Republicans in a sleepy Monmouth town are carrying out a bitter fight over control of the local GOP organization as politics most everywhere else in the state have ground to a halt amid the COVID-19 crisis.
The conflict between Millstone Republicans has been brewing for months and is only now coming to a head, nearly nine weeks after Millstone’s Republican County Executive Committee ousted former chairman Al Ferro in a 10-0 vote held at a special meeting convened on Feb. 8.
Nancy Grbelja, who also represented Ferro’s district on the RCEC was appointed the committee’s acting chair.
The Republican organization’s list of grievances against Ferro, a township committeeman, included claims that he ignored RCEC communications sent by RCEC members, was absent from his part and political posts for nearly three months and discussed township personnel issues at RCEC functions, among other potentially serious charges.
“He started to get a little rogue with the group. He started bringing up conversations about the firing of township employees, which should have never been ever discussed at RCEC meetings,” said Millstone Mayor Fiore Masci, who is not a member of the RCEC. “He started to alienate members by not inviting them to various Republican county functions.”
Since being removed, Ferro has continued to call himself the committee’s chairman and treasurer and has even taken steps to recruit candidates to run against the incumbents that ousted him from his post, Masci said.
Ferro declined to comment when the New Jersey Globe reached him by phone Friday.
He asked questions be emailed to him. They were, but Ferro did not respond to that email or calls and text messages made at 3:42 p.m. and 5:33 p.m.
Ferro is also accused of appointing RCEC member Melissa Peerboom as co-treasurer of the committee’s finances without her knowledge, which is potentially a crime.
“No, I was not aware that my name or my personal information was placed on any documents,” Peerboom said.
Ferro has held onto the Republican organization’s finances since his ouster, though Masci and the RCEC members who voted out the former chairman are preparing a lawsuit that would force Ferro to hand over the committee’s accounts.
Scott Salmon, who is representing Masci and the RCEC members, said that suit is expected to be filed early next week.
It’s not clear exactly how much money is in the committee’s account. The group last filed with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission in 2018, when Steven Lambros was chairman and treasurer.
Lambros filed a sworn statement saying the committee would spend less than $6,300 that year, so the committee’s finances are likely not voluminous.
The Millstone fight has largely avoided the eyes of Monmouth County’s ranking Republicans.
“When we tried to have a meeting with Shaun Golden, the county chair, Shaun tried to stay out of it,” Masci said.
Golden, who is also Monmouth County sheriff, told the New Jersey Globe he was aware of the intra-party conflict but urged those involved to settle the dispute amicably.
“It’s a local issue, and apparently there’s some infighting,” he said. “Again, from the Monmouth County Republican Party perspective, we have 53 towns and try to encourage the local county committee members to work it out.”
Clearly, the resolution wasn’t peaceful.
According to Masci, Golden wasn’t thrilled when, on March 23, Salmon sent Ferro a letter asking that he cease referring to himself as RCEC chairman and relinquish the organization’s bank accounts and financial records.
Copies of the letter were sent to Golden and Republican State Chairman Doug Steinhardt.
“That got Shaun Golden’s nose in a joint because Shaun’s position was ‘you gotta keep him. You gotta keep him. You gotta keep him,’” Masci said. “Well, no. That’s not what our bylaws state. Our bylaws state that we can vote him down as the chair, and that’s what was done because it was the right thing to do because of all the wrong things he was doing.”
Golden did not outright deny displeasure at the growing rancor among Millstone Republicans.
“I know that’s not the normal course of action to recall a chair in the middle of an elected term, so like I said, it seems like they have some issues there,” he said. “like I said, it’s a local county committee fight, right? It just highlights the need for change there, but we’ll see what happens. That’s what elections are for.”