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Holmdel official: Vote to pay my company was ‘harmless error’

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Holmdel Township Committeeman Tom Critelli said it was a “harmless error” when he unknowingly voted “yes” to authorize a $10,000 payment to his own business in 2013.

“Unbeknownst to me, payment to my company was included among the 130 other bills payable on the consent agenda during a Township Committee meeting held on Feb. 5, 2013 … The township at the time was operating without the guidance of a township administrator,” Critelli said during a meeting on Jan. 28.

Critelli had filed a claim against Holmdel in 2011 after he said his property was damaged during Hurricane Irene. He said the storm damage was caused by the town’s failure to maintain its storm sewers. Critelli initially received a $30,000 check from Holmdel.

Critelli, who joined the committee in 2013, was scheduled to receive an additional $10,000 payment. That payment appeared on the Feb. 5, 2013 consent agenda and Critelli voted “yes” to approve the consent agenda and the payment to his company.

“Being brand new to public office and in only my third Township Committee meeting, I relied upon and expected the township attorney to advise on matters of legal compliance and procedure,” he said. “ … Without such advice, I regrettably voted in favor of the items on the consent agenda.”

Critelli, who said he now understands procedure, said he wished he understood that he could pull an item from the consent agenda and recuse himself from voting on certain items.

“An astonishing seven years later … one or more elected officials saw fit to notify the Monmouth County prosecutor of my vote in February 2013,” he said. “ … Given that my settlement was negotiated and resolved long before I became a public servant, it defies logic that I would ever risk jeopardizing the payment owed to us.”

“As many residents recall, on Oct. 28, 2011, Hurricane Irene hit New Jersey. The hurricane’s rainfall, which should have been routed safely through the storm sewers, instead inflicted devastating flood damage on my family’s home.

“The cause of this flooding was due to Holmdel’s admitted failure to clean and maintain the storm sewers as confirmed by our township engineer … Our home suffered extensive storm damage from a clogged storm drain … The failed system dumped devastating amounts of water, mud, garbage and other pollutants into our home and surrounding property,” Critelli said.

According to a letter from the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office, which was provided to committee members, Critelli filed a tort claim against Holmdel in which he alleged about $80,000 in property damage after Hurricane Irene.

Critelli negotiated with the township’s insurance carrier, Scibal Associates, for a payment of $30,000 to settle his claim. Critelli signed a Release For All Claims on April 2, 2012, releasing Holmdel from further liability in exchange for $30,000, according to the prosecutor’s letter.

The letter states there were continued off-the-record negotiations to pay Critelli another $10,000.

“It is disingenuous for Critelli to claim he was unaware he was voting on a check to be issued to his own company, in light of the paperwork he filled out on Feb. 5, 2013, in order to receive the check,” the letter states.

Critelli cited the following events:

• Sept. 1, 2011: Critelli initially notified Holmdel about the damage his home and property incurred during Hurricane Irene;

• Sept. 12, 2011: Critelli wrote to Holmdel and summarized the matter;

• Sept. 21, 2011: Critelli presented the matter to the township’s claims adjuster with written evidence from his neighbors confirming the township was aware of the drainage issues before Hurricane Irene;

• Jan. 6, 2012: Critelli and his wife offered to settle the claim for half of the total cost – about $37,000 – of property damages;

• March 2012: The claims adjuster for Holmdel’s insurance carrier offered Critelli $30,000. Critelli said he accepted the offer on the condition Holmdel would agree to pay the difference that was requested in the settlement. Critelli said Holmdel’s representatives agreed to his request;

“While no time frame was given, it was our understanding the payment would be made sooner rather than later. In my sincere desire to be a good citizen, I made the good faith decision to work with the township and the budgeting process. We sent a letter to Holmdel to withdraw our tort claim notice and to consider the dispute settled when we learned the township agreed to make the final payment,” Critelli said.

• April 2012: Critelli received a payment of $30,000 from Holmdel;

“My wife and I patiently waited on the remaining amount due,” he said.

• October 2012: Critelli emailed the mayor a bill for $9,872.50 from his company, Danitom Development, which performed the cleanup at his home and property;

• October 2012: superstorm Sandy caused destruction in Holmdel and Critelli said the matter of payment to his company “rightfully took a back seat”;

• January 2013: Critelli is sworn in as an elected official in Holmdel.

Following Critelli’s remarks, Mayor Greg Buontempo said the matter should be forwarded to the Monmouth County Ethics Board for review.

Deputy Mayor Cathy Weber, Committeeman Rocco Pascucci, Committeeman Prakash Santhana and Buontempo voted “yes” on the mayor’s motion.

Critelli recused himself from voting.

Township Attorney Michael Collins then presented a second resolution for the consideration of the governing body. The resolution sought to issue a subpoena for the documents the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office used in its investigation.

Weber, Buontempo, Pascucci and Santhana voted “yes” to invoke the governing body’s invetigatory powers and to issue a subpoena to the Monmouth County prosecutor.

Critelli recused himself from voting.

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