By Donald Wittkowski
Ocean City Mayor Jay Gillian and his opponent, John Flood, traded barbs and new allegations Thursday in an escalation of their campaign attacks just six days before the municipal election.
Their increasingly hostile rhetoric included charges by Flood that the construction of a city restroom project was coordinated to benefit a Boardwalk pizza shop owned by Gillian, while the mayor responded that Flood is creating “more fake news.”
In a press release, Flood also alleged that the mayor has set up a “secret” email account on a private server to keep communications with his senior staff about city business “out of the public eye.”
“The city’s official domain name and emails go to OCNJ.us. The secret domain name is OCNJseniorstaff.com, and that it seems to be used as the mayor’s private chat room,” Flood said. “What makes it even more questionable is that this domain name is not registered to the City of Ocean City but to a private individual and residence in Millville, N.J. This raises so many questions and concerns.”
In response, Gillian said the domain “is not a secret.” He said it was created by an employee of the city’s outside IT consultant for official city business. The employee, Mark Mosley, works for the technology company PCS in Millville, the mayor said.
“This domain is a management tool which allows Department Heads to candidly report personnel matters, exchange information about confidential Human Resource issues and contract negotiations, and keep the Mayor and the Business Administrator advised on what is happening in their respective departments. It insulates the City’s IT Department from any allegation that they are privy to ‘inside information’ about other employees,” Gillian said in a statement.
Gillian said copies of emails sent on the same domain may be obtained by the public in requests through the state Open Public Records Act.
“It is subject to OPRA, as the release of emails to my opponent’s son demonstrates – no secrets here,” the mayor said, referring to city information that has been given to Flood’s son, Justin.
Flood said city emails he obtained through an OPRA request revealed one sent to the mayor last year that was of “particular interest.” He said the email indicates that a new city restroom project at Sixth Street and the Boardwalk was supposed to remain open at the same time as Gillian’s pizzeria next door to give the mayor’s business a boost.
“What would you like the hours to stay as planned or to mimick (sic) the new pizza shop?” said the Sept. 1, 2017, email, which was written by the acting director of the city Public Works Department.
In the weeks leading up to the May 8 election, Flood has repeatedly alleged that the public restroom project at Sixth Street would help draw more business to Gillian’s Wonderland Pier amusement park, which is located next door on the Boardwalk. Gillian also owns the pizza shop next to Wonderland Pier.
“The mayor publicly denied that his business benefited from the restrooms. However, how many other Boardwalk businesses are asked when public facilities should be open to coordinate with their operations? I would bet none,” Flood said.
Gillian has strongly denied Flood’s allegations that the restroom project is being built to help his business. On Thursday, the mayor said the email cited by Flood actually refers to portable toilets that were installed while the restroom project was under construction.
“The quoted email requested direction regarding port-a-potties, ultimately placed in the Civic Center parking lot while the 6th Street restrooms were being constructed,” Gillian said in his statement. “Of course, we wanted the largest facility we could rent – this is a very busy area with 5Ks and early morning walkers and several City facilities, including the turf field, the track, the beach, the volleyball courts and the Civic Center.”
“The hours of operation for these port-a-potties varied, but they were consistently opened for public convenience at 7 a.m. – well before any part of Wonderland was open for the day,” Gillian continued.
Earlier in the campaign, Gillian criticized Flood’s allegations about the restroom project as “toilet politics.” Gillian said the project is being built in an ideal location for public bathrooms because it is next to Ocean City High School’s athletic fields and other heavily used city facilities.
“My opponent’s latest press release is more fake news,” Gillian said. “He continues to disregard the public benefits of replacing the 30-year-old restrooms at 6th Street. I stand by my policy of improving existing restrooms throughout the City as my administration has done in City Hall, at the Music Pier and now at 6th Street; and to create new restrooms at playgrounds and on the Boardwalk at 11th Street. I hope there will be more to come.”
Flood said he supports the idea of having more bathrooms on the Boardwalk, but alleged that the new restroom project was done by the mayor “under the cloak of darkness” and violated the public trust.
He has estimated the taxpayer-funded restroom project and related improvements will cost more than $1 million. The low construction bid for the restroom was $690,537, far more than the city engineer’s estimate of $400,000, Flood said.
An additional $426,000 for street improvements related to the restroom’s construction will boost the total price tag to more than $1 million, according to Flood.
In his press release Thursday, Flood leveled a new allegation that the restroom project has been built to provide bathrooms for the mayor’s pizzeria. He also alleged Gillian was given “special consideration” that “clearly shows that the mayor’s business benefits from his position.”
“This was all necessary because the mayor’s pizza restaurant was constructed without installing customer restrooms,” Flood said. “During this campaign I have been asked how could the mayor have a restaurant without customer restrooms, isn’t there a law? After considerable research it has been confirmed by the State of N.J. Dept. of Community Affairs Division of Codes and Standards that by law a sit-down restaurant, such as the mayor’s, must have public restrooms.”
Gillian, though, said he went through the proper steps to build his pizza shop.
“The determination as to all construction issues for the pizza shop were handled by the conflicts construction officials, as are all such issues involving property owned by elected officials. I followed the conflict plumbing inspector’s instructions,” he said.