Much of the information in this article was discussed by Westampton Deputy Mayor Abraham Lopez, in a Facebook livestream broadcast on Friday, July 28, 2017. Citizens’ Media TV independently verified these assertions through public documents and official statements obtained from Mt. Holly Township. On request, Mr. Lopez supplied Citizens’ Media TV with the relevant documents and screenshots used in his livestream. Here is the link to the original livestream on Facebook.
By: Jeff Epstein – Editor, Citizens’ Media TV
Edited by: Ben Szioli
UPDATE 7/31/2017: THIS ARTICLE WILL BE RETRACTED
Citizens’ Media TV has decided to conditionally retract this article. Although correct when originally written, as it stands, new information has come to light that undermines the foundation of the article.
Many questions remain, however, all of which will be detailed in a full retraction article. We want to take the time to do it right, and to give relevant people the opportunity for comment. We also want to inform the public of our decision.
There is one important thing we want to make clear from the outset: the problem with our article has nothing to do with Westampton Deputy Mayor Abraham Lopez. Mr. Lopez’s livestream did not trick or mislead us in any way. Citizens’ Media TV independently verified all facts. Both Mr. Lopez and Citizens’ Media TV were unfortunately, coincidentally, and independently undermined by incorrect information provided to us through an OPRA request. Citizens’ Media TV thanks the Mount Holly Township Clerk for publicly acknowledging and apologizing for the mistake. We have since received corrected information.
The title has been changed to include “RETRACTION PENDING,” and a temporary new update section has been added. The original article will otherwise remain untouched until the full retraction article has been completed.
Thank you for your patience.
UPDATE 5:25pm 7/29/2017: CONFLICTING INFORMATION RECIEVED
The article as written is correct, based on the information that we were provided by Ms. Nikima Muller, the Township Clerk for Mount Holly, when asked under her official capacity.
There is now conflicting information, as described in the comments of this Facebook post, that potentially undermines the foundation of this article. The conflicting information was provided by both Miss LaPlaca and Ms. Muller in Facebook comments, and also via email from Joshua Brown, the Mount Holly Township administrator. All of these people have provided information suggesting that there may indeed have been a public notice before Miss LaPlaca applied for her position. Ms. Muller apologized for giving Citizens’ Media TV incorrect information. Unfortunately that information happens to be the foundation of the story.
We are going to write a full article on all of the information that has been discovered since this original article was posted. It will be linked in a new update immediately above this update section.
We have no problem retracting and apologizing if that ends up being necessary. The truth is the truth, no matter whose side it is on.
MT. HOLLY, NJ — The Mt. Holly Municipal Utilities Authority (MHMUA or MUA) is the governmental body that supplies safe drinking water and processes sewage, and bills for such. The Mt. Holly MUA services about seventeen thousand homes, six hundred businesses, and six “regulated industrial users.” Its customers reside in seven separate municipalities in the Rancocas Valley region, which is situated on the west side of Burlington County, New Jersey. The MHMUA has a five member board of commissioners, each of which is appointed to a five-year term by the Mt. Holly Township Council.
Sometime between December 8, 2016 and January 23rd, 2017, one of the MUA Commissioners, Joshua Brown, resigned. He had completed only a single year in his five-year term. On January 23, 2017, Brown was appointed to the position of Township Administrator. He had been appointed to Interim Township Administrator a year earlier (see page 41), and has served the Township in various capacities since 2007. Joshua’s father, Lew Brown, became a councilman in 2012 and still serves on the board.
On the same night that Brown became Township Administrator, Gina LaPlaca was appointed to take his place as MUA commissioner. LaPlaca was specifically assigned to serve out the final four years of Brown’s term.
Minutes of January 23rd, page 10. Describes the history of Brown’s employment in the Township and Brown’s appointment to Township administrator.
Next Door Lumberton is a Facebook-like website for communication between residents living in specific neighborhoods. On a Next Door post dated July 23rd, LaPlaca asserted, “It’s a fact that I submitted an application in response to a public posting by Mt. Holly Twp asking for citizens interested in serving…. I’d be happy to provide that all for your inspection.” In another post from May, LaPlaca claimed that her application was submitted “via an open and public process.”
As stated by Westampton Deputy Mayor Lopez in his livestream, and independently verified by Citizens’ Media TV, there was no public notice announcing the vacancy left by Joshua Brown’s resignation — not at any time, not on the township’s website or elsewhere. The reason is because there was no position available. Brown did not resign until January 20, 2017, three days before LaPlaca was appointed as his replacement (on January 23rd) — and three days after her application was received by the township (on January 17th).
