BELMAR — An Appellate Division panel has unanimously upheld a lower court ruling that the borough violated the state election law by giving voters misleading information about a November 2015 referendum for the Taylor Pavilion rebuilding project.
The three-judge panel on Monday rejected the borough’s appeal of the 2015 ruling by Superior Court Judge Katie A. Gummer, ordering the borough to pay the residents group that brought the suit $47,306.88 in court costs, comprised of $36,940, plus costs of $1,131 and a 25 percent fee enhancement, according to the group’s lead attorney, Kenneth Pringle.
Mr. Pringle a former Belmar mayor, said he was gratified that the Appellate judges agreed with Judge Gummer that then-mayor Matthew Doherty and the borough council “broke the law by allowing Colleen Connolly [borough administrator] draft an interpretive statement that was designed to mislead voters about federal funding for the Fifth Avenue Pavilion, and to sway them to vote to incur $4.1 million in debt to build it.”
Responding on Wednesday, Ms. Connolly said, “I drafted that interpretative statement all those years ago at the request of the mayor and council, it was approved by the Borough Attorney at that time and it was printed by the county elections board.”
The statement was removed from the November 2015 ballot question after Judge Gummer’s ruling, which came shortly before voters went to the polls. However, Mr. Pringle noted that the statement had already been sent out with absentee ballots “to 229 voters, 69 of whom voted by absentee ballots and later had to recast them.”
The project was approved by 17 votes and the pavilion was rebuilt and opened to the public in May of 2017.
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