Freeholder Director John Curley said yesterday that there is no support on the Freeholder Board to purchase the development rights for Manalapan Township Committeeman Andrew Lucas’ 98 acre farm on Iron Ore Road, despite the fact that the purchase, which was approved by the Board in May of 2011, has been cleared of an ethics violation complaint by the State Department of Community Affairs’ Local Finance Board and was approved by the State Agriculture Development Committee.
“If elected officials want to apply for government money for their properties, they should resign from office,” said Curley, “we should not be using the positions the voters entrusted us with to enrich ourselves.”
“Andrew Lucas has not been forthcoming about the details of his purchase of this property. The freeholders will not approve this purchase.”
Lucas, Manalapan’s former mayor and a former GOP candidate for freeholder, purchased the farm which had been slated for development in March of 2010 for an undisclosed amount. Soon thereafter he started the process of selling the development rights, for $1.152 million, through funding through the State, County and Township. Lucas participated on Township Committee discussions of his application.
The purchase approved by the Freeholder Board in May of 2011 was held up by an ethics complaint filed by former Manalapan Mayor George Spodak. The State Agriculture Developement Committee conditioned its funding on an satisfactory ethics review of the transaction. Local Finance Board Chairman Thomas Neff wrote Lucas last month to inform him that his application had been approved because he consulted with the Manalapan Township Attorney about his application. Neff’s letter also said that the Board would use Lucas’s case to provide clear guidance to future office holders to recuse themselves from applications that they have an interest in.
Spodak is outraged that Neff and the Local Finance Board cleared the ethics of the transaction. “I don’t think they even read my 111 page complaint,” said Spodak. “I sent Neff a letter appealing his decision but have not heard back from him.”
The county monies approved in 2011 for the purchase are no longer available. An article in the Asbury Park Press said that the county is applying for federal money to fund the purchase.
Curly said the the freeholders have not approved any federal grant application and will not approve the purchase.
Earlier yesterday, Monmouth Democratic Chairman Vin Gopal issued a statement condemning the transaction as an example of Republcian cronyism, “Club Monmouth.” Gopal was critical of Neff’s ties to the Monmouth GOP as evidenced by his $750 to Monmouth GOP Chairman John Bennett’s leadership PAC while Bennett was President of the State Senate. Prior being appointed to his position with the Department of Community Affairs, Neff, an attorney, was an employee of the Republican Senate Caucus.
Informed of Curley’s opposition to the Lucas farm purchase and his representation that the other freeholders, all Republicans, also oppose it, Gopal said, “What has changed since they approved it last year? Only Amy Mallet (then a Democratic freeholder) voted against it in 2011.”