Board member declines request to quit hearings

By kathy baratta
Staff Writer

Board member declines
request to quit hearings
By kathy baratta
Staff Writer

HOWELL — A request was made, and later rejected, for Planning Board Vice Chairman Michael Howell to recuse himself from further hearings on The Fountains, an application for a 300-unit apartment complex that is now being reviewed by the board.

A group of citizens calling themselves Residents Against Irresponsible Development (RAID) retained an attorney to represent them in their opposition to the project. That attorney, Edward Liston, opened the Jan. 30 special Planning Board meeting on The Fountains by making the request for Howell to step down.

Liston said he made his request due to the existence of a conflict between Howell and a core RAID member, Sharon Carpenter-Migliaccio. He said he was making the request "because of a situation that developed and recently was made public."

Liston was referring to allegations made against Howell by Jay Migliaccio, who is Carpenter-Migliaccio’s husband.

A police review of the matter was closed with "no indication of harassment or wrongdoing going on," according to Howell Detective Sgt. Tom Connors, who said Carpenter-Migliaccio had contacted police on Oct. 15 to report receiving e-mails she "perceived as harassing."

At that time, said Connors, Carpenter-Migliaccio said she only wanted the incident noted for the record. However, said Connors, on Oct. 29 she asked that the matter be investigated.

Connors did not say what action precipitated her request for an investigation with the second police contact.

As per Liston’s instructions, neither Carpenter-Migliaccio nor her husband would comment further on the matter.

Connors said the matter was handed to him on Nov. 4. He stressed that what he undertook was "never an actual investigation, but a fact-finding process." He said he met with Howell to "inform him of (Carpenter-Migliaccio’s) concerns."

Connors said he determined from Howell that it was "never his intent to harass, only to inform and relate certain information."

The detective said as far as he was concerned the matter was closed with no evidence of wrongdoing found on the part of either party.

Migliaccio had addressed Mayor Timothy J. Konopka, who also sits on the Planning Board, at the Township Council’s Jan. 21 meeting alleging a conflict due to an e-mail Migliaccio said had been sent to his wife from Howell. According to Migliaccio, Howell contacted Carpenter-Migliaccio via e-mail and telephone.

Migliaccio read aloud an e-mail he said had been sent by Howell to Carpenter-Migliaccio which the couple considered "threats and intimidation."

Konopka told Carpenter-Migliaccio that if she had indeed feared for her safety she could have gone to the police and lodged a complaint.

No complaint had been signed by either party, yet Liston alluded to a police investigation of the matter when responding to Planning Board Attorney Ronald Cucchiaro on Jan. 30.

Cucchiaro said he wondered why the matter of a conflict was being raised now since the alleged contact from Howell to Carpenter-Migliaccio had occurred in October.

"It’s not when it hits the papers that a conflict exists, but when the event occurs," said Cucchiaro, referring to a story the Tri-Town News published two weeks ago regarding the allegations.

Liston replied that even though he had "seen no complaints," the matter was being raised now "because my client is being investigated by police."

Stating that, "The animus is now public," Liston also asked that in lieu of Howell recusing himself from The Fountains application, the board vote to remove him from hearing the plans.

Once Liston’s request for Howell’s recusal had been made, Cucchiaro warned Howell, "There is a police investigation. What you say here impacts."

In responding to Liston’s requests, Cucchiaro told the board members, "If we continue to have tonight’s hearing and a conflict is determined, past hearings could be voidable. The issue for us is, if we acknowledge a conflict, everything (all previous hearings of The Fountains application) is voidable. The appearance of impropriety is enough under the law, not just the establishment of a conflict."

Following a short closed session discussion of the matter, the board reconvened and Howell was asked by Cucchiaro, "Is it your desire to step down?"

Howell responded crisply, "No."

The board was then again asked by Liston for a motion to remove Howell from further hearings of The Fountains application. No motion was put forth and there was no further discussion of the issue.

On Monday, Liston, responding to a reporter’s question as to whether he would further pursue the matter of a conflict, said he had nothing to say at this time beyond what had already been put on the record at the Jan. 30 meeting.