7 municipal employees claim Spotswood mayor, business administrator created hostile workplace
Spotswood Borough has only 57 full-time municipal employees. But since November, seven current or former workers have filed lawsuits or other complaints against the borough, Mayor David Seely and Business Administrator Dawn McDonald.
Several of the complainants sat down with Kane In Your Corner to describe working conditions they say became intolerable, including harassment and even malicious prosecution.
“As an outsider looking in, you might say, ‘Come on, that’s impossible,’ says David Nichols, the former director of Spotswood’s Emergency Medical Service. “But we, the employees of Spotswood have been dealing with it for years.”
Nichols says McDonald was so determined to get rid of him and replace the department with a private ambulance service that she used security cameras to spy on him daily from her office. “I was sitting down one day, eating my breakfast and I got a text message: ‘Hey, how's that sandwich taste?’” Nichols recalls. “To be honest, it was creepy. She was watching every move that we made.”
Nichols says his problems stemmed partly from an accident, in which one of the borough’s ambulances was declared “unsafe to drive.” He says McDonald didn’t want to take it out of service, instead telling Nichols to instruct EMS personnel to “drive slow and be careful.” When he refused, Nichols says McDonald retaliated, giving him poor job evaluations and even accusing him of fostering an environment in which EMS staff drank and had sex with police officers while on duty.
“[She said] I was basically a pimp, offering alcohol and the female EMTs to the police officers,” Nichols recalls incredulously.
Spotswood police tell Kane In Your Corner they conducted an investigation and determined the allegations had “no merit.” Nichols is now suing the borough, McDonald and Seely, accusing them of, among other things, “civil conspiracy… defamation… (and) malicious prosecution.” He says he isn’t alone.
Police Chief Michael Zarro and Capt. Phil Corbisiero filed a similar lawsuit. They claim their problems began after the mayor’s son was ticketed for "doing donuts in a parking lot" and "hitting a parked car containing a father and his 8-year-old son."
They say Seely demanded they make the ticket go away. “Not on my watch,” says Zarro.
Zarro and Corbisiero say when they refused to cooperate, both Seely and McDonald retaliated against them. At one point, the mayor asked the county prosecutor to investigate them for allegedly falsifying timesheets. “I knew then that he just wanted to force both of us out,” Corbisiero recalls.
The Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office investigated the allegation. In letters to both the police department and mayor, the prosecutor’s office flatly declares Zarro and Corbisero to be “exonerated.”
Attorney Gina Mendola Longarzo, who represents Nichols, Zarro and Corbisiero, says her clients are “good, upstanding guys” who “refused to be intimidated,” and “deserve to be vindicated.”
Kane In Your Corner attempted to speak with Mayor Seely and Business Administrator McDonald. They declined, issuing identical statements, which said: “This matter is in litigation. It is the Borough's policy not to comment on pending litigation. The matter is in the hands of our attorneys."
There could be more litigation to come. Three more police officers have filed notices of claim, the first step in suing a municipality. McDonald’s administrative assistant recently filed a complaint about her treatment.
The borough council held an emergency, closed-door meeting last week to discuss personnel issues. The council meets in public Wednesday evening.