Former Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian filed a whistleblower suit against officials in Toms River Monday, claiming Mayor Maurice (Mo) Hill and others disparaged him over his sexual orientation and that his employment was terminated unlawfully because he pushed the town to adopt an ordinance removing zoning restrictions targeting religious institutions.
The eight-count suit alleges Hill called Guardian, who is openly gay, a “pillow biter” and made other homophobic remarks.
Hill, a retired U.S. Navy Admiral, declined comment since it involves litigation. Three people who know Hill well told the New Jersey Globe that they had never heard him speak in those terms, saying the allegations were inconsistent with his character.
It levels similar charges at acting business administrator Louis Amoruso, accusing him of calling Guardian a “fucking pervert” and a “faggot.”
The suit — filed against Hill, members of the township council and Assemblyman Greg McGuckin (R-Toms River), who heads the town’s Department of Law — further charges the mayor and others engaged in a conspiracy to illegally hire Amoruso as an assistant business administrator.
Guardian, then business administrator for the Ocean County town of about 92,000, obtained a memorandum from assistant Anthony Merlino that said Toms River was barred under state law from having an assistant business administrator, a position the suit says Amoruso previously held before being demoted over allegations of official misconduct.
Amoruso became acting business administrator last summer after Guardian suffered a medical episode during a council meeting that sidelined him from his township job for three months.
Guardian told the township in late August he was prepared to return to work in early September, but Hill instead successfully sought to elevate Amoruso to his post. Guardian, a holdover from the administration of former Mayor Thomas Kelaher’s administration, was fired.
In the suit, the former mayor alleges his employment with the township was terminated over his objections to Amoruso being hired as an assistant business administrator, his persistence in supporting an ordinance removing zoning restrictions for houses of worship and other institutions and his opposition to an allegedly illegal sale of municipal land.
He also claimed Amoruso interjected to prevent him winning a job at the Toms River Municipal Utilities Authority.
The U.S. Department of Justice on Wednesday announced it had reached an agreement with Toms River over reforms to zoning ordinances that discriminated against the town’s Orthodox Jewish population.
That agreement saw the town’s council reduce an acreage requirement for religious institutions by 80%, from 10 acres to two acres, and agree to make a variety of other changes to comply with the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, the federal law that bars discriminatory land use regulations.
Guardian’s suit could complicate his bid for state office. Guardian is seeking the Republican nod to run for Assembly in the second legislative district, where Democrats hold both lower-chamber seats.
It’s not clear how his suit, which targets a member of the Assembly Republican Caucus, will affect that bid.
The former Atlantic City Mayor alleged his firing was made, in part, because he objected to McGuckin’s overseeing the Department of Law. He believed the assemblyman’s law firm — Dasti, Murphy, McGuckin. Ulaky, Koutsouris & Connors — violated unspecified public policies.
The suit’s filing comes at a pregnant time for Ocean County Republicans, who will convene a convention Wednesday evening for a vote to decide which sect of Toms River Republicans will control its county committee votes.
Republicans for Toms River, backed by Ocean County Republican Chairman Frank Holman, is seeking certification as the official club. If that vote succeeds, the organization will replace the Toms River Regular Republican Club, the recognized club for at least the last 35 years.
McGuckin is also backing that move.
The existing organization is controlled by former Ocean County Republican Chairman George Gilmore, who resigned his position after being convicted of federal tax charges in 2019. President Donald Trump pardoned him amid a wave of clemencies on his last day in office.
Gilmore has remained active in Ocean County politics since his conviction, at times competing with Holman, who defeated Gilmore’s handpicked successor to win his chairmanship, for de facto control of the county GOP.
Hill, the Toms River mayor, also defeated a Gilmore-backed candidate to win his seat, running off the line in the 2019 Republican primary to defeat former Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato by 536 votes.
Guardian is a Gilmore ally, though it’s not clear whether his suit — telegraphed months in advance — was timed to affect Wednesday’s convention.