Search
Close this search box.

Monday, May 27, 2024

Search

Former Stone Harbor Administrator Seeks $1.2M in Damages

Stone Harbor Logo
Stone Harbor Logo

By Vince Conti

STONE HARBOR – At a special meeting Feb. 9, Stone Harbor Council had a single agenda item. Without discussion, the council voted 5-1 to remove Robert Smith as borough administrator. The lack of discussion was by design, with the council opting to fire Smith in accordance with a no-cause termination section in his contract. 

Smith filed a notice of tort claim against the borough May 8, seeking $1.2 million in damages and attorney fees. In that filing, Smith claims that the council acted at the urging of Councilwoman Jennifer Gensemer, who Smith alleges orchestrated his termination in retaliation for his efforts to get her husband, Harry “Jack” Gensemer, a member of the borough’s Zoning Board of Adjustment, to file the annually required financial disclosure form that was due in April 2022 and was only eventually filed seven months late. 

Smith indicates his intent to file a lawsuit is to show that the Borough of Stone Harbor, specifically the Borough Council, terminated his employment in violation of New Jersey’s Whistleblower Statute, per the claim.  

The Narrative  

Smith, who served three years as borough administrator, states that Jennifer Gensemer retaliated against him for confronting her husband about his lack of filing the 2022 financial disclosure form.  

Smith presents documents to show that Jack Gensemer failed to respond to reminders that his disclosure form, due April 30, 2022, was late. Among those notices was an email to then-Clerk Suzanne Stanford informing her and asking that she inform Jack Gensemer that continued failure to file would result in the matter coming before the state’s Local Finance Board at its June 8, 2022, meeting, where he would be declared in violation of the filing requirement and could be fined. 

Correspondence from the chair of the Local Finance Board, June 10, 2022, contained a notice of violation for Jack Gensemer’s failure to file and a notice of a $100 fine levied by the board. 

Finally, Nov. 10, 2022, five months after the formal notice of violation, the borough received further correspondence from the Local Finance Board instructing the clerk to share the information of the ongoing violation with the governing body. The letter adds that the long-standing violation under state law is grounds for “removal, suspension, demotion or other disciplinary action.” 

None of that took place. Jack Gensemer paid the fine with a check dated Nov. 30, 2022. A review of the state records shows that Jack Gensemer filed the required disclosure form Nov. 18, 2022. 

Both Jennifer and Jack Gensemer have said they would have no comment on the tort claim given that litigation is expected. Without comment, there is no explanation offered as to why Jack Gensemer delayed so long filing the required form, even in the face of repeated reminders and the formal notice of violation in June 2022.  

Smith 

Smith remains a licensed attorney. He was an assemblyman in Trenton from 2000 to 2006.  

In terms of municipal experience, Smith arrived in Stone Harbor in January 2020 from a stint in administration at Kearney, Hudson County. Before that, he served as the chief administrator of Washington Township where his family still resides. 

Press reports in the Washington Township Sun suggest that Smith was not new to controversy stemming from his work as an administrator. In Washington Township, according to those reports, there was a dispute over funds, which Smith authorized as payments to himself for severance and paid vacation time.  

Following the expiration of Smith’s contract with Washington Township Dec. 31, 2016, the press reports state that the new administration called the payments improper authorizations.  

In August 2017, those same press reports state that the Washington Township Council authorized legal action against its former administrator. 

The resolution of all this six years ago is unclear. Also unclear is how much of the Washington Township controversy was known to those whose job it was to vet applications for borough administrator in Stone Harbor in 2020.  

Stone Harbor Issues 

What is clear is that Smith was terminated without comment at the special meeting of the Stone Harbor council in early February. Smith’s claims of retaliation are focused on Council Administration and Finance (A&F) Committee Chair Jennifer Gensemer.

Smith claims that he can “prove that Jennifer Gensemer tricked the other members of Council, except for Robin Casper, into believing that Smith should be dismissed for reasons other than the main reason: retaliation.” 

Since the council took its action to terminate Smith without cause, the “other reasons” Smith alleges Gensemer used to “trick” the other members of the council remain unstated. 

Given the nature of Smith’s termination, he was entitled to almost $50,000 severance based on his contract. This was acknowledged at the meeting where he was terminated. 

The $1.2 million that Smith lists in his tort claim is based on the date of presentation of the claim. It breaks down into $497,500 loss of income under the employment contract, $124,375 loss of future pension income, $270,000 for emotional distress damages, and $357,000 in attorney fees. 

The termination of the administrator in February was part of a set of issues that have visibly strained the relationship of the mayor with some members of the council. The February meeting at which Smith was terminated saw a protracted disagreement between the mayor and most members of the council.  

The same was true at the May 3 council meeting when Mayor Judith Davies-Dunhour took issue with administrative reorganization plans being promoted by the A&F Committee comprised of Jennifer Gensemer, Frank Dallahan, and Reese Moore. 

Smith filed his tort claim on day 88 following his termination. State law provides a maximum of 90 days for such a claim. 

Even with respect to the filing itself, the strained relationships in the borough were evident. Smith, seeking a stamp proving his date of filing from the Clerk’s Office, was asked to leave the “restricted area,” an area not yet designated as restricted since the ordinance designating certain areas off limits to the public has not yet been adopted by the council. 

The filing of the claim came off without serious incident, but not before borough police were called to help diffuse the situation.  

Contact the author, Vince Conti, at vconti@cmcherald.com.  

Spout Off

North Cape May – Re: The North Cape May comment to vacation renters letting their dogs do their business on your property. You've got guts for your comment. Yes, I own a vacation rental property that is pet…

Read More

Wildwood – Another trash strewn, violent Memorial Day Weekend all over the Wildwoods Island. Hello Mayors and Police Chiefs you folks need to get more county and state law enforcement involved here before…

Read More

Wildwood – So Memorial Day Weekend has been ruined for families and respectful adults of all ages by the disrespectful violent teenagers and young adults that have ruined the boardwalk for everyone after 7 pm…

Read More

Most Read

Print Edition

Recommended Articles

Skip to content