall Township is part of the state’s 11th Legislative District represented by State Senator Sean Kean, Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini and Assemblyman David Rible.

Email this story