Lakewood paid township manager ‘hush money’ to stay silent, lawsuit alleges
Lakewood’s former township manager, who got a $327,000 severance package when he resigned in September, received illegal “hush money” to stay quiet about municipal affairs, a group claims in a lawsuit filed Monday.
The lawsuit alleges Lakewood Mayor Ray Coles “engaged in a conspiracy” with the former township manager, Thomas Henshaw, and other township officials, to reach Henshaw’s separation agreement.
Resident Larry S. Loigman, and a group called Lakewood Citizens for Fiscal Integrity, claim in the suit that the agreement violated state and local measures limiting the amount of money Henshaw should have received.
Henshaw’s separation agreement provided for $327,000 in payments, which includes his salary through the end of 2019. The suit claims Henshaw should have received far less money — just a few months’ salary.
“Such extraordinary payment was intended as ‘hush money’ to buy Defendant Henshaw’s silence as to municipal affairs,” the lawsuit stated.
The lawsuit was filed in Superior Court in Toms River by Lakewood Citizens for Fiscal Integrity, a group of residents who are not individually named, and Loigman, a former fire commissioner and lawyer known as a watchdog of local government. The township, Coles and Henshaw are defendants in the lawsuit.
Henshaw declined to comment on the lawsuit, but township officials quickly rebuffed Loigman’s claims. Coles and Lakewood Township attorney Steven Secare said Monday the lawsuit was frivolous.
“This is another frivolous attempt by Mr. Loigman to muddy waters that are absolutely clear,” Secare said. “The agreement with Mr. Henshaw was negotiated in good faith by the township and Mr. Henshaw. His resignation was amicable to both sides.”
Coles said negotiations over Henshaw’s severance were approved by Secare and the entire township committee.
“I really don’t know what he’s basing this on,” Coles said of the lawsuit.
Henshaw resigned abruptly in September after three years with the township. His separation agreement included a payment of $327,000, which included about $276,000 of salary through the end of this year and 2019.
The agreement says Henshaw cannot sue the township or talk to the press or others in a way that would “adversely effect” the township’s business or reputation.
Henshaw’s contract and state law say that the municipal manager must be removed by a two-thirds vote of the five-member township committee. It also called for two weeks’ notice if Henshaw chose to resign.
The lawsuit says the required removal vote never happened and Henshaw never submitted his resignation.
But Henshaw’s contract with the township says if he is removed, his salary must be paid for six months “unless other arrangements are made and agreed upon by both parties.” Lakewood Township code says if the committee voted to fire Henshaw, he’s entitled to three months of his salary as payment.
“This three-month provision shall not apply in the event the Municipal Manager voluntarily terminates employment by resigning the office or position,” the code reads. “In such event the Manager shall be paid only to the date of actual termination of duties.”
The lawsuit asks a judge to declare the separation agreement invalid and issue an order stopping any township money from going to Henshaw. The separation agreement says Henshaw will continue to be paid bi-weekly. The judge should also hold Coles personally liable for any money the township owes, the lawsuit says.
BREAKING NEWS: Lakewood BMG student missing, cops say
Township officials and Henshaw have declined to comment on the reason for his resignation.
However, a township source, who was not authorized to speak to the media, said the resignation stemmed from a misunderstanding.
Henshaw said he thought township staff was being asked to improperly delete emails, according to the source.
Coles confirmed a recent discussion among township staff about email retention policies that occurred after the township received a records request for 10 years worth of emails, but said he did not ask anyone to delete messages.
Please see the article in its original content form by clicking an dragging down on the link: