Yesterday I dispatched an e-mail letter to Bob Martin, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, regarding the scandal at Proprietary House. Yes, that’s correct: the DEP. No, it has nothing to do with the toxicity of the present Executive Board to the health and well being of the Royal Governor’s Mansion (though Lord knows, when this mess is finally concluded, the place will likely need to be fumigated – if not exorcised). Rather it has to do with the fact that the administration of this historic site falls under the jurisdiction of the DEP.
You see, here in
Wonderland New Jersey – where you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a house, a barracks, a battlefield or dozens of other places and things that can be traced back to our earliest days as a colony of the British Empire – there is no separate department for places and things of historical value. In light of the fact that New Jersey was, quite literally, the “crossroads of the American Revolution,” this level of negligence is mind-blowing. Then again…not really. After all, this is New Jersey – home to what is arguably the stupidest electorate and the most incompetent legislature in all fifty states. But I digress.
Among the divisions within the DEP is the Division of Parks and Forestry, which is responsible for the administration of all the Garden State’s historic sites – including Proprietary House in Perth Amboy. In effect, the state of New Jersey is the legal owner of Proprietary House and leases part of the mansion to the Proprietary House Association, a non-profit organization consisting of an Executive Board and a Board of Trustees that maintains the premises and educates the public about the history of the last Royal Governor’s Mansion in the original thirteen colonies.
Herewith is my e-mail letter to Commissioner Martin. His e-mail address is: Bob.Martin@dep.state.nj.us and he can be reached by phone at 609- 292-2885. Note that I alerted Commissioner Martin to the possibility of news outlets in New Jersey picking up the scent of this story and reporting on it. Apparently, it has already begun at the Woodbridge Patch.
Dear Commissioner Martin,
My name is Gene Hoyas and I am one of the small group of people who every year re-enacts the arrest of Royal Governor William Franklin at the Proprietary House in Perth Amboy. I am writing you now in the midst of an unfolding scandal that is slowly mushrooming into a potential public relations disaster for the City of Perth Amboy.
On June 12 Kurt Epps – who portrays Gov. William Franklin – stumbled across a comment posted on the Perth Amboy Forum at NJ.com stating that as of June 1 schoolchildren would no longer be permitted to visit Proprietary House because one of the members of the Executive Committee is a convicted sex offender. A search of the NJ Sex Offenders site confirmed that the Treasurer of the PHA was the person in question.
Kurt and I both agreed that unless this person resigned or was removed from the Executive Board, we would boycott the event and Proprietary House itself. Kurt spent the better part of two days trying to contact Executive Board President Jeff Huber. When Huber finally did respond on the day before the re-enactment was to have taken place, he stonewalled and took no action. Fortunately, State Senator Joseph Vitale intervened at the 11th hour and the sex offender was forbidden from setting foot on the property.
On the evening of Friday, June 15, Huber contacted Kurt to advise him that since he and I boycotted the re-enactment, we were being replaced by other actors. On the morning of the event, Huber announced on the Proprietary House website that it had been cancelled. When visitors to the House inquired as to the reason why, Huber announced that “Kurt Epps never showed up.” This was astounding. Huber knew perfectly well that our boycott was predicated on the removal of the sex offender from the Executive Board and once that was accomplished, we were prepared to return to Proprietary House and perform the re-enactment the following day.
I have since written about this episode on my website (www.genehoyas.com); the blogs I have posted have drawn present and former Trustees out of the shadows to share their experiences under the Huber regime. According to a trusted source, the BIG problem started when the Executive Board refused between one and three million dollars in grant funds earmarked for the Proprietary House by state legislators. With that level of funding, most if not all of the restoration of the mansion – including period furnishings – could have been completed. Yet, for reasons known only to themselves and God, Jeff Huber and PHA Vice-President Jane Hogya insisted they did not want the money, claiming, “If we take that money, no one will give us donations,” “We have volunteers who will do the work,” and “We’re like the Vatican, no one can touch us.”
Common sense tells me their refusal has less to do with endangering donations and more to do with a reluctance to open up their financial records for inspection.
This same source relates that Executive Council member Stephen Probert has been busy filling all the seats on the Trustee Board with family and friends after driving out all the long time, dedicated members. The source concludes: “Bringing the sex offender aboard was one of his brainstorms. The State MUST audit the books and remove the Executive Board as soon as possible.”
It’s a nightmare, Commissioner Martin: cronyism, nepotism, ineptitude, incompetence, flagrant disregard for common decency and the very plausible suspicion that funds have been mismanaged or even embezzled. The Proprietary House Association has become a den of iniquity that threatens to undo decades of good will and the tireless efforts of dozens of people.
The situation is approaching critical mass and unless something is done and done quickly, it’s just a matter of time until a reporter at the Star-Ledger or NJN news picks up the scent of blood in the water and commences a feeding frenzy. You can only imagine the incalculably negative consequences this scandal will have on the City of Perth Amboy and, ultimately, Proprietary House itself should the news media take a serious interest in the story.
Consider just a few of the questions they will likely ask:
- On what date was a convicted sex offender appointed to the Executive Board?
- Who recommended his appointment and who was ultimately responsible for appointing him?
- Was a background check performed on this individual prior to his recommendation/appointment?
- When did Jeff Huber first become aware that the person in question is a convicted sex offender?
- Did he notify the other members of the board after discovering that this person is a convicted sex offender?
- Was Jeff Huber aware that since June 1 the superintendent of the Perth Amboy school system had prohibited all students in the district from visiting Proprietary House?
- Why it was necessary for members of the city governing body to bring the matter to the attention of Sen. Vitale in order to force the sex offender to stay away from Proprietary House?
- Did the Executive Board reject a million dollars or more in state funding because they might be asked to open their books for inspection or audit?
- Has such an audit been conducted by the DEP?
- What did Jeff Huber know and when did he know it?
- Has the Commissioner of the DEP been informed of all this and will he take action?
Mr. Martin, this whole affair stinks like a mackerel rotting in the moonlight and must not be allowed to slip quietly into oblivion: those who precipitated this scandal together with those who enabled them must face a day of reckoning.
To that end I urge the following:
1. Pressure the Executive Board to resign or remove them from office and appoint new Board members to replace them;
2. Commence a full investigation of this matter to determine who was responsible for a convicted sex offender becoming a member of the Executive Board;
3. Conduct a thorough audit of the Proprietary House Association financial records to determine if malfeasance and/or misappropriation of funds have occurred;
4. Cancel the lease with the PHA and lease the premises to the City of Perth Amboy which has a direct and substantial interest in ensuring that any group assigned to the restoration, maintenance and publicity of the Royal Governor’s Mansion engages in that effort in an honest and professional manner under its watchful eyes.
Swift prosecution of these matters might avert disaster and put this scandal behind us for good so that those who cherish the priceless historical value of Proprietary House may focus on the mission of making its history come alive.
I am hopeful that you will give this matter your immediate attention.
Very truly yours,