In addition, according to Mt. Holly Township, LaPlaca was the only person to apply for the position. LaPlaca has stated, “I can only imagine I was appointed because I am knowledgeable and smart — the same traits that have gotten me everywhere in this world.” Indeed, her qualifications are extensive. LaPlaca has been a licensed attorney since 2004 and, according to her LinkedIn resume, a lobbyist with Verizon since 2008. She has also worked for the Democratic caucus in the New Jersey State General Assembly.
Despite these qualifications, it is not unreasonable to conclude that LaPlaca’s hiring was at least in part because of her relationship with Jason Carty, who lives with LaPlaca in Lumberton. Carty was himself an MHMUA Commissioner from April of 2011 through December of 2014. As stated in a recent Citizens’ Media TV letter to the editor:
[Jason Carty’s resignation in December of 2014] was only weeks after [Carty voted] to appoint Robert Maybury to MHMUA Executive Director, and less than a week before Maybury, in his role as Westampton Councilman, voted to appoint Carty to Fire Chief of Westampton. Both of these positions pay six figures.
Carty has also been heavily involved in local politics, advising a number of campaigns over the past five years, including:
- The successful 2012 DiFolco, Jones & Brown campaign for Mt Holly Committee
- Carty’s own successful campaign for Mt. Holly Fire Commissioner in 2012.
- The successful 2014 reelection campaign of Democrat C. Andre Daniels for Westampton Town Committee
- The unsuccessful 2016 campaign of Democrats Anna Evans and Natalie Schneider for Hainesport Committee
- The current Republican Ted Costa and Lee Schneider campaign for Hainesport Committee (Lee is Natalie’s sister)
- And, likely, the current Democratic congressional campaign of Katherine Hartmann in New Jersey’s third district. (Hartmann, an attorney, is also representing Carty in at least two lawsuits, one as plaintiff and another as defendant)
Finally, Carty is the sole proprietor of Local Strategies LLC, a campaign consulting firm that has done tens of thousands of dollars of work for various campaigns around the region.
Carty and LaPlaca both strongly deny any impropriety comes from their relationship, claiming that their personal decisions are a private matter. At the rate hearing on July 13, When confronted by Lopez and another resident with “cronyism,” LaPlaca responded, “I sent in a public application. I was not hand-picked.”
Along with Westampton Deputy Mayor Lopez, Lumberton Mayor Sean Earlen is one of the MUA’s most prominent and vocal critics. When Earlen brought up the potential conflicts coming from their relationship, LaPlaca accused Earlen in the Burlington County Times of behaving in a “blatantly sexist manner.” Carty said that Earlen acted “in true sexist Trump fashion.” When asked for a response by Citizens’ Media TV, Mayor Earlen said:
The fact Ms. LaPlaca was appointed under the cover of darkness without an open and transparent process confirms that her appointment was just another display of cronyism by the Mt. Holly Machine and its leader, Jason Carty. Mt. Holly MUA ratepayers deserve better than the elusive actions of the Mt. Holly MUA and should not accept anything less than MUA Commissioners who work fairly and openly for all ratepayers.
Increasing the possibility for conflict is the fact that Carty currently serves as Executive Director of the Garden State Breweries Guild, a lobbying firm promoting legislation benefiting an industry that is among the highest users of water and producers of sewage.
Gina LaPlaca’s relationship with Jason Carty, the fact that she found out about and applied to her position before it was even available, and the multiple inaccurate statements LaPlaca has made about the experience all undermine the argument that she was hired based solely on her qualifications.
A final detail to consider is the story of MHMUA Commissioner Robert Silcox, whose second five-year term expired on February 1st, 2017. Silcox’s position was indeed announced a single time by the township of Mt. Holly, more than a month after the term expired. Silcox was only one of two candidates to apply for the position. On July 26th, 2017, Citizens’ Media TV asked Mt. Holly Township for an official statement regarding the date of Mr. Silcox’s most recent appointment. The township’s response was, “The Mount Holly Township Council has made no appointment to the seat of the expired term of 2/1/2017.”
Yet nearly six months after the end of his term, Silcox continues to serve as Commissioner. In fact, he was elevated to Vice Chairman in March of this year. This is not an indictment of Mr. Silcox himself, but is rather further evidence demonstrating the hiring practices of the Mt. Holly Township Council.
Deputy Mayor Lopez concluded his livestream by saying: “Gina LaPlaca, you should do the honorable thing and resign. You looked at your own neighbors [and] you lied to us… Your service is not needed.”
UPDATE 7/31/2017: THIS ARTICLE IS PENDING RETRACTION.
See the top of this article for details.