Middletown Mayor Gerry Scharfenberger, already on the griddle for not disclosing before this month’s election that he took a state job in August, is getting additional heat for claiming last month that he had foregone his township salary this year.
In an acerbic dressing down of the Republican mayor at Monday night’s township committee meeting, residents some of whom have long been critical of Scharfenberger suggested that he lied about a recent claim that he’d forfeited the stipend that elected officials receive.
Resident Don Watson said Scharfenberger told the audience at a candidates’ forum in October that he voluntarily gave up his 2010 stipend of $4,000.
“I never said that,” Scharfenberger said.
But audio from the October 28 forum says otherwise. (Click to play audio in a new window.)
In the clip obtained by redbankgreen, Scharfenberger says, “Last year, we all gave up our salaries, all $4,000 of it… I gave up my salary this year again.”
Watson said the township’s bills list showed that up until August, all five committee members were on the rolls to receive installments of the $4,000 stipend. After August, only four were on the bills list, he said.
In response to last night’s criticism, Scharfenberger said he gave up his salary in July, just before he was offered his new job as executive director of the state Office of Planning Advocacy.
That job in itself has caused a stir in town because, some residents believe, Scharfenberger should have disclosed it to the public and reporters who interviewed him about his candidacy for re-election. Voter awareness of his acceptance of the $95,000 a year job, for which he was hired for on August 16, might have had an impact on the results of the election, some critics believe.
Barbara Thorpe, who regularly gets in Scharfenberger’s face at meetings, railed against him for not disclosing his new job. She believes doing so could have had an impact on the election results. Scharfenberger and running mate Kevin Settembrino outpolled Democratic incumbent Sean Byrnes and challenger Mary Mahoney. The committee itself chooses the mayor.
“Yes, it would have influenced people. In today’s world people are fed up with shady politicians,” Thorpe said. “You have an awful lot of trouble with the truth, Mr. Scharfenberger.”
Scharfenberger, an archaeologist and adjunct professor at Monmouth University, told redbankgreen that he didn’t make an announcement about the state job for two reasons: the state, he said, was in the middle of restructuring the planning agency, and he thought it would put out some sort of press release announcing his hiring; and he didn’t want to appear he was using the job to show his support of the Christie administration in an election year.
The move to withhold that information lacks integrity, said Jim Grenafage, a former committee candidate. He also said Scharfenberger’s new position has and will put him in a conflict of interest, specifically on the topic of Shadow Lake pollution, which the committee and state Department of Environmental Protection have been discussing. Grenafege said there was a conflict because Scharfenberger, who met with DEP and Senator Joe Kyrillos last month, was representing both Middletown and the state.
“We’ve already had a conflict,” Grenafege said. “It’s that simple.”
Getting more specific, Shadow Lake Village resident Marilyn Michaels suggested that that October meeting, which she said was in Trenton with Kyrillos and DEP employee Cindy Randazzo, created a conflict because Scharfenberger is in a higher position than Randazzo, and could throw his weight around to get Middletown’s pond dredged.
Scharfenberger said he never met with Randazzo and Kyrillos in Trenton, and said there have not been, and will not be, any conflicts of interest.
Scharfenberger, however, brushed off the latest bashes against him as sour grapes and a continuation of one group of residents’ vendetta against him.
“They’re looking for any scrap they can,” he said.