Former fire chief sues, says Republicans sought 'retaliation' – NJ.com

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WESTAMPTON — The township’s former fire chief and emergency management director has filed a lawsuit in federal court in Camden alleging he was fired in a political dispute.

The legal complaint by Jason Carty claims he was fired as an act of “retaliation” from local Republicans for working on campaigns of former and current township committee Democrats.

A township committee member named in the suit said Wednesday the action has no merit.

“This is not a political witch hunt,” Committeeman and Deputy Mayor Abraham Lopez said. “This is about dollars and cents.”

Lopez is a Republican and deputy chief of staff to GOP Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno. Committee members Maureen Smith-Hartman and C. Andre Daniels were also named in the suit. Smith-Hartman is a Republican and Daniels, the mayor, is a Democrat. The five-member township committee has three Democrats and two Republicans.

Lopez and Smith-Hartman said Carty was terminated to balance the budget. Daniels did not immediately return a call for comment Wednesday.

Carty’s suit, filed on March 22 in Camden, states Lopez and Hartman-Smith “raised as a campaign issue of [Carty’s] role in directing two recent Democratic campaigns, taking to social media to refer to [Carty’s] appointment as ‘patronage.’ Jose F. Sosa, the campaign manager for Lopez and Hartman-Smith, sent a text to the mayor of a neighboring town prior to the election indicating that he would be demanding [Carty’s] resignation.”

The complaint goes on to say that if Carty refused to resign he “would be terminated when Lopez and Smith-Hartman won the election.”

Carty’s position was eliminated by a committee vote in April 2016 six months after his five-year contract was approved by the committee. Lopez and Smith-Hartman joined the committee in January 2016, Carty’s suit said. The three members named in the suit voted to eliminate Carty’s position.

Smith-Hartman said Wednesday that she was “a little put out by this.”

“He was not targeted,” she said. “This had nothing to do with political motivation. We didn’t want to raise taxes.”

Lopez and Smith-Hartman said eliminating Carty’s position cut his $100,000 salary from the budget. That savings, along with the elimination of a part-time maintenance position helped balance the budget, they said.

But Carty claims the township has “promoted three firefighters to lieutenants and hired at least one additional firefighter” since he was terminated. Deputy Fire Chief Craig Farnsworth was also promoted to chief with a salary of $110,000, according to the township clerk.

“Politics is politics and governing is governing,” Lopez said. “It’s a matter of dollars and cents. When I walk in 710 Rancocas Road (town hall) I walk in as a resident of Westampton. I don’t mix politics with public service.”

Bill Duhart may be reached at bduhart@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @bduhart. Find NJ.com on Facebook.