Republican Caldwell councilmen running for re-election have taken borough emails down from their website after another councilman questioned whether it is proper to use the town’s email system for campaigning.
Councilman John Kelley, a Democrat, said at Tuesday night’s council meeting he was concerned about Councilmen Rich Hauser and Peter Murray listing their town emails to communicate with voters. He also questioned what he called a possible conflict of interest created by having a borough employee actively involved in their campaign. Hauser and Murray have called both allegations unfounded.
In a prepared statement, Kelley said Tuesday the councilmen’s email communications should be reviewed, and since the meeting an Open Public Records Act request has been made for their emails dating back to June 1.
“They are associating the borough email address on a campaign website where they are clearly soliciting contributions,” Kelley said. “The taxpayers need to know it’s wrong. They cannot do this. It’s arrogant on the part of the council members to do this.”
When reached for comment Thursday, Hauser and Murray, both seeking second terms, denied any wrongdoing.
“We had the council emails on our website for people to contact us as they wish to,” Hauser said. “We have since changed it. We are not saying that what we did is inappropriate, but we’ve changed it regardless.”
Kelley also brought into question the involvement of a borough employee in the campaign, pointing out that an employee’s home address was listed on an entry form for a golf outing. The September golf outing was sponsored by the Caldwell Republican Party and supported the re-election of Hauser and Murray.
Kelley said the employee might feel a sense of indebtedness to an elected official, saying this is not good for a “small town” like Caldwell.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Kelley requested a resolution for the borough attorney to draft two ordinances. One would prohibit elected officials from using the town’s email system or property for campaigning. The other would prohibit borough employees from participating in campaigns for council members.
Councilmen Kelley and Frank Rodgers voted yes, Councilmen Hauser and John Coyle abstained, and Councilmen Murray and Tom O’Donnell did not vote.
Borough Attorney Greg Mascera called not voting “a very unusual situation” which “served effectively as an abstention.” The resolutions passed, however, he said an ordinance prohibiting borough employees from participating in local politics would not be “proper.”
“An employer cannot restrict an employee from participating in election campaigns,” Mascera said.
He said there is already a state law that says public employees can be involved as long as they are on their own time, making a local ordinance unnecessary.
Murray said Kelley’s actions were politically motivated coming just weeks before the November municipal election. He said he was not concerned about his emails being reviewed because nothing improper would be found.
“His actions are exactly why good honest people don’t’ get involved in politics,” he said.
Kelley said he has not made any formal complaint against his fellow council members.
“I don’t relish bringing something like this up,” Kelley said. “I wanted to get this stopped.”