Controversial Former Stafford Mayor Now A County Sheriff Candidate
John MacMenamin, former Stafford mayor and police officer, wants to 'contribute back to the community.'
Former Stafford Township Mayor John McMenamin, now living in Surf City, will run as an independent candidate for the office of Ocean County Sheriff currently held by Republican incumbent William L. Polhemus.
The incumbent, who is seeking a 10th term, also faces a challenge from Democrat George “Bob” Armstrong in the upcoming November election.
McMenamin, 51, is proposing many changes to the way things are run in the Sheriff's Office, including improved officer training, revamped emergency management and a county-wide water rescue program.
McMenamin’s days both as the mayor of Stafford Township and serving on its police department were marked with controversy.
“I’m sure my past will come into play during the campaign, but I’ve got nothing to hide,” he said. “I am running because I still feel a need to contribute back to the community.”
In 2005, McMenamin, then a police lieutenant, sued the department claiming he was not selected as chief due to his allegations of corruption and inappropriate behavior in the department. He was one of several officers in the department that were being considered for the chief’s position.
The following year he retired on a disability pension of nearly $90,000 a year as a result of an on-duty accident involving a police all-terrain vehicle.
He was then elected mayor in 2009 and came to office with five out of the six council seats won by members of his Stafford First team. The Democratic-backed group swept then mayor Carl Block and most of the council, all with GOP affiliations, from office. Block and his council had had full control of Stafford’s governing body for more than 25 years prior to the election.
In April 2011, after an embattled two years in office that saw McMenamin at odds with many in the township, he was removed from office over a residency issue. The council’s action was based on mortgage documents and the recorded deed for the Surf City property he bought in February 2011 for $757,500.
State law requires elected municipal officials to reside in the town they serve.
McMenamin disputes the charge to this day, claiming his now primary residence was not his home back then. He said it was purchased along with his mother as a home for her and also used as a summer rental property to offset some of the mortgage payments. “I then and now own a house on Fairview Terrace in Stafford. It was where I was living back then,” he said.
While in office, McMenamin had restructured the police department based off his charges of corruption and mismanagement. Municipal employees were ordered to take furlough days as a budget-cutting measure. Council members were instructed not to communicate with public employees. He also cancelled or failed to appear at several council meetings and for a time barred the videotaping of meetings.
McMenamin stated he feels justified in all of his actions because they resulted in the passing of a budget with one of the lowest tax increases in the township’s history.
He also said he feels the changes he made in the police department, including replacing the chief and promoting another officer to captain, improved the department and its efficiency.
McMenamin said he chose to run for sheriff because as a retired police officer he’s been trained in law enforcement. “This position is made for someone with my training,” he said.
He had been on the Stafford Police Department for 22 years prior to his retirement.
McMenamin said he has specific objectives he would like to implement if elected sheriff.
He is calling for a county-wide “real time” notification system of major crimes and emergencies. The notifications would go out to the public not only for their safety, but to help law enforcement in fighting crime by making the public aware of ongoing incidents. The public could then directly contact their local police department or the sheriff’s Criminal Investigations Unit (CIU) with relevant information or a need for emergency services, he added.
“I would also like to improve our emergency management program with more frequent inspections and upgrades to shelters and procedures,” he said. In addition, the formation of a county-wide water rescue program should be looked into as well he said.
He also would like to see additional training for candidates in the county’s police academy and those already serving as officers and sheriff’s deputies. The Ocean County Police Academy is run by the Sheriff’s Department.
“I think there is not enough emphasis on proper prisoner handling techniques,” he said. This he believes not only leads to lawsuits against officers, but workman’s compensation claims filed by them due to injuries occurred on the job.
Fitness for Office Questioned
It is McMenamin’s own 100 percent disability retirement that has at least one Stafford official questioning the candidate's ability to perform the duties of the office.
Current mayor John Spodofora, who replaced McMenamin when he was removed from office, said McMenamin’s disability is based on neurological and physical limitations that prevent him from performing law enforcement duties.
"If he has a 100 percent pension from the police department, how can he function again in law enforcement?” said the mayor, who was the only council member to retain his seat in 2009.
Spodofora added he has always doubted the extent of McMenamin’s injuries. Last year, he requested an investigation by the state’s Division of Pensions and Benefits as well as the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office into the matter.
He also said he believes while apparently not illegal, it is “unethical” for someone already collecting a full pension to seek an office that would make him eligible for a second government pension.
McMenamin answered these allegations by saying he has already received notification from the state pension board that there were no improprieties in his claim.
In addition, he said the office of sheriff is an administrative one and would not require him to perform duties he is not capable of due to his injuries. He was on administrative duty in the police department when it was determined he had to able to perform all duties to remain on the force, said McMenamin. This is the reason he took the pension, he added.
He also stated that if elected he would not enter the county’s pension program. He also pointed out that Polhemus came to office after retiring from the Seaside Heights Police Department, and Armstrong is a former federal and state law enforcement officer and official. Both of them are or would be “double-dipping,” the same thing the mayor is accusing him of possibly doing. He also alleges that Spodofora as a federal employee and municipal official is himself eligible for two pensions.
Turning back to the campaign, he said he would welcome a chance to debate his two opponents. “Bob is a good guy who went door to door with me when I ran for mayor.” Armstrong had previously run for the sheriff’s office in 2009. The two men just have some different ideas about the office, McMenamin said.
Armstrong has called for the county jail and corrections department to come under the Sheriff’s Office control and for placing more deputies and investigators out into the communities to supplement local departments. McMenamin disagrees with both of these for reasons of logistics and over- burdening an already large department among others.
He also said that while age is not a factor for the incumbent sheriff, who is now 83 and has served since 1985, Polhemus’s office is not abreast of recent technological advances in areas such as identification and faster DNA testing.
Along with agreeing to participate in possible debates, McMenamin said his campaign will soon be launching a Web site and Facebook page. There are no plans for a campaign staff or affiliation with any others candidates seeking public office this year, he added.
“It will just be me, my family and some friends who want to help out,” he said.