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Saturday, May 18, 2024

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Corea Sues Cape May Over Termination

By Jack Fichter

CAPE MAY — Former City Manager Luciano V. Corea Jr. is suing the City of Cape May, current Mayor Edward J. Mahaney Jr., former Mayor Jerome E. Inderwies and former city councilman David Craig and current councilpersons Niels Favre, David Kurkowski, Terri Swain and Deputy Mayor Linda Steenrod in Superior Court for damages and loss of income from his firing earlier this summer.
Corea contends his contract with the city runs through Jan. 31, 2010 and he should continue to be paid.
The city will stop paying Corea as of Sept. 15, a time period of 90 days after his dismissal.
Corea’s court complaint claims as of Aug. 5, 2008, the city and council breached his contract by terminating him and failing to pay the balance of his compensation, on regularly scheduled paydays, for the balance of the term.
He is seeking compensatory damages, attorney’s fees, costs, interest and such other relief “as the court deems just and equitable.”
On June 17, 2008, Craig, Favre, Inderwies, Kurkowski, and Steenrod suspended Corea by a resolution which noted the move was based on Corea’s failure to follow policies and directives established by City Council by not permitting operators of patios on the Washington Street Mall to continue to operate the patio businesses over Memorial Day weekend based on their failure to submit permit applications before the start of the weekend.
In addition, council’s resolution noted Corea’s failure to confer with each council member individually on matters of importance to the city on a regular basis by not advising each of them of his decision to either close (or not direct the police to permit the reopening) of certain patio businesses on the mall.
The resolution also sited Corea’s “reckless disregard for information available and failure to implement a system for new permit requirements, thus, resulting in the closure of two patio businesses on the mall; and his failure to adhere to the directives of City Council.”
Corea’s complaint notes “he had refused to selectively enforce Ordinance 139-2008 by refusing to permit Cucina Rosa and Dairy Queen to operate patios without a permit within the City of Cape May while enforcing it as to all other individuals and businesses; refusing to selectively enforce Ordinance 139-2008 and objecting to any directive to do so in the reasonable belief that such action would be incompatible with the clear mandate of public policy set forth in the ordinance.”
Corea told the Herald that council asked the police department to enforce patio permit violations on the mall. He said if all other restaurants had patio permits except Cucina Rosa and Dairy Queen, and they were allowed to operate without permits, while the others were not, it would be selective enforcement.
Corea’s complaint notes “the defendants actions in suspending and terminating plaintiff’s employment is in violation of the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA).”
He said CEPA says if you are conscientious in your job and perform your to job to the best of your abilities and understanding, that you cannot be retaliated against and terminated.
“You can’t be terminated for doing what you believe is your job and essentially, that’s what they did,” he said. “My position is I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“I didn’t close them down,” said Corea of Dairy Queen and Cucina Rosa.
He said the city was following requirements of the Faulkner Act for “removal for cause.”
“As a direct and proximate result of the aforementioned violation of statute, the plaintiff was caused to sustain damages including, but not limited to, loss of income, loss of benefits, and emotional distress,” Corea’s complaint states.
It also notes “the actions of the defendants were malicious and/or exercised in reckless disregard of the rights of the plaintiff.”
Corea told the Herald there are no negotiations or mediation with the city taking place.
He said he has a valid contract with the city with the terms and conditions still in effect since he was not convicted of a crime, which would void the contract.
“It’s fairness, that’s what it comes down to,” said Corea.
He said a contract is all that protects a city manager’s position beyond a 90-day notice while other city employees have union contracts and civil service.
City Solicitor Tony Monzo told the Herald he had not seen the complaint. He said the city’s position in there was just cause for terminating the contract under the cause definition in the contract.
Monzo said the city did not believe there was any basis for CEPA claim.

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