Plumsted Committeeman Will Not Be Censured

Plumsted Township Committeeman Dominick Cuozzo, standing at far left holding a bullhorn at a recent Toms River rally in support of former President Donald Trump, will not be censured by the Township Committee. (Photo by Bob Vosseller)

  PLUMSTED – Committeeman Dominick Cuozzo will not be censured due to a lack of proof, an official said.

  A censure is an official condemnation but has no lasting effect.

  During the April Township Committee meeting, Township Attorney Jean Cipriani reported the results of her review of 53 requests from the public for censure.

  She said 50 of them consisted of an identical message – an unspecific accusation of harassment and misappropriation of township funds and employee time, the fact that there’s a recall effort against him and “various other ethical issues.”

  She added, “One of the complaints also referenced Committeeman (Michael) Hammerstone. One of the remaining messages also spoke to Dominick Cuozzo and the LGBTQ members of the community and spoke about past actions of protesting events. The last message was lengthy and it spoke about issues to do with the selection process for the vacancy on the committee.”

  Cuozzo took office in January of 2022.

  The attorney concluded, “my determination was to the first 50 correspondences of the alleged behavior of Committeeman Cuozzo for which censure was urged, there was a suggestion that he had been accused by constituents of harassment, inappropriate use of funds and time and facing a recall but offered no proof nor any specifics regarding these alleged accusations and it would not be appropriate for the governing body to censure one of its members based upon on unspecified and unsupported allegations that township resources which neither the existence of a recall petition nor claims of harassment do not speak to the conduct of official business provide a basis for censure under existing law.”

  She said as to “allegations of his being a danger to the LGBTQ members of the community and the behavior referenced at protest events at a conservative anti-gay organization does not constitute conduct of official business and therefore cannot serve as a basis for censure under existing case law.”

  Cipriani said the current petition seeking to recall Cuozzo was outside the purview of the governing body. The recall petition began circulating late last month and the movement has a Facebook page, Recall Committeeman Dominick Cuozzo.

  She noted that accusations pertaining to “the Plumsted Township Municipal Republican County Committee or Committeeman Cuozzo’s alleged online posting of a letter regarding that again do not constitute conduct of official business and therefore cannot serve as the basis for censure under existing case law despite the commonality of membership it is not the same entity as the Township Committee of Plumsted.”

  “The township attorney cannot conduct harassment and defamation review based on individual non-official conduct of governing body members on behalf of residents. I know there is a lot of strong feelings in a lot of ways on these topics but I really do encourage everyone that when they are in this room and when they are asking for official action to remember that there is a distinction between the conduct of official township business and the things that people may do outside of that role that you don’t agree with,” Cipriani added.

  Cuozzo said, “someone having a belief that is different from you does not constitute harassment. We can all agree to disagree.”

  Cipriani explained to The Jackson Times, “the power of a governing body to discipline one of its members is extremely limited. A governing body has no authority or ability to remove one of its members. There is support from Supreme Court cases for the ability of a governing body for a censuring resolution.”

  “That is the maximum extent of the ability of a governing body to take action regarding one of its members.” She added that any violations of the local government ethics law “is enforced through a complaint to the local finance board.”