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Roth to Mayor Lucas: "You Violated the Public Trust" In Land Deal

Manalapan Committeewoman accuses Mayor of “twisting the truth” and says that he should recuse himself from future votes that involve his personal property

Democratic Committeewoman Michelle Roth had plenty to say to Mayor Andrew Lucas during the public portion of the Township Committee meeting on Wednesday, and not much of it was positive.

Roth has repeatedly criticized Lucas for not recusing himself from a Jan. 12 vote, which authorized the cancellation of 2011 preliminary taxes on properties that included farmland. According to Roth, Lucas gave himself a $25,000 tax break by voting for the resolution.
 
Lucas admitted that he should have recused himself from the vote, and said that at the time, he did not realize that the block number and lot of his acquired property were in the resolution. A resolution to reauthorize was added to the Feb. 23 agenda under old business.

“I will admit, I did make a mistake. I did not see this on the resolution. And so we have to vote on it again. For that I apologize to the Township Committee for what will probably be a very unbearable amount of time in listening to this issue get replayed and replayed again and again,” said Lucas. His remark was directed at Roth, who keeps revisiting the matter.

Roth argued that the items were “very clearly delineated” and accused the Mayor of “twisting the truth”.

The issue stems from an ethical controversy surrounding property that Lucas bought in March 2010; Lucas asserts that he did nothing wrong.

In March 2010, Lucas and his wife purchased 96 acres of property in Manalapan known has Burke Farm at Iron Ore Road, which had 9 houses slated for development. According to Lucas, he decided to take the land out of development and preserve it as farmland.

The process may be legal, but according to Roth, it is highly unethical.

“That property went into distress. It went up for tax sale. You saw a business opportunity; that's great. What you’re not telling the public is that you fast-tracked the project in nine days,” Roth said to Lucas.
 
According to Roth, the property is listed under the ownership of a private company and therefore, Lucas was able to avoid disclosing the sale information to the public.

She believes that the company, Diamond Developers, was facing bankruptcy, when Lucas made an offer on the property on a tax sale.

Lucas, who owns a stake in Diamond Developers, then moved the property into the Farmland Preservation Program within nine days of purchase.

During their debate, Lucas defended his actions, stating that they were legal. He said that Manalapan officials have preserved farmland in the past.

In October 2010, the News Transcript reported that under the New Jersey Farmland Preservation Act, a combination of state, county, and local funding is used to subsidize the purchase the development rights to a farm. At the local level, the township pays 16 percent of the cost to the development rights to the landowner; Lucas stands to gain a $1 million reward in taxpayer money in this process.

“I’d like to know where the other 40,000 residents of this Township get to sign up for a deal like that,” said Roth, who is a financial consultant.

Last October, Lucas’s actions were also criticized by two, former Manalapan mayors and scrutinized in the Asbury Park Press. Roth cited an article that criticized the Mayor for not pulling his property from the program and creating a conflict-of-interest as an elected official.

Roth argues that Lucas, who is also a financial consultant, schemed a quick deal and said she doesn't appreciate the Mayor's "condescending attitude" when she revisits the issue.

“I bring it up because it’s wrong. You shouldn’t have done it, and you’ve yet to apologize for your action,” she said. “You violated the public trust, period,” she later added.

“There’s no sense in me making any more comments. I’m wasting the taxpayers’ time on this,” said Lucas.

The lively exchange concluded as no other Committee members commented.

Lucas called a motion and the resolution was approved 3-1 with Roth’s dissent and Lucas recusing himself from the vote. 

XXXXXX February 25, 2011 at 12:09 PM
Sounds like the deal I remember hearing about many years ago in the early 90's when then, Mayor Gray and committeeman McKenna, under the name of Englishtown Investors Group purchased the Dreyer Farm from Mrs. Dreyer in order to keep the property from being developed for homes and then sold the property to the township for the now named Manalapan Recreation Center ( Dreyer Tract). May be unethical but atleast it's now open space for all our citizens to enjoy and not flooded with more homes, like this township really needs more houses and a bigger population.
robert horzepa February 25, 2011 at 01:43 PM
what is roth's problem ? no additional houses with kids who need a costly education and roads that need maintenance implemented thru a long standing and effective preservation program... if this were millstone township or upper freehold, mayor lucas would be getting a community award and not needlessly badgered... such is politics....
john gilburn February 25, 2011 at 03:29 PM
This is just more Republican bashing by the Dems,they constantly go after the governing board and every so often they hit on some minor issue.Even a broken clock is correct twice a day.They are a miserable group whose days are coming to an end in this town.Thank God
Free Thought Manalapan March 02, 2011 at 05:31 PM
Are you people idiots or on the take too? Lucas bailed himself out of a bad land deal by taking his share of a corporate development deal and buying out the other guys for pennies on the dollar. Then he saddles the Manalapan and NJ Taxpayers with the $25,000 PER YEAR TAX BILL so that he can hold onto the land free and clear. THEN when the real estate market comes back around he will develop the property as planned and rake in MILLIONS OF DOLLARS ! Thank you Manalapan suckers. Enjoy my Mercedes dust. THANK YOU MICHELLE ROTH FOR BRINGING THE TRUTH TO THE PUBLIC. Too bad no body seems to listen or care. Now that Lucas and Holland have a farm how about Mr. Green - he's already got the name and the skills.

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