Holmdel Probes Turf Field Controversy

first_imgThe idea that Vieiro came up with the idea for the turf field is “ludicrous.” He accused Hinds of “putting on a charade.” Pascucci said, “My working hypothesis is that T&M was ordered to do this. They didn’t do it on their own. That the administration and probably two township committee members directed, ordered, whatever you want to call it, that these things be done.” He did not name the people he referred to. By Allison Perrine The investigation will continue Sept. 23 with the testimony of former administrator Donna Vieiro, who did not attend Thursday’s meeting. She was the administrator for six years, but under scrutiny for claims of nepotism and improperly directed checks, she resigned in good standing. “Once Donna directed me to start working on the project, I had a conversation with Eric (Mayor Hinds) about turf fields…He just asked me ‘How are we doing with the turf fields?’” Stevens said. The rushed timeline prompted laughs from several attendees. The last 20 minutes of themeeting were given to publiccomment. Last year the committee approved a $2.5 million bond ordinance for a broad scope of improvements for all recreation groups in Holmdel Youth Activities Association (HYAA), said deputy mayor Mike Nikolis. But he later discovered that money was “grabbed” and “taken from them. That’s wrong,” he said. Nine residents spoke.None were happy about thecontroversy. Nearly all of the questions came from Nikolis and committeemen Rocco Pascucci and Greg Buontempo. HOLMDEL – For months, several Holmdel elected leaders have wanted to pin down exactly who authorized cost related to a $2.1 million turf field project without township committee approval. “Why don’t you admit you were behind it? You are not fit to be mayor of this town. Why don’t you step down before this gets worse.” In their responses under oath, both Mullan and Stevens said they received direction from Vieiro to prepare work for a new turf field at the swim club, located at the end of Bailey Lane. The next hearing on the issue will be held Monday, Sept. 23 at 8 p.m. While reading the consent agenda in his packet, under bills payable, he said he discovered that $2.1 million was going to be redirected for an all-purpose turf field at the Holmdel swim club. “That’s not normal, you don’t do that. I was shocked. It was hidden in there, clearly hidden,” Nikolis said. “And that’s not the proper way to do government business.” James Yannello pointed out that Hinds, while on the committee in years past, tried and failed to bring turf fields to land bordered by County Route 520 (Main Street/Newman Springs Road), Route 34 and County Road 4 (South Holmdel Road), and then later at Cross Farm Park. Direction for the work wasgiven by Vieiro mostly byphone calls, he said, but somewere in emails, meetings andwritten correspondences. In questioning the DPW’sStevens, Pascucci asked whodirected him to do the prepwork at the swim club. Nikolis said he found it “troubling that taxpayer money was spent without approval, without resolution, without discussion.” Ultimately it took three or four weeks to do, Mullan said, but he said it was not uncommon to be pressured to finish field projects quickly so that they are ready for fall sports. That controversy over the expenditure of taxpayer dollars came to a head at a rare “special investigatory hearing” at town hall Sept. 12, held before a public audience of at least 40 residents. At the two-hour-long hearing, mostly focused on the turf field near the Holmdel swim club, the five township committee members heard testimony from Francis Mullan of T&M Associates, the township’s engineering firm, and Victor Stevens Jr., director of infrastructure and operations at the township public works department. As he left the meeting, Hinds told The Two River Times, “Obviously, everybody in the town knows I’ve tried hard to try to get multipurpose turf. This was a great location; it should have been a great project. “I never heard of this,” said committeeman Rocco Pascucci. “We never discussed this in public or private session with anyone. I find that irregular, unethical and maybe illegal,” he said. An additional $58,000 was spent for preparation work before it was listed on the governing body’s agenda. “The administrator was so clear and concise and directive. It was made very clear to me that this was to be fast-tracked,” said Mullan. “This normally would take three or four months and I was told they were, she was, expecting me to get it done in three or four days,” he said. “Unfortunately, some people want to make it very political. I’m sad for Holmdel that the process wasn’t followed to the ‘T’. I’m sad that people changed their minds, but we move on.” last_img

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