Lawrence Luttrell, a Holmdel attorney, has filed suit against Monmouth County on behalf of a new non-profit corporation, Residents Against Government Exploitation (RAGE), over the government purchase of the development rights to Manalapan Township Committee Member Andrew Lucas’ farm for $1.152 million.
The plaintiff non-profit could be called LAGE, Luttrells Against Government Exploitation. The trustees of the entity are Luttrell, his wife and his mother.
Luttrell is a Democratic candidate for Monmouth County Freeholder.
The all Republican Monmouth County Board of Freeholders passed a resolution by a 3-2 vote on February 28 to join the Township of Manalapan and the State of New Jersey in purchasing the development rights to the Lucas property for farmland preservation. The county contributed $277,920, Manalapan paid $186,969 and the State picked up $687,111 of the purchase. Freeholders Lillian Burry, Gary Rich and Serena DiMaso voted in favor of funding the purchase. John Curley and Freeholder Director Tom Arnone voted no.
The normally straight forward procedure of purchasing qualified land for open space and farmland preservation became controversial and political in this instance because Lucas did not immediately recuse himself from Manalapan Township Committee discussions over the purchase. Eventually the State’s Local Finance Board’s Ethics Committee cleared the sale because Lucas recused himself from votes on the matter and had consulted the Township’s attorney regarding his participation the process. In their ruling, the Local Finance Board said they would be issuing new rules for government officials regarding these types of transactions.
In his suit, which can be found here, Luttrell alleges that Burry had a conflict of interest that should have disqualified her from voting on the funding resolution because Lucas held a fundraiser for her at the farm in October of 2011.
Monmouth County has filed a motion to dismiss the suit for failure to state a claim for relief.
Luttrell said that all he wants is for the Court to invalidate the resolution because of Burry’s conflict and send it back to the Freeholder board for reconsideration.
“My objective is accountability. Burry should not have voted on the resolution,” Luttrell said, “All I am asking the Court to do is invalidate the resolution and put it back to a vote. The remaining four Freeholders can approve it if they want to, assuming Lucas doesn’t hold a fundraiser for them either.”
An attorney familiar with the case who asked not to be named said Luttrell was wasting the taxpayers’ money for his own political purposes by filing a nuisance lawsuit. “If this was a serious suit, Larry would have sued Manalapan and the State as well,” said the attorney, “While I think the suit is without merit, the issues he raises apply to Manalapan and the state.”
Burry said the suit is “absurd.”
“Totally and completely out of line,” Burry said of the suit. “I received no personal gain from the sale or from the event at the farm which was a casual bonfire. It wasn’t a fundraiser just for me. I have no idea how the money was handled or where it went. There were many other politicians there. Rob Clifton, Ron Dancer, Susan Cohen and Don Holland to name a few. It wasn’t some big gala. It was a casual bonfire out in the middle of the field.”
Clifton was a Monmouth County Freeholder running for State Assembly at the time of the fundraiser. Dancer, an Assemlyman, is Clifton’s running mate in the 12th legislative district. Cohen is the Mayor of Manalapan and was a Township Committee Member, as was Holland, at the time of the bonfire.
“I’ve been involved in farmland preservation for 18 years and I don’t own a farm,” said Burry, ” I’m glad we were able to preserve this land. We are the Garden State after all.”