Ocean Township paid $110,000 late last year to its former manager who said he was fired for exposing or threatening to expose what he claimed to be “unlawful, fraudulent and/or criminal behavior” by township officials.
Michael F. Muscillo, who is now borough administrator in Highlands, sued the township itself and two elected officials after he was fired as township manager.
Though the suit and its subsequent settlement are part of the public record, the matter recently came to light when John Paff, chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party’s Open Government Advocacy Project, wrote about it on his web site, TransparencyNJ.com.
Details of Paff’s reporting were confirmed by The Coaster by reviewing court documents.
Muscillo, who served previously as manager or administrator in Tinton Falls, Lakewood and Hazlet, was hired in Ocean on June 29, 2017. In his lawsuit, filed on Nov. 19, 2021, Muscillo claimed he was fired because he threatened to expose what he said was wrongful conduct by then-mayor Christopher P. Siciliano and John P. Napolitani Sr., who was then a member of the Township Council and is the current mayor.
Muscillo said in the suit that township officials tried to steer a law enforcement job toward one of Siciliano’s relatives and created a position of deputy manager for a particular code enforcement officer to occupy.
In a statement Napolitani said the township denied all claims and none of the allegations were admitted or proven.
“The township denied and continues to deny all of the claims and further denied the violation of any laws or that they engaged in any wrongful conduct or discriminated against the plaintiff or retaliated against him,” Napolitani said. “This claim proceeded to mediation, where the mediator’s primary function is to get the case settled.”
He also said “oftentimes it is less expensive for the insurance company to settle the matter than proceed to trial.”
The council terminated Muscillo’s employment in a resolution approved on Dec. 2, 2020.
On Nov. 21, 2022, Muscillo agreed to drop the allegations and settle the suit for $110,000, $87,362.50 of which was paid to Muscillo and $22,637.50 went to his lawyers.
“The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, under which Muscillo agreed that the settlement and its terms and amounts be kept confidential,” said Paff, the libertarian party open government advocate. “Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public’s right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.”
The payment of the $110,000 does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Napolitani, Siciliano or any other employee or official mentioned in the lawsuit.
“Muscillo’s allegations are just that – allegations,” Paff said.