Coda

Wilson took page from Manalapan’s playbook

GREG BEAN

It looks like South Carolina Republican Congressman Joe Wilsonwasn’t listening when I called for an end to rude behavior a few weeks ago.

By now, everyone’s heard about the moment when Wilson — forgetting that he was in the well of the U.S. House of Representatives instead of in Britain’s House of Commons where heckling is a daily occurrence — interrupted the president’s speech to a joint session of Congress on health care reform to call the commander-in-chief a liar.

Two seconds after Wilson’s outburst, the person I was watching the speech with said, “I don’t care who that clown’s opponent is in the next election, I’m going to make a contribution to their campaign.”

I guess great minds think alike. Contributions to Wilson’s opponent in next year’s election — a heretofore relatively obscure Democrat named Rob Miller — began flooding in before the president finished his speech.

As of Sept. 11, Miller had profited from Wilson’s boorish behavior to the tune of more than $1 million, mainly from small donors, and national analysts think the contributions will keep coming in at a good clip for a while. This guy only had about $48,000 in his campaign chest in late June, so you’ve got to imagine he’s thanking his lucky stars that Joe’s got such a big mouth.

Of course, Wilson — who went on air begging for contributions at the same time he was making his lame “apology” — had raised a considerable amount from like-minded nincompoops by the same date. But now it looks like Wilson will be in a real scrap over his seat come campaign season, and since Miller came close the last time they tangled, the Democrat’s got a chance of winning.

Good for him.

What is it with these South Carolina politicians anyway? Earlier this summer, it was Gov. Mark Sanford, who disappeared from his post to spend some quality time with his South American mistress. And now this.

Gosh, the citizens of that state must be so proud. If they keep this up, they’ll soon outpace New Jersey as the Political Reprobate Capital of the United States.

And speaking of rude behavior, in Manalapan— which has the greatest concentration of rude people per capita in New Jersey, maybe even in America — they seem to be writing their own textbook on the subject.

Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of ink documenting and bemoaning rude behavior in that community. This is the place, after all, where a guy hired a private detective to invade the privacy of one of his political enemies by following him around to find out where he was sleeping nights. Turned out, he was sleeping with the lady who would soon become his wife.

It’s the place where most of the anonymous chuckleheads who post defamatory libel on da Truth Squad’s blog site reside. It’s the place where the public comment portions of Township Committee meetings resemble episodes of the Jerry Springer show, or Geraldo Rivera’s show where the skinheads broke his nose with a chair.

And it’s the place where last year the chief of police, Stuart Brown, apparently pointed his finger at Michelle Roth — a former mayor and current member of the Township Committee who was asking him tough questions about his department — and told her to crawl back under her rock, among other disrespectful comments.

According to a report in Greater Media’s publication the News Transcript, Brown did not dispute saying those things when he was charged with insubordination in March, although he is challenging the one-day suspension he got for his boorish outburst.

But the real bombshell came Sept. 9, when Roth read a lengthy statement at a Township Committee meeting, outlining an investigation of Brown for what she called his “history of verbally assaulting and threatening women.”

His outburst at her, she claimed, was not the first time Brown threatened a female employee of the township. In fact, she said, the township’s labor attorney was investigating what she termed “a pattern of abusive behavior and intimidation tactics by Brown.”

Brown’s attorney is Stuart Moskovitz, which is no surprise. Moskovitz — the guy who hired the private detective to spy on a member of the Township Committee — has turned litigation involving Manalapan into a cottage industry. He’s currently representing Brown in an age-discrimination suit against the township and is apparently speaking for the chief on this harassment business as well.

Moskovitz told the News Transcript that Brown is the one who is being harassed and that Roth’s statement was part of her continuing tirade of “reckless, defamatory and false statements attacking her ever-increasing list of perceived enemies.” Roth’s comments, he said, continued her “pattern of harassment against the chief in her continued effort to force him to retire and to replace him with a chief of her own personal choice.”

So where does the truth lie in these claims and counterclaims?

I don’t know, although I certainly have my suspicions. We’ll have to see how this investigation shakes out. But here’s what I do know:

If these allegations against Brown turn out to be false, Moskovitz will likely be the lead counsel in the biggest lawsuit against Manalapan to date.

If they turn out to be true, Brown ought to be fired immediately and then prosecuted.

And it might be time for our legislators to think about amending the state law commonly known as the Police Chiefs Bill of Rights. That law was originally enacted, in part, to protect chiefs of police from being manipulated and threatened by politicians. But it also made it difficult— and in many cases, impossible — for local officials to get rid of a police chief who is obviously a loose cannon.

The law says that a chief cannot be suspended, removed, fined or reduced in rank for any cause other than for incapacity, misconduct (like sexual harassment) or violation of department rules and regulations. In other words, elected politicians can’t fire a police chief for acting like a rude jerk.

Maybe they ought to be able to do just that. It might save us a lot of trouble down the road.

Gregory Bean is the former executive editor of Greater Media Newspapers. You can reach him at gbean@gmnews.com.