To the Editor:
Now that we have learned the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) fined Vernon $4,500 for operating an illegal solid waste dump for more than 10 years, we know the real reason Mayor Howard Burrell and the Town Council tried to extort me into resigning from the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) — I was the whistleblower who reported the illegal dump! When I refused to be extorted into resigning because I had done nothing wrong, they falsely accused me of harassment, slandered and defamed me, framed me, and abolished the township’s 30-year HPC.
But that was not before I had tried multiple times to show Mayor Burrell the evidence and discuss the illegal dump with him, but time and again in email and on the phone he did not want to hear it. Instead, he and Councilman Andy Pitsker denied its existence, claimed my photos were fakes, and a gate and no trespassing sign went up at the dump. Even the environmental commission ignored the dump at Burrell’s direction. When the NJDEP came to investigate, they proved everything I had said to be true.
I am a grandmother with two grandchildren living in Vernon. There is no way I would sit back silently to watch the town build a children’s bicycle pump track on top of the dump. Repeatedly I asked them to test the soils in the ground but they refused. There was no alternative but to report it to the NJDEP. The NJDEP found tons of illegal waste dumped and buried there and encroaching and in the wetlands, just as I said there was.
As for Mayor Burrell’s shocking, false accusations, who were my accusers? What were the alleged incidents? His constant slander caused me great stress and harm to my declining health. Even when I contacted Police Chief Dan Young to meet with the mayor and me to intervene and ask the mayor to stop harassing and slandering me because it was affecting my health, Mayor Burrell refused to meet with us, and at every council meeting he continued to publicly slander me and make outrageously false statements about me with reckless disregard and without due process, as required by law. Nameless, faceless accusers; no incidents; no due process — it was all false and all related to being the whistleblower about the town’s illegal dumping.
When numerous residents emailed Mayor Burrell opposing abolishing the HPC, he even made false and libelous statements to them about me in the emails. I know this because they all told me and forwarded the emails to me. Then the mayor lied and said there were no emails, a violation of OPRA (Open Public Records Act). OPRA is the law, and the mayor is not above the law.
Mayor Burrell, my friend of 38 years for whom I voted and encouraged so many to vote for, is not the man I thought he was. Many are now saying they regret having voted for him. Maybe he was always like this and we never knew it, but I believe Mayor Burrell has become a man ensnared in Harry Shortway’s hatred and deceit. Mayor Howard Burrell is not the man of integrity we thought he was.