By: Jeff Epstein, Lead correspondent and co-founder of Citizens’ Media TV
Edited by: Ben Szioli
(For background, read our recent article on C. Andre Daniels.)
WESTAMPTON — In October of 2014, Jason Carty was appointed by Westampton Township to a one-year term as Interim Fire Chief. He was subsequently hired in December 2015 to a five-year contract as “Director/Head of the EMS/Fire Chief.” Only months into his term, Carty’s position was eliminated, along with two others’, via Reduction In Force. Westampton Township’s Deputy Mayor Abraham Lopez and Maureen Smith-Hartmann, both Republicans, joined Democratic committeeman and Mayor C. Andre Daniels in voting to eliminate the positions. Lopez and Daniels assert that the layoffs were in order to eliminate redundancies and reduce the tax burden. Carty called the layoff “blind political hatred,” despite his former working relationships with Daniels and others.
One year later, Jason Carty filed a lawsuit against Lopez, Smith-Hartmann, and Daniels, alleging that he was terminated “in retaliation for [Carty’s] involvement in the campaign of former and current democratic Township committee members.” Among others, Carty served as Daniels’ campaign manager in 2014. (Carty is represented by Katherine Hartmann, a Democratic candidate for Congress in New Jersey’s Third District.)
Carty’s initial appointment to Interim Fire Chief in October of 2014 took place one week before election day, giving the public only twenty-four hours’ notice. This is in contradiction to the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), which requires a minimum of forty-eight hours. The township was reprimanded by the Burlington County Prosecutor’s office for this violation, and the appointment was repeated a few months later.
In a Facebook Live stream on the evening of June 22, 2017, Deputy Mayor Lopez speculated that the reason for this rushed appointment was to pre-empt Carty’s termination from the Willingboro Fire Department. Were Carty fired, it might have made the appointment untenable.
Despite Daniels’ praise of Carty as Campaign Manager, both Lopez and Daniels believed Carty was not qualified for the position of Fire Chief. According to both committeemen, a new position (called “Director/Head of the EMS/Fire Chief”) was created by the Committee specifically to circumvent the law and Carty’s lack of experience and education. Lopez stated in the livestream that Carty did not pass his “Civil Service Level One Supervisor and Lieutenant Exam” on two separate occasions, and read an excerpt from a 2015 Inquirer article (as archived on his own website), confirming Carty held no college degree at the time of his appointment. In addition to the lack of qualifications, Lopez and Daniels stated that New Jersey state by-laws require that the Fire Chief be promoted from within.
Lopez said that public documents about Carty’s background check and fire training files were requested by “concerned citizens” from Westampton in 2014 via an OPRA (New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act) request, and that the township responded to these requests with “no file found.” Lopez was incredulous that anyone would be hired to a position of public safety without a background check — not to mention the candidates already living in the Township, including then-Interim Fire Chief Craig Farnsworth.
Lopez claimed to have documents demonstrating that Carty’s five-year contract included a $110,000 initial base salary with a guaranteed $30,000 in total raises over the five-year term. In addition, it provided tens of thousands of dollars in additional benefits, including holiday pay and tuition reimbursement. The contract’s language also left open the possibility of Carty receiving a lifetime of (once again) guaranteed health and retirement benefits.
Finally, Lopez also claimed to have a document proving that Carty’s political consulting firm, Local Solutions, LLC, shared a registration address with the law offices of George Saponaro. Saponaro was the registered agent for Local Solutions and also served as Westampton Township’s Solicitor. Saponaro is the person that both negotiated and reviewed Carty’s lucrative employment contract with the township. According to the Inquirer article, Carty and Saponaro have a substantial business history, which Lopez stated is a clear conflict of interest. He believes that Saponaro has committed “legal malpractice against the township” and should be sued “for every penny he’s got.”