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Suit Pits Democratic Group Against County Committee

As campaign season starts, Democrats for Change files complaint against the Ocean County Democratic Committee over bylaws vote

As draw closer, a group of Democrats in Ocean County is stirring the pot of internal party politics with a civil suit against the Ocean County Democratic Committee for what it claims was a violation of the committee’s own bylaws more than a year ago.

County organization Democrats for Change filed a complaint in State Superior Court in Toms River last month against the committee, claiming that party leaders violated their own rules when, in April 2010, they held a vote to extend term limits for committee members from two to four years.

Marianne Clemente of Barnegat, one of five plaintiffs named in the complaint, said it was an issue of transparency and of failed leadership.

“We’re trying to have an open and transparent government, and we’re trying to do the right thing,” Clemente said. “That’s what we’re all about."

Also bringing the suit are Britta Forsberg-Wenzel of Lavallette, Barry Bendar of Forked River, Sheila McVeigh of Toms River and Karen Argenti of Whiting.

The plaintiffs claim that the top Democrats were required to consider the term limit rule change at two meetings: one where the change was introduced and a second where the actual vote was taken. Instead, the complaint says, party leaders announced the term limit amendment and voted on it right away, also without checking to make sure the required number of committee members were present.

They want the amendment reversed and are seeking reimbursement for legal fees.

The complaint hinges on the allegation of improper procedure, but Clemente said the extension of term limits was wrong in and of itself. It’s important to have the opportunity for turnover within the committee, she said, especially following the surge in registered Democrats seen in Ocean County following the 2008 elections. Clemente said Democrats for Change believes local leaders haven’t done enough to harness their energy, and should be ousted.

But by changing the rules to give themselves more time in office, she said, “they’re stifling the participation of the people.”

Ocean County Democratic Committee Vice Chair Marta Harrison called the complaint factually wrong, and said the plaintiffs are not doing Democrats in Ocean County any favors with the suit.

The committee gave its members proper notice of the vote via a mailing, said Harrison, who characterized the complaint as a sour-grapes move by a group that tried and failed to gain party leadership last year.

“Whatever wrong they think was done was a year and a half ago,” Harrison said. “They should have brought it up in a timely manner.”

Instead, they chose a time that would be damaging to the party as a whole, she said.

“This is no time to be fighting over technicalities in our bylaws and internal politics,” she said. “We’re in a general election season. To bring it up in the three-month period when every good Democrat is focused on winning races in November is irresponsible.”

The complaint raises other allegations, too, including the accusation that Mitchell Seim, the campaign manager for Harrison and Committee Chairman Wyatt Earp during their chairmanship run last year, moved in Harrison's mother's Lakewood home so that he could become a committee member and vote for Earp and Harrison.

Harrison flatly denied and wrongdoing by Seim, saying he was legally registered.

And Harrison said the assertion that a shift to four-year terms for party officials somehow hinders party participation is wrong. If anything, she said, two-year terms present an unwanted hassle for committeemembers, who must gather petition signatures each time they run.

"We think the energy would be better used to recruit volunteers to help with elections," she said.

Clemente said Democrats for Change was committed to helping local party members get elected, particularly in upcoming races where they see a real chance for a victory, such as in Lacey, Brick and Toms River. She said the group simply wanted to see county party leadership do more to mobilize voters, and extending party term limits and circumventing bylaws isn’t the right way to achieve that.

“Everything is held close to the vest – that’s the old way of doing things,” Clemente said. “We need to change that. We need to wake up the Democrats in Ocean County so that we can take our rightful place.”

Mac September 03, 2011 at 01:50 PM
Ray, you are 100% correct. When the previous Dem leader got wind of a developer spreading cash around for quick approvals, he immediately contacted the GOP party leader to arrange a meeting in Gilmore's office. Since the developer was a federal stoolie busted by the guy Gilmore was financing for governor, Gilmore walked away from this setup without a scratch, the Dem party leader paid a token fine, and a GOP state assemblyman went to jail. The residents of Ocean County have an opportunity in the coming election to begin taking back control of their county government by informally uniting with each other in an anti-corruption campaign by voting against the one-party system in Ocean County and electing Rosen, the lone Democrat without a real party backing her, to the Freeholder Board. I mean, after all, wouldn't it be nice after three or four decades to return the Ocean County Board of Freeloaders to the Ocean County Board of Freeholders. Or you can reelect Vicari so he may keep pocketing his two government retirement pensions while he continues to be paid for the two government jobs he never really retired from at all. And, every year he continues to be paid for the jobs he's also receiving retirement pay for holding, his retirement pay and benefits increase more and more. However, if you believe the GOP Ocean County Board of Freeloaders is worth a million dollars a year in government pay and benefits, then reelecting Vicari will give you much more of what you deserve.
John September 03, 2011 at 04:26 PM
Because this group does not want Democratic candidates to win. If they lose, it gives their case more validity.
John September 03, 2011 at 04:27 PM
Who?
Ken Bank September 03, 2011 at 08:33 PM
Here's the link to a news story about former Ocean County Democratic Chairman Al Santoro. Says all we need to know about the Ocean County Democratic Party. They're in bed with Gilmore who feeds them scraps off the GOP table. Santoro was only a symptom, not the cause of the corrupting disease affecting Ocean County Democrats.
oceannj September 04, 2011 at 01:57 PM
Carmen Amato, Viccari, Block and their Republican cronies are giving each other $100,000 jobs with benefits That's why are taxes are so high, Republicans treating the tax money like their personal Piggy Banks.

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