BELMAR — The site of the borough’s planned new public safety and EMS building commanded the attention of Republican incumbents and Democratic challengers in Belmar’s upcoming mayoral and council campaign, with a dustup over allegations against the borough administrator.
Mayor Mark Walsifer and borough council members broke ground last Friday for the facility at 1200 Main Street, a former gas station purchased by the borough for $1.2 million from Nick Janides.
On the same day, Mr. Walsifer’s Democratic opponent, Gerald Buccafusco, called for Borough Administrator Ed Kirschenbaum to resign, claiming he had failed to disclose that Mr. Janides was his brother-in-law and was thus improperly involved in the acquisition.
Both claims were hotly disputed by Mayor Walsifer and Borough Attorney Jerry Dasti, who said the relationship had been disclosed to them and Mr. Kirschenbaum had played no role in the acquisition of Mr. Janides’ property.
A press release issued by Mr. Buccafusco and council running mates Mark Levis and Maria Rondinaro stated that Belmar residents “are due an explanation for our Borough Administrator’s conflict of interest that led to the taxpayers purchase of his brother-in-law’s $1.2 million environmentally contaminated property for the new EMS building.”
Mr. Kirschenbaum also refuted the allegations, telling The Coast Star that he was not involved in the purchase of the building and that it was the mayor who identified the property as for sale.
“I did disclose that Mr. Janides was my brother-in-law,” he said. “Notwithstanding that fact, I was entirely removed from the purchase of the property. Mayor Walsifer himself handled the negotiations along with our borough attorney. Mayor Walsifer and the borough attorney hired and obtained a third-party appraisal of the property, and that report is what established the $1,200,000.00 fair market value.”
Mayor Walsifer said that he was “fully aware that that was a relative of Ed Kirschenbaum’s” adding, “So we kept him out of it and the whole council knew about it also.”
Mr. Dasti, confirmed the mayor’s statement, emailing a response to The Coast Star in which the word “never” was capitalized three times with respect to any involvement by Mr. Kirschenbaum in the acquisition of the Janides property.
“He disclosed his relationship with Mr. Janides from the start, and he was excluded from all,” Mr. Dasti wrote. “To infer otherwise and accuse him of a misdeed, perhaps even an ethical or criminal violation, is very unfair, improper, and shameful. None of it is true.”
The statement also addressed the issue of environmental contamination at the former gas station property, saying the cost of cleanup would not be borne by the borough.
“We are holding back $300K to be certain all of the remediation is done at the seller’s expense,” Mr. Dasti wrote. “Our expert report from the licensed remediation expert, licensed by NJDEP, has indicated the remediation costs will be much less than that.”
In his Oct. 28 call for Mr. Kirschenbaum’s resignation, Mr. Buccafusco cited “the latest report” from the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office [MCPO]. When asked for further explanation, he told The Coast Star that he was referring to a document posted with an Oct. 20 article on TAPinto Belmar, an online website operated by Matt Doherty, Mayor Walsifer’s Democratic predecessor as mayor.
The document, dated Dec. 10, 2021, consists of MCPO Lieutenant Kevin Mahoney’s notes on a phone interview the previous day with attorney Kenneth Pringle, who had contacted the prosecutor’s office on behalf of Stephen Hines, a member of the Belmar First Aid Squad [BFAS], which was being represented by Mr. Pringle.
Asked about the document and its contents, Chris Swendeman, a spokesperson for the MCPO, told The Coast Star last week, “The investigation was closed already. No charges were ever brought as a result of the investigation.”
In the document, Mr. Mahoney wrote: “Hines had recently been charged on a complaint summons by the Belmar Police Department, related to alleged theft and official misconduct for filling a BFAS ambulance with approximately $50 in gas from Belmar pumps, three days after the BFAS and Belmar ended their contract. Mr. Pringle felt he could provide this office with some insight into the BFAS.”
The charges against Mr. Hines were later dismissed and the BFAS has since been replaced by a borough-operated first aid unit, which is eventually to be housed in a new facility on the 1200 Main Street site.
Mr. Mahoney noted that Mr. Pringle believed the charges against Stephen Hines were “organized by” Mr. Kirschenbaum in the context of a long-running “bad relationship” between “town leadership,” the BFAS and Hines family members who were active in the BFAS.
Referring to the document, Mr. Swendeman said, “Any of this information that has now become public has not come from anyone in this office.”
Mr. Kirschenbaum said, “It is clear that Mr. Doherty is attempting to use the TAPInto forum to improperly politicize the need to ensure and preserve efficient emergency services in our community two weeks before the election.”
This is an excerpt of the print article. For more on this story, read The Coast Star—on newsstands Thursday or online in our e-Edition.
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