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Cape May County and two of its freeholders are facing a civil suit under the Conscientious Employee Protection Act.
The suit filed by freeholder board clerk Elizabeth Bozzelli, who is also county administrator, claims Freeholders Marie Hayes and Will Morey retaliated against her after she objected to transferring Lloyd Hayes, the freeholder’s son, to a different department after he was issued a written warning for allowing gasoline from the county pump to overflow from his vehicle’s tank.
Bozzelli’s suit claims freeholder Hayes sought to transfer her son so he could avoid discipline. Bozzelli objected to the move, seeing it as a violation of the county’s conflict of interest policy, which County Counsel Jeff Lindsay, the step-son of Freeholder Director Gerald Thornton, said applied to cases of nepotism.
The suit alleges Morey and Hayes made false statements about her in an attempt to block her from being appointed to the county administrator position.
In July, the freeholder board voted to censure Hayes over a claim of retaliation made by Bozzelli by a vote of 3-2. Morey was the second no vote.
A second censure over conflicts of interest related to Hayes’s son passed 4-1.
In the suit, Bozzelli claims Hayes and Morey continued to harass her in a retaliatory manner after she was appointed to the county administrator position by making false and derogatory comments about her and, in Hayes’s case, excluding her from projects in which she had previously been included.
An external investigation of Bozzelli’s claims formed the basis of Hayes’s censure over retaliation, though Morey and Hayes both criticized the report at the July meeting, saying investigators did not reach out to them or to witnesses they put forward.
The report has not been released publicly, though the freeholder board has forwarded the same to the State Ethics Commission.
The incidents have formed a rift between Cape May’s freeholders, all of whom are Republicans.
Thornton and Hayes are up for re-election this year, but after the latter was censured, both declined to say whether they would seek endorse each other for another term on the board.
Freeholders Leonard Desiderio and Jeffrey Pierson said they’d back the Republican ticket regardless of any intra-party feud.
Morey declined to say whether he’d back either of the two Republicans seeking re-election this year.
The Republicans will face attorney Elizabeth Casey and seven-term Wildwood Crest Commissioner Joyce Gould in the general.
The political turmoil could help Democrats win countywide elections for the first time since Jeff Van Drew gave up his freeholder seat to run for the State Assembly.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in Cape May County,” Democratic County Chairman Brendan Sciarra told the New Jersey Globe. “It’s a chance to build a better Cape May County, from roads, infrastructure, tourism, services for seniors, and a fiscally responsible government.”Bozzelli suit
This story was updated at 1:56 PM with comment from Sciara.