HAMILTON — The Mayor Kelly Yaede administration has officially filed tenure charges seeking to get Hamilton’s Chief Financial Officer John Barrett fired for alleged insubordination and incompetency.
The Trentonian has obtained a copy of the seven-count complaint, filed Jan. 4 by Hamilton Business Administrator Dave Kenny, which accuses Barrett of theft, misappropriation of funds, employee misconduct and inefficient job performance, among other bombshell allegations.
The infighting within the Yaede administration reached new heights earlier this month when Kenny and Mayoral Chief of Staff Marty Flynn barged into Barrett’s CFO offices demanding possession of his township-owned laptop computer. Instead of complying, Barrett called 9-1-1, complained of workplace harassment and ended up leaving the municipal building with his laptop in tow.
Kenny cites the high-profile Jan. 2 workplace encounter as an act of insubordination constituting theft of township property. The tenure complaint also accuses the CFO of improperly spending nearly $34,000 in township funds between 2011 and 2017.
As the tenured CFO of Hamilton Township, Barrett cannot be terminated without cause. He has served as CFO since 2008, contributing to the township’s remarkable turnaround in financial health and management. He also works as a financial consultant for other clients, a situation that now places him in hot water as the Yaede administration accuses him of performing side jobs on Hamilton Township time.
Barrett last month filed a state ethics complaint alleging Kenny and township employee Richard J. Mulrine, Yaede’s brother-in-law, had both provided unauthorized approval on two recent purchase orders, including nearly $5,000 in reimbursements to the mayor for hotel lodging expenses she had incurred.
In an email sent Dec. 13, 2018, Barrett contacted officials in the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs’ Division of Local Government Services with explosive allegations. Barrett accuses Mulrine of “theft of time” in that email and said he reported the alleged matter to the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office.
Hiring a high-profile attorney to help preserve his job, Barrett presents himself as a good-boy whistleblower and the victim of retaliation. Kenny previously would not discuss disciplinary action taken against Barrett — “It’s a personnel issue,” he would say — but the business administrator officially disclosed the tenure complaint to The Trentonian without fuss on Friday.
“It is completely improper for the township to release disciplinary charges that are supposed to be kept confidential,” said Colin Bell, the private attorney representing Barrett. “I am very disappointed that that happened.”
“The charges themselves are false and baseless,” Bell added, “and we believe it is retaliation for Mr. Barrett reporting illegal conduct in the township.”
Kenny, a former councilman who became Hamilton’s business administrator in December 2017, is himself a lawyer with a reputation for abhorring fiscal mismanagement. He does not pull punches in the complaint against Barrett, outright accusing the CFO of “incompetency” and “conduct unbecoming a township employee.”
Here’s an overview of the allegations:
• Barrett is accused of improperly spending nearly $34,000 in township funds between 2011 and 2017, including the unauthorized purchase of a 2016 Jeep Patriot.
• “On at least five occasions, Mr. Barrett took sick days while working at Hawthorne, N.J.,” Kenny alleges in the tenure charges. He attached text message screenshots as supporting evidence and said, “Numerous emails establish that Barrett was performing services during Hamilton Township work hours for his private clients.”
• Barrett is also accused of making “incorrect statements which he knew or should have known were incorrect and inaccurate” in the initial draft of a 2018 best practices questionnaire.
• The business administrator also charges Barrett for installing and maintaining a hidden camera or multiple cameras in the CFO offices, saying the camera setup posed an “invasion of privacy of co-employees.”
Kenny says the charges against Barrett present “sufficient cause for termination.” In making the case, Kenny says the CFO’s alleged actions “constitute conduct unbecoming a township employee, insubordination, inability to perform duties, incompetency, inefficiency or failure to perform duties, theft, misappropriation of funds and other sufficient cause.”
In addition to serving as Hamilton’s CFO, Barrett also works as a financial consultant for the Borough of Hawthorne in Passaic County and serves as borough administrator of Spring Lake Heights.
Barrett declined to comment for this story, choosing to remain silent while his attorney fights the tenure charges. But Barrett defended himself and his qualifications at a Hamilton Council meeting last month.
“I take this job very seriously as chief financial officer,” he said at the meeting, mentioning how he helped take the township’s fund balance surplus from $79,000 in 2008 to over $8 million today. “It is something that I have often said in public; I am something of a financial nerd.”
“My job is a great one, and I love it,” Barrett added. “I love working here. It’s a great culture in Hamilton Township. Certainly up until recently there has been a great culture in Hamilton Township. I look forward to moving forward here. I have 13 more years left before I retire … but who’s counting?”
Barrett denies all of the tenure charges through his attorney. The complaint appears to provide evidence showing Barrett on some occasions took a sick leave of absence from Hamilton on dates where he had also performed side work for other clients.
Bell says his client did nothing wrong, saying the township either engaged in “improper record keeping” on sick leave and vacation leave “or there was in fact no violation of the policy.”
Barrett often provided financial consulting services to other clients at night after fulfilling his day job as Hamilton’s CFO, Bell said. The CFO is not expected to work 24/7 for Hamilton Township and has the legal right to perform other work on his free time.
The timing of the tenure charges against Barrett is “pretty suspicious,” Bell said, alleging the Yaede administration filed those charges as retaliation for Barrett reporting Yaede’s brother-in-law to the authorities with allegations of fiscal malfeasance.
The administration appears to have solid evidence against Barrett, but Bell says the case is weak and baseless. If you take emails out of context, he said, “It is pretty easy to make someone look guilty.” In terms of the allegations Barrett improperly purchased a 2016 Jeep Patriot in the year 2015, Bell said Hamilton’s prior business administrator had actually authorized that purchase.
Asked whether Barrett is considering legal action against Hamilton Township, including a possible whistleblower lawsuit, “We are considering all of our options,” Bell said. “It wouldn’t be appropriate to comment unless something is filed.”
The tenure charges against Barrett have been submitted to Hamilton Township Municipal Clerk Eileen Gore and Melanie Walter, acting director of the New Jersey Division of Local Government Services in the Department of Community Affairs.