The Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders voted to approve a payment to Manalapan Township Committeeman Andrew Lucas for the developmental rights to his Burke Farm, the county’s percentage of the nearly $1.16 million deal, the Asbury Park Press reported.
According to the Asbury Park Press, The Freeholders voted 3-2 in approval of a resolution which dispenses $277,920 from Monmouth County’s Open Space Trust Fund for the developmental rights of the farm, a 96-acre property located on Iron Ore Road in Manalapan Township.
The heated Freeholder meeting on Thursday came on the heels of Manalapan’s narrow vote approving the payment of the Township’s percentage of the deal to the county, which the Township is legally obligated to pay. The application was previously approved by the State Agriculture Development Committee, Monmouth County, and Manalapan Township.
Manalapan Mayor Susan Cohen and Committeeman Don Holland voted to approve extract of payment, Committeeman Ryan Green voted no, and Deputy Mayor Jordan Maskowitz abstained; Lucas was absent from the meeting.
The Mayor stated that she is, and has always been, in favor of farmland preservation which is why she voted in favor of the payment to the county.
Maskowitz reached out to Patch to explain his abstention saying that he had some reservations about the fact that the application involves a sitting Committeeman, “specifically the perception of 'unethical behavior' this has created among some of our residents.”
This unethical behavior was brought to light by Manalapan resident Larry Furman during the public comment portion of the Township Committee meeting Wednesday night. Furman said that Lucas “wore two hats” while he submitted his application for farmland preservation two years ago by being both the seller of the developer rights of the farm and a broker for the buyer as a sitting politician.
This application was brought to the State Ethics Board last year and the ethics violation charges, filed by former Manalapan Mayor George Spodak, were dismissed in October.
Given the fact that no misconduct was found following two investigations by the State Ethics Board, Maskowitz said he felt that voting against the purchase order to Monmouth County "would have sent a negative signal to our residents regarding our Farmland Preservation Program." Rather, Maskowitz said he chose to abstain from the vote which sent a clearer message in his opinion.
"The question which ultimately clarified the issue for me was, 'If given the same opportunity would I do the same thing as a sitting Committeeman?' To which my obvious answer is, 'No!'” Maskowitz said.
Patch reached out to Green for comment on his "no" vote against the purchase order, but has not heard back.