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Gov. Phil Murphy. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe)

Murphy tinkers with some April elections

By David Wildstein, February 19 2021 8:04 pm

An executive order signed by Gov. Phil Murphy on Friday that clarifies come confusion in Highland Park, Wrightstown and other municipalities that hold elections on April 20, allowing them to reconcile discrepancies in state election law to determine ballots, polling places and election hours.

The order affects a special election for Wrightstown mayor initially set for January 12 and for January 19 that will now be held in April.  Late last year, Murphy pushed all elections scheduled for January, February, and March.

In any municipality where more municipal and school elections are scheduled, all rules applying to municipal election hours and polling places will prevail.  In places where school and fire elections both fall on April 20, the board of elections will designate polling locations.

In some cases, a fire district does not involve an entire town.

“Due to the pandemic, my administration had to make modifications to our upcoming elections to ensure that our voters are able to have their voices heard in a safe manner,” Murphy said. “Today’s executive order will allow our local election officials sufficient time to properly prepare for the elections as well as conserve time and resources.”

Wrightstown Mayor Thomas Harper was unopposed in his re-election bid when he was charged in September with lying to state investigators looking at the unauthorized use of the Wrightstown Municipal Utilities Authority to dump waste from a private septic disposal firm.

The deadline to replace Harper on the ballot had passed.  Harper pleaded guilty to the charges in and resigned on September 23.

Harper still won 82.5% of the vote in the November 2020 general election, 113-24 against write-in choices.  That triggered the special election.

An investigation by the Office of the State Comptroller found that Harper and Rodman Lucas, operations manager of the Wrightstown Municipal Utilities Authority, entered into an improper waste disposal arrangement that benefited Lucas’s private waste disposal company.

The OSC found Aqua Clean Toilet Systems, Lucas’s firm, dumped more than 565,000 gallons of sewage at the WMUA for free over a period in excess of three years.

Harper, 69, allegedly approved the dumping without the consent or knowledge of the WMUA board.

No other firms were given the opportunity to do so, and the OSC estimates Aqua Clean would otherwise have had to pay $21,000 in disposal fees.

Lucas pleaded guilty to a third-degree charge of conspiracy to tamper with public record on August 12.

According to Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, Harper claimed to have entered into a verbal barter agreement with Lucas.

Grewal alleges that Harper made repeated statements he knew were false.

